Post Pop Depression by Iggy Pop (4/5)
2016’s string of unexpected celebrity deaths has forced myself as well as much of America to think about our mortality, normally something most in this country studiously avoid. But because death is the only inevitability shared by all of humanity regardless of nationality, race, religion, and class, it’s a topic ripe for artists. From Cicero’s dictum that “to study philosophy is...to prepare one’s self to die” to Western art’s obsession with the pieta to Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking, the topic of death seems to cut straight through time and circumstance. With this in mind, Iggy Pop’s latest, and perhaps last, album spends much of its nine songs staring into the unknowable while fighting his own obsolescence.
Pop’s career has always been interesting, even if it has been uneven. Sure, his work with the Stooges and David Bowie catapulted him into the pantheon of rock and roll gods, but his later work has been less certain. His recent (partly) French language cover album was an intriguing turn, but the less said about the Stooges reunion, the better. Pop’s always benefited from strong collaborators who can properly channel his creative impulses, which Pop himself seems to be aware of since he drafted Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme as his writing partner for his latest. The result on Post Pop Depression are nine dark and nimble songs that rank with some of Pop’s best.
Post Pop Depression doesn’t sound like a tired play for relevance like Pop’s unfortunately early aughts alliance with Sum 41. Instead, it’s a serious work unbound by musical trends. As someone staring down his seventies, the end is clearly on Pop’s mind. As a xylophone traipse over a rumbling bass on “American Valhalla,” he sings, “I’ve shot my gun / I’ve used my knife / It hasn’t been an easy life / I’m hoping for American Valhalla.” The conflation of sex and violence are a longtime career obsession, perhaps a version of Freud’s death drive. And of course Pop’s aggressive, violent live performances always seem like the work of a man aching for self destruction. Sex itself has long been associated with death, either as a means to avoid thinking about the big sleep or a means of seeking the end--la petite mort. At the very end of “American Valhalla,” Pop intones, “I’ve nothing but my name,” as the music drops out completely. This moment eerily foreshadows a time when Pop will have left us with his ghostly legacy.
There’s a larger reason why Pop is unleashing his inner dirty old man on an album that purposefully looks towards oblivion. Sex also reminds us that we are bags of meat--the soft machine as William S. Burroughs once wrote. “Gardenia” seems to borrow its themes from Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” a nineteenth century lyric poem that appears to recall the night of Arnold’s honeymoon. But where Arnold’s narrator reflects on the ebb and flow of the water along the English shore of the channel to his new bride, Pop finds himself in a cheap hotel with a woman wearing a “Cheap purple baby doll dress.” The transformation of the muse and location speaks to Pop’s instinct to marry classic poetry with the skeezier landscapes of industrial Detroit.
At the close of the album’s final song, “Paraguay,” Pop begins to rant about technology, information, and those damn kids. He has transformed into full on “get off my lawn” mode. This diatribe questions whether technology has really helped us all that much. We can carry around a computer in our pocket, but in our lifetime we’ve seen a gradual disintegration of the middle class and ballooning wealth inequality. And as Pop points out, the same technology that we carry around with us can also be used to invade our privacy. And yet the rant doubles as a representation of Pop’s fear of obsolescence. Where does he fit within this new world and will anyone remember him when he’s gone? I don’t think Iggy Pop has anything to worry about, especially if he can still produce an album this strong. He claims that Post Pop Depression will be the end of his recording career, but I hope that’s not the case. Judging by the album, it sounds like there’s still plenty of gas left in the tank.