On The Record – Iggy Pop

By the time this gets published Wednesday morning, I will have landed in Glasgow, Scotland, less than bright eyed and bushy tailed, but ready to get down to business. I will have roughly a week and a half to settle myself into a new apartment building and learn a brand new campus. I keep getting e-mail after e-mail about the induction events I’m required to be at. I can only hope they don’t play those awful icebreaker games like they do in our American classrooms.
In my months of planning, though, this is the first time that I’ve actually felt nervous about leaving. If you’re like me, then you spend a major portion of the summer working. We have to, as college students. Loans, grocery bills, and rent don’t pay themselves. In some unfair ways, summers for college students just feel like an additional semester, only with a couple trips to the beach thrown in (and that’s hardly an incentive when you’re talking about Coney Island on a Saturday). And at the end of it all, we jump right back into the fall semester, ready (or not) to toil for another 12 weeks.

A lot of us feel chained to our degrees in some sense, and the cycle of academic years can feel endless. Going abroad, of course, still requires attending classes and earning your grade, but it can at least break up that pattern a little bit.

That’s why this week I’m thinking about the idea of freedom and nonconformity. So who better to listen to than Iggy Pop, the poster child for doing whatever the hell you want, and refusing to wear a shirt while doing it. (When a fact-checker for the New Yorker called him recently to confirm a few quotes for a story, he told her to please hold for a moment while he removed his shirt.)

Iggy Pop’s newest record is called Free, and yes, he still sings about sex at age 72. I’m beginning to think he’s contractually obligated to on all his records.

Everyone knows about Pop’s relationship with David Bowie, and it’s certainly no secret that they were huge influences on one another. What I wasn’t expecting was for Free to sound so eerily similar to Bowie’s final record, Blackstar. With the help of trumpeter Leron Thomas, Free becomes a concept album of sorts, just like when Bowie employed New York’s own Donny McCaslin Trio for his 2016 swan song. The result is a wonderfully creepy sound, perfect for Pop to layer his half-spoken-half-sung poetic lyrics over.

I’m not really sure what he’s discussing. The title track leads off the album and features almost nothing but a mysterious buzz and some trumpet phrases with Pop on top of it, stating “I wanna be free” multiple times over. It’s a little hard to imagine him not feeling like he’s free – this is the same man who virtually ran the New York punk scene and was joined at the hip with Bowie during some of the most free-ranging years of both of their careers. Maybe he’s finally a little tired. Not too tired to quit the business altogether, but enough to tell his audience in song form that he’s not the same guy who writhed on stage and screamed into his microphone.

“Love and sex are gonna occur to you but neither one will solve the darkness,” he sings on “The Dawn”. Morality seems to be a common thread in this new record, and we must remember that he’s 72 now, an age far beyond what many people expected him to get to. Whether or not more albums will come remains to be seen.

Free is most definitely a sensory album, the kind that make you want to lie down and listen to the entire thing front to back, but it doesn’t feel like Pop wrote it for his fans. If you’re a fan of 70’s Iggy Pop, you may not like this record. But if you’re a fan of artists who take the time to write something for themselves once in a while, give this a try. It’s creepy, weird, mystical, and will leave you a bit confused–just like Pop himself. Long live the Godfather of Punk.