By Eleni P. Austin
“The problem with life is that it stops.”
That’s Iggy Pop waxing philosophical on “Comments,” a song off his latest album, Every Loser. Unbelievably, Iggy Pop is fucking 75 years old! Take a minute to wrap your head around that fun fact. Of course, the man who has been affectionately known as The Godfather Of Punk, since the late ‘60s, has already used up nine lives and then some. So, technically, this is gravy time.
Born James Newell Osterberg, Jr. in April of 1947, he was the only child of two devoted parents. Growing up in Muskegon, Michigan, he became infatuated early on with primitive Rock & Roll, Blues and R&B. By high school, he was playing drums in bands like The Iguanas and The Prime Movers. (It was during the Iguana era that he earned the nickname Iggy). His affinity for the Blues was so all-consuming that he dropped out of the University Of Michigan and moved to Chicago.
Even as he soaked up those seminal sounds, he was equally inspired by emerging bands like The Sonics, The Doors and local favorites, The MC5. Adopting the name Iggy Pop, he formed Iggy And The Stooges (which was quickly shortened to The Stooges). He was Influenced by the over-the-top showmