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Iggy Pop – [Album]

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Monday, 16 May 2011

Be a working musician for as long as Iggy Pop has been (about forty-three years, if you didn't know) and keep a regular touring and release schedule for about the same amount of time, and it's likely that a pretty sizable bank of legally questionable releases will begin to accumulate. Some of those bootlegs have even been known to take on a celebrated status with the passage of time; some continue to reappear perennially because there was “this moment during that song” which proved to have enduring significance or appeal (the “Killer Whale Tank” version of “New Orleans Is Sinking” by The Tragically Hip is a good example of that, as is the “double suicide” version of “Highway Girl” ), or it has simply gone down in infamy (like that night when Jim Morrison screamed, “Now wrap your lips around my cock” during a Doors performance of “Gloria,” of when he supposedly exposed himself in Florida) for one reason or another. Moments like that are the reason people sneak recorders into concerts in the first place – if something remarkable happens, they want a copy of that moment so they can relive it at their leisure – but the downside for artists is that they haven't historically seen one thin dime from the results. They haven't seen any remuneration for those recordings until now, that is; recently, groups like Pearl Jam, The Doors and Bob Dylan (to name a few) have started gathering together the bootlegs of their myriad performances and begun releasing them in the name of quality control and putting out a series of “artist endorsed” or “official” releases with an “official bootleg” stamp on them. Many of these releases sound better than their illegal counterparts, and they'e been received so well by fans that a sort of independent cottage sub-industry has developed in the music business for those artists willing to dig through their own archives. Now Iggy Pop (in conjunction with Shout Factory) has gotten into the act and release the monolithic Roadkill Rising – a four-disc compilation that covers select performances by the singer between 1977 and 2009. To his credit, there's something honorable about the fact that he's released his bootleg collection all in one shot instead of parceling it out over several release and, even better, most of Roadkill Rising is at least decent disc-by-disc, and pretty good overall.

Throwing the whole lot out there for listeners as Roadkill Rising does also makes one thing perfectly clear: it actually is possible to divide the singer's performances by up by decade because the quality of them seems to follow those same lines.

The first disc of Roadkill Rising ("The 70's") finds Iggy still concentrating heavily on Stooges material (“Raw Power,” “1969,” “Search And Destroy” and “”Gimme Danger” all appear here), in spite of live versions from both The Idiot and Lust For Life being available; of the songs from those albums, only “Turn Blue” appears on disc one – presumably because the live sets were still shaky (they're certainly loose here) following his sojourn at a mental institution. The grainier, consistently low-fi sound of disc one is the perfect complimentary presentation for these songs though, and that makes it easy enough to look past any shortcomings in the run-time.

Immediately on disc two (titled “The 80's”), things have noticeably firmed up and the singer appears to be running smoothly. Iggy's solid state is evident in the takes of “Nightclubbing” (in which he seems to be teasing his audience), “Real Wild Child,” “Sister Midnight” and “Blah Blah Blah,” which all break loose and hit like a streamlined machine. That this set is a boot comp becomes a lot less noticeable here as the sound quality (both “Sister Midnight” and “Blah Blah Blah” sparkle) and the performances by both singer and band improve dramatically, and the disc's concentration on solid takes of lesser songs proves to be the perfect ramp-up for presenting the big rock shows of the Nineties and new Millennium that get great coverage on discs three and four here.

In regards to discs three and four, it needs to be said that, were they released on the black market, the shows included would be the lauded bootlegs that every Iggy Pop fan would be hunting tirelessly for. The cuts of classic songs like “Lust For Life,” “China Girl,” “TV Eye,” “The Passenger,” “Five Foot One” and a cover of “Louie Louie” (where you can actually hear the lyrics of the song!) are among the gems on disc three (“The 90's”) and could only be called definitive performances. Here, Iggy is in fine form as he throws in just the right number of stray sparks of chaos to make is performance have that attractive “teetering on the brink” swagger, but they're also wound tight enough (courtesy of bandmembers Whitey Kirst and Craig Pike) to have that mainline adrenaline hit that is instantly satisfying.

Disc three is particularly thrilling for these reasons, while disc four just rocks with all of the elements (sound quality, performances) that make a great bootleg present, in addition to a song selection (mostly late-period tunes, with early classics like “The Jerk,” “Down On The Street,” “Funhouse” and “Real Cool Time” added for flavor) that fits together like the sort of show fans would brag that they “were there when….” Here, there is no questioning Iggy's “survivor” status as the singer pours everything he's got into the performance of every song and whips himself into a froth before melting down and then doing the whole thing again for the next song. Even as disc four winds down in the positively breezy performances of songs from 2009's Préliminaires, listeners will still be on-board – even if the songs (like “Spanish Coast,” “Shotgun” and “King Of The Dogs”) are miles away from where disc one started this journey.

