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Published on November 13th, 2019 | by voxx

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Iggy Pop – Free

The venerable Mr Osterburg shrugs off the heritage-rock blues…

After Iggy’s dream-ticket team-up with Josh Homme for 2016’s Post Pop Depression, few aficionados would deem his hazy backstory to Free too promising. “By the end of the tours following PPD, I felt drained,” the 72-year-old pre-punk icon has confessed. “I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back and walk away, I wanted to be free.”

Even three years ago, the cover story around that album in Mojo with Pop slumped over a parked vehicle, grimacing from the relentless pain in his bones. The campaign duly played out with relatively few appearances on-stage alongside Homme’s band: rumours of a clash of egos will hardly be extinguished by the news that this record isn’t the rematch most would surely prefer.

Instead, Free pits Iggy against a pair of musicians whose work is avowedly abstract: Noveller, aka Sarah Lipstate, is the bow-wielding young avant-guitarist whose squalling improv soundscapes greeted early arrivers at May ‘16’s extraordinary show at the Royal Albert Hall; Leron Thomas, meanwhile, is a 40-year old Texan jazz trumpeter whose only mainstream CV entry is a short stint in Lauryn Hill’s touring band. The three-way collaboration “just kind of happened to me”, their better-known vocalist conceded in a recent interview, “and I let it happen.”

After The Stooges, Iggy diversified energetically, if rarely crowd-pleasingly. When he finally caved in and reactivated the two Stooges line-ups, neither 2007’s The Weirdness (with Ron Asheton) nor 2013’s Ready To Die (James Williamson) caught fire. Free, in a good way, resembles his more esoteric work from that time, such as 1999’s brooding Avenue B.

Like last year’s Tea Time Dub Encounters EP with Underworld, it keys into our instant recognition of The Mighty Ig as a leathery rock warrior ruminating on his rollercoaster life of horror and misadventure, and facing down unforeseen twilight-years existential crises. The opening title track – two minutes of Lipstate’s eerie textural washes, Thomas’s distant parps and the growled mantra “I wanna be free” – is extra-powerful given everything we know about its physically hurting narrator.

Comparisons with Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series would be inevitable, if Free’s sonics didn’t sync more often – if doubtless unwittingly – with the current craze for spiritual jazz. The stumbling breakbeat of ‘Sonali’ and the spacily exploratory coda of ‘Glow In The Dark’ give a sense of currency rare in Iggy’s oeuvre.

Counter-intuitive if not unwelcome, other tracks are more conventionally rocking: ‘Loves Missing’ arguably nails the clanking Bowie/Berlin era better than PPD, but the enjoyably unpredictably DNA of Free is best encapsulated on ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’, where our perma-stagediving septuagenarian hero – already rock’s most persuasive embodiment of Dylan Thomas’s famous age-flouting poem – recites it with terrifying urgency against gleeful medium-pelt skronk. Way to go! And keep going, eh?

- By Jake White


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