But that title isn’t really applicable here. Crooner-in-Chief may be more appropriate a name for Iggy between the walls of Free.
Free embraces life and l’appel du vide in equal measure; a spirited record which proves Iggy Pop still has a whole deck of aces up his sleeve.
Free is a curious album title for Iggy Pop – an artist for whom, from a distance, it always felt like he was doing exactly as he pleased. Yet he’s a musician backed against a 50-year backdrop of expectations; no matter how hard he tries to withdraw from the sounds he’s famous for, the new will always be compared to the old.
But fuck punk, fuck history, and fuck expectations. On Free, Iggy’s spreading his wings further than ever. Not only for the sounds he embraces, but for the themes he tackles.
Page and We Are The People sound like the kind of ditties a 70-year-old, weathered gentleman in sunglasses and a black suit would sing onstage at a smokey open mic night after saying something to the effect of “this one’s about the world”. Which isn’t too far from the truth, I guess.
These songs are pensive and darkly rose-tinted, those of a storyteller first and a songwriter second. Death and history weigh on heavy throughout the prose, feeling at times worryingly familiar in tone to Bowie and Cohen’s final albums (Blackstar and You Want It Darker respectively) in which they pointedly faced their own mortality.
A rendition of Dylan Thomas’ famous poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night only drives the stake in further. Rock folklore declares Iggy Pop immortal alongside the Ozzy Osbournes of the world, but it seems even he is no longer immune to the twilight of his life and the philosophy it brings. It’s actually an interesting counterpoint to Pop’s usual rhetoric of living like a Real Wild Child.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. In The Dawn Iggy declares “If all else fails, it’s good to smile against the dark”, which is exactly what the first half of the album is all about.
James Bond is one of Iggy’s most fun tracks in decades, a peculiarly performed tune about a woman embracing the diction and attitude of the world’s favourite womanising, hard-drinking spy. Loves Missing has a little more oomph and a gorgeous crescendo, while Dirty Sanchez bears a riotous call-and-response delivery and hilarious lyrics.
For every yin there’s a yang, moments of blazing humour belittling the dips into all-embracing darkness. Iggy Pop’s sensibilities have developed much in his later years, and the volume of his thoughts has become all the more intricate for it. As beautiful as it is, I doubt this record will sit perfectly with the old punks. But honestly, what does these days?
Free is a magnificent album from one of the world’s last fearless songwriters.
Free is out now via Caroline Australia.