Iggy Pop has been known for his eclectic and manic live shows which often leave him bloody and half-naked; but, more impressively, he’s remembered as one of the few artists who could be associated with any decade since the 1960s. The man set a precedent for what a punk show should look like and has continued that energy throughout his career.
His raucous few years with The Stooges in the late 1960s and early 1970s defined the strung-out and hectic Detroit blues-punk sound. Pop parted ways with The Stooges in the mid-'70s and set off on a journey to find his intent as a solo artist. During this introspective period, he found himself surrounded by drugs, girls and David Bowie, which helped solidify Pop’s image as the world’s most woke, post-punk pioneer — never afraid to adopt the sound of the times.
Pop’s aptly titled 2016 album “Post Pop Depression” came off as a kind of therapy session between a few of the remaining rock stars in the world. The album was performed and co-written by a supergroup consisting of Josh Homme and Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age as well as Matt Helders of the Arctic Monkeys. Unfortunately, the album didn’t equal more than the summation of its parts.
But no one could have expected what happened next.
On Sept. 6, Pop released his 18th studio album “Free.” The barely-over-30-minutes running time features the absolute opposite of what one would expect from the man designated as the “Godfather of Punk.” The album encapsulates an attitude of dismission, acceptance and peace following the tour for “Post Pop Depression.”
“I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back and walk away,” said Pop in a July 2019 DIY Magazine article. “I wanted to be free. I know that’s an illusion, and that freedom is only something you feel, but I have lived my life thus far in the belief that that feeling is all that is worth pursuing.”
This freedom is portrayed on “Free” through Pop’s melancholic placement of ambient synthesizers, swift and nearly exclusively electronic rhythm sections and the careful addition of slippery trumpets to widen the head space. It wouldn’t be amiss to call it smooth jazz, but Pop might take offense to a label that confining.
Despite the odd instrumental selection for Pop, the vocal phrasing remains unwaveringly on brand. Pop’s prior work has always focused on making each word or phrase count, and the title track has only one phrase that gets repeated at the beginning and the end: “I want to be free.” It’s delivered with an earnest imperfection that is sourced straight from Pop’s seemingly troubled soul.
“Free” has very few riff-based tracks because of Pop’s quest to create an internal sanctum that focuses primarily on atmosphere. However, the tracks that do experiment with that concept are well-endowed. “James Bond” leads with a bassline that is reminiscent of something from The Stooges’ back catalog. There are none of the excited hollers usually prominent on similar tracks from Pop’s past work. Instead, Pop reaches for the ribbon microphone and lays down what sounds like a latter-era Frank Sinatra track. “Let her be your James Bond,” Pop sings during the chorus.
Pop, like many of his contemporaries (Jack White, T. Rex), loves to position women as the dominant force in a relationship, almost to the point of kinkiness. No tracks on “Free,” however, are kinkier than “Dirty Sanchez.” “You desensitized s***s/Are always playing with your butts/The things you do for the camera/This online porn is driving me nuts,” Pop frustratedly and earnestly sings. Pop has never been one to deny the beauty of sex, but he is obviously fed up with the current over-saturation of sexual content in the internet age. It’s clear he misses the good old days when it took a keen eye and an aura of confidence to get your kicks.
If Pop’s qualms lie primarily with the grind of touring, chances are high he won’t be performing any tracks from “Free” often or even at all. And honestly, that’s OK. These tracks don’t come off as live bangers, and they make more sense within the context of the album. “Free” is a first-person endoscopy into Iggy Pop’s mind, no holds barred.