A “journey” is the perfect way to look at Roadkill Rising because it shows all of the different movements and changes Iggy Pop has gone through since breaking loose from The Stooges in the Seventies, and then reconvening them in the new millennium while also keeping up his solo career. Whether intentional or not, this four-disc set illustrates the growth and creative drive in the singer in a way that no collection of studio cuts could; greatest hits packages like that (Nude And Rude, A Million In Prizes) still leave confusing gaps in continuity. Because this is all on stage though, all of the connective tissue between each new re-presentation of Iggy Pop through his career is perfectly visible; making it possible to see how the singer's sound changed from one variation to another to another until he arrived where he is today. That journey has been an unlikely one but, on this compilation, listeners will be able to hear it for themselves and believe it, truly.

Artist:

www.iggypop.com/
www.myspace.com/iggypoppreliminaires
www.facebook.com/pages/Iggy-Pop
www.twitter.com/#!/iggypop_org

Album:

Roadkill Rising
comes out on May 17, 2011 via Shout Factory Records. Buy it here on Amazon .

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Iggy Pop – [Album]

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Monday, 01 June 2009

Iggy Pop is one of my favorite artists, but he's been in a rut recently. With the exception of the spoken word album Avenue A, every album he has released since the early 90's has been a variation of the same hard guitar rock. Reuniting with his Stooges buddies did up the energy level of both his albums and, especially, his live performances, but only solidified the rock quotient.

Even Iggy seemed to be tiring to doing the same old thing. In the video press release for Preliminaries, he complains about being tired of "the buzz of guitars." The result is not only a new direction from his recent albums, but an album unlike any other in his extensive catalog. I've always enjoyed his willingness to experiment, so this album is very welcome to my ears.

It is unclear how much influence the death of Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton had on this album. Iggy makes no direct reference to him, either on the album or the press release, and it is not even clear when Preliminaries was recorded, but it is not at all surprising that Iggy, at this point, headed in a new direction.

The easy shorthand would be to call this Iggy's jazz album (he himself refers to it as that), but it really covers a wide variety of musical styles, from the lounge mellowness of "Les Feullies Morte" to the Dixieland of "King of the Dogs," from the folk-blues of "He's Dead/She's Alive" to the spoken word of "A Machine for Loving." Only a couple of tunes, "Nice to Be Dead" and "Party Time," come close to rocking; most of the album is composed of ballads. Atmospheric guitar and soulful saxophone are the dominant instrumental motifs, not power chords.

What is ironic about Preliminaries is that Iggy marries this, some of the most mellow music of his career, with some of his most cynical, misanthropic and depressing lyrics ever (which, for Iggy, is saying a lot). Songs like "Nice to be Dead" and "How Insensitive" are just what they sound like. Lyrics like "You can convince the world/ that you're some kind of superstar/ But an asshole is what you are" ("I Want to Go to the Beach") and "Die like a clown/ with no one around" ("Spanish Coast") abound.

There are various echoes of past Iggy themes. "Party Time" remakes "Funtime" from The Idiot. "King of the Dogs" echoes, of course, "I Wanna Be Your Dog." "A Machine for Loving" continues the pro-dog theme (and the misanthropy), arguing that dogs are purer beings than humans ("Through these dogs we pay homage to love"), capable of unconditional love, even if the human objects of that love do not deserve it at all.

At this point I must admit that two factors prevent from fully appreciating this album. One is that I don't speak French. Iggy dedicates this album to the French, and two of the songs are sung in French. I'm sure I'm missing something by not understanding them.

The other is that Iggy credits French novelist Michel Houellebecq for much of his inspiration. Although I'm familiar with the name, I have never read any of his work. What I do know about him does fit the album—he is also known for nihilistic, misanthropic art. But I'm sure a great familiarity with his writings would provide a deeper understanding of the themes of Preliminaries.

Despite these limitations, I thoroughly enjoyed Preliminaries. Iggy returns to form by doing something completely new. He sounds inspired again, stretching out in new styles. Preliminaires is a great addition to his catalog.

Artist:
www.iggypop.com
www.iggypop.org

Album:
Preliminaries is out 6/02/09. Buy it on Amazon.

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