ALBUM REVIEW: Iggy Pop is Truly Liberated on ‘Free’

What’s more punk rock than the godfather of it dropping some artsy ambient jazz?

I really didn’t want to like it. Iggy falls into two categories. Astonishingly great and utterly shit. An album of ambient soundscapes and lounge jazz with Iggy’s spoken wording over the top? I need that like I need a root canal.

Then that fucking “James Bond” track was playing everywhere. So annoying. The antithesis of “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” The Stooges’ immortal debut was all atavistic sexuality, promising filth and aggression that oozes out of your speakers, infects the carpet, peels the wallpaper, seeps into the stonework and blocks the plumbing.  

“James Bond” comes on like the twee little cousin to “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” A bit silly. Eager to please. Overly worthy in its attempt to be woke. While its older relation is wild and dirty, the very essence of rock ‘n’ roll, this bobs along to a bouncy bass line as Iggy attempts to put the girl on top. Why does she aspire to be James Bond though? Is that really the best role model he can think of? Why not one of any number of great women from fiction (or from real life for that matter)? Maybe I’m overthinking it, but it has become one of those tracks that just drives me mad whenever I hear it. Skip.

So I wasn’t too excited about the album. 

Firstly, if “James Bond” is anything to go by, the preamble for the album is badly mistaken. This isn’t ambient jazz. Iggy’s never been a crooner but he can get down into that deep register. Those two French albums he made were interesting but never took hold of me. This could—should—be a misfire.

I was 15 when I found and original pressing of The Stooges in a crate and paid £5 for it. I loved it and it’s an album I’ve bought on multiple formats multiple times down the years. I love the mythology of it. Funhouse was one of the first CDs I ever bought, and although I’ve still never made it to the end of “L.A. Blues,” it has also cropped up in numerous guises in my collection. I found a scuffed old secondhand cassette of Raw Power (the David Bowie mix) in the early ’90s and replaced it over the years with various CD and LP copies. 

All three of these albums take me to a place that terrifies and inspires in equal measures. Metallic K.O. is the greatest live album of all time. Don’t @ me. It is. You know it is. I don’t wanna hear about Live at Leeds. Don’t waste my time with Live and Dangerous. Forget all those old dull live records.  Metallic K.O., in all its awfully recorded, puerile, vindictive, sarcastic glory is where my heart lies. 

My sister got me a copy of The Idiot when I was 17 and I picked up Lust For Life at the same time. These two sides of the same coin (which also share a certain amount of DNA with Bowie’s Low and “Heroes”) sit alongside those Stooges albums as the very essence of what makes Iggy essential and vital and always of interest.

But for every Lust For Life, there’s a Party and a Soldier.  American Caesar was great but Naughty Little Doggy was not. I know I’m digressing, but the point here is that you can’t rely on Iggy to always deliver. He might but he often won’t. 

Like most people, Post Pop Depression came as a real surprise.  Teaming up with Josh Homme was a great idea and it worked. A match that should’ve happened earlier. He was retiring, he said. What a way to end a career. Then he was back, guesting on an Underworld record and that was pretty great too.

Free starts with the title track, coming on like an advert for aftershave. Ambient electronic discords underpin Iggy’s desire to be free.  A trumpet starts to play.  Iggy wants it to be Miles Davis but at times, it’s more like Kenny G. That’s my first impression.  Iggy’s doing smooth jazz and intoning bad poetry. Everyone is posting their cool blue vinyl on Insta and that can’t be good either. Are people just buying it because of the name? Has anyone listened to it? Bland AOR bullshit.

In the film Trainspotting, Sick Boy says, “Well at one point you’ve got it, then you lose it, then it’s gone forever… In your heart you kinda know that even though it sounds alright it’s actually just shite.”

Sick Boy’s theory of life is fairly crucial here. We’ll keep going back to those Stooges albums. Those Bowie-produced ’70s albums will be pulled out frequently. Did anyone listen to Avenue B lately? The Weirdness? Skull Ring? Will Free be any different? Is it fair to judge it against The Idiot? Maybe another listen first before I file it alongside Instinct and quietly forget about it. 

This time feels different though. 

Textures start to emerge from it. Maybe it’s not Kenny G. Maybe it is Miles. The spoken word stuff sounds cool. He’s doing Dylan Thomas. Occasionally, there’s a shift in pace or tone to keep the listener on their toes. When singing is required, as on “Dirty Sanchez,” his voice sounds shot. Much more comfortable in the spoken word zone. At times, it feels like Vangelis’ soundtrack for Bladerunner. At others, an offcut from late ’60s Miles. Neither of these things is a bad idea. 

Iggy’s voice, like Leonard Cohen’s, like Bob Dylan’s, has evolved over time and seems to be setting into this granite hard edifice. And naturally, as his career edges towards the finish line, it’s unlikely that he’s got another Raw Power in him. Why should he? That’s a young man’s game. Free is a bold statement. It doesn’t all work. Not yet anyway. But I’ll keep listening. It keeps drawing me back. Better this than Iggy dropping another embarrassing “punk” record. What’s more punk rock than the godfather of it dropping some artsy ambient jazz? 

The one question still lingers though: why does she want to be your James Bond?

Score: 🐦🐦🐦🐦 / 5