Iggy Pop is approaching 70. It's a strange fact to admit, given the former Stooges' frontman and rock 'n' roll wild child's reputation as a groundbreaking pop culture figure and the Godfather of Punk. Thankfully, after a couple of underwhelming Stooges albums released in the new millennium, it seems Iggy Pop is settling into the latter part of his career gracefully. Like contemporaries such as Marianne Faithfull and his old pal David Bowie, Iggy Pop is still finding a way to make music that sounds vital and of-the-moment.
Pop hooked up with Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal mastermind Josh Homme for Post Pop Depression, his first solo album since 2009's awkward Preliminaires. With Homme's help, as well as assistance from his Queens of the Stone Age bandmate (and erstwhile Dead Weather member) Dean Fertita and Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders, Pop has tapped into a muscular, lean, almost arid sound that suits his aged baritone well. With his strident delivery booming over these stripped back rock 'n' roll tunes, Pop sounds almost camp, and it's very becoming.
First single "Gardenia" is a shimmering pop tune with guitars wavering like a heat miser and deliciously ramshackle vocals in the chorus that contrast very effectively with a blistering guitar solo and a playful spoken section. On this record, Pop and his collaborators have chosen to surprise where they could have rested; opener "Break Into Your Heart" rides in on brassy synthesizers and creeps along menacingly, the stunning "Vulture" combines acoustic guitar with gargantuan bells, and the remarkable "Chocolate Drops" is anchored by a thumping piano.
Post Pop Depression, as per its winking title, openly makes reference to Pop's past, most notably on "German Days," referring to the time that Pop spent in Berlin with Bowie and Brian Eno in the late 70's, arguably creating what eventually became known as "post-punk." The song's deranged, angular funk alternately struts and staggers, with Pop singing low and theatrically in an almost cabaret style. Homme's fingerprints may be all over the album's sonics, but the songs themselves are all Iggy Pop.
It's refreshing to hear such a distinctive and iconic voice in a new setting, and to hear that it fits in so well. Over a callous-forming bass line and ghostly chimes, "American Valhalla" finds Pop exploring America's culture of violence and hero worship with a searching and pleading tone that sounds like a much younger man. Iggy Pop's enormous influence on many singers and performers is clear, but he never sounds like a cliché. He breaks out his distinctive yowl on the taut "In the Lobby" and it's still as electrifying as ever.
More than anything, though, Post Pop Depression sounds like Iggy Pop and co. are having a huge amount of fun. These songs shimmy and shake all the way through, with Fertita and Helders laying down a rock solid rhythmic base over which Homme's guitar leads slither and squirm and Pop's voice rings out like a shaman. Stretching out on the glowing pop of "Sunday," there is a beautiful looseness to the way they sing and play that is sorely missing from a lot of contemporary rock music.
Iggy Pop may not be the loose cannon he used to be, but ironically his on-record persona feels more honest and unfiltered than it's ever been. Post Pop Depression is not really comparable to his work with the Stooges or his groundbreaking solo work, but it never set out to be. It's simply one of the most solid rock 'n' roll records you're likely to hear this year. It's inventive and playful and makes you want to come back to it over and over again. It just sounds so damn good.
Post Pop Depression is out on Friday March 18 on CD, vinyl and digital formats.