CD Review of Preliminaires by Iggy Pop
Iggy Pop: Preliminaires
Recommended if you like
The Stooges, Tom Waits,
New York Dolls
Label
Astralwerks
Iggy Pop: Preliminaires

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD

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I
ggy Pop is an American icon, some will say. He is the architect of punk, others will say. Both of those subjective statements can be pretty well defended, but also are vulnerable to attack (like, he had a little help with the punk thing). But what has been a constant part of his 40-plus years on the rock scene is his innate ability to alienate his audience, either through defying their expectations and enraging them, or creeping them out. Take, for instance, his 1970s tour following the release of Lust for Life – arguably his post-Stooges creative apex and shows fans today would give their left arm to see – wasn't particularly well-received. Why? According to Thomas Jerome Seabrook's fine book Bowie in Berlin: A New Career in a New Town, "The tour...was bad-tempered and confrontational. Iggy stomped onstage in an old Nazi helmet, repeatedly spat at his audiences (but with real menace, as opposed to the anarchic glee of a Johnny Rotten), and did his best to search out and destroy the music his band was playing." He routinely breaks down what he's built up, sometimes to great success, and other times to his detriment. Just Iggy being Iggy.

His new record certainly will alienate most of the record-buying public. Stooges fans and punksters waiting patiently for the next Lust for Life will be turned off by the Tom Waits-style interpretations of jazz and blues it contains –including the opener, a droning rendition of "Les Feuilles Mortes," the original French jazz ballad Americanized by Johnny Mercer as "Autumn Leaves" in 1947 – while anyone who likes jazz and blues will wonder why on earth someone would record a whole drunken New Orleans funeral march, titled "King of the Dogs," in order to celebrate his "smelly rear."

Iggy Pop

But for those of us who have come to appreciate this American icon understand how he works: As muse to David Bowie and hordes of great punk bands, his attitude and improvisational lyrics are the heart of his inspiration, not necessarily his songwriting canon on the whole. He's hit-and-miss, and for every "Lust for Life" and "The Passenger" from his solo career – or manic Stooges-era stuff like "TV Eye" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" – there's a bunch of almost unlistenable songs like "Mass Production" from The Idiot or the synth-driven "Real Wild Child," one of his more popular 1980s hits. That one, by the way, was about the least wild thing he's ever recorded, and would have been better suited for a Glenn Frey single.

Put into context, Preliminaires is not that bad. With some cuts influenced heavily by old New Orleans R&B and others inspired by moody French jazz (he wrote some of the songs for author Michel Houellebecq's film adaptation of his widely panned novel "The Possibility of an Island," which, as far as we know, has no takers among the studios), Preliminaires is a mishmash of sounds and styles, hitting and missing in classic Iggy style. "Je Sais Que Tu Sais" is a good, pounding cut in the vein of "Nightclubbing," except with a strong, Louis Armstrong-style trumpet countermelody juxtaposed with Iggy muttering through some sort of Vocoder-like thing with a sexy-sounding French babe reciting verse on top of it all, sounding like she's getting ready for business. Of course, my two years of high school French long ago deserted me, so for all I know they're singing about investing in pork-belly futures. But it sounds cool. "He's Dead/She's Alive" is a solid acoustic Delta blues shouter that sounds quite authentic – another nice win for Iggy. "Nice to Be Dead" is a good old raucous Iggy rocker that, after he finally leaves this mortal coil after so many years of hard living, we'll play and it will seem like he's sneering at us from beyond the grave.

But then there are the misses: The bizarre "A Machine for Loving," a narrative recited over a musical bed. Kinda like beat poetry and definitely an acquired taste. "I Want to Go to the Beach," a kitschy 1960s pop dirge, finds Iggy completely whiffing at imitating Tom Waits. "Spanish Coast" is so mellow and oddly out of character that it makes us wonder if we should call 911 and have the paramedics check for a pulse. Then there's "Party Time," featuring a weird 1980s synth-disco rhythm – and it somehow musters little more pulse than "Spanish Coast."

At face value, Preliminaires is appropriately weird and expectedly experimental. Truth be told, this is much better than hearing Iggy trying to relive his past successes with barely updated Stooge-y material (he's been there and done that). But he's probably not going to win many new fans with this one, and old fans who get the record without having read it's a jazzy departure will feel duped. It's Iggy being Iggy, all over again. But the guy is 62 years old and the meter's running; let's just say he's probably not attracting many new followers, even if he's still going on stage shirtless and ripped with the six-pack abs as he's done his whole career. We're getting dangerously close to tree-falling-in-the-woods territory...soon, we'll be asking ourselves, if Iggy Pop comes out with a new album, will anybody hear it?

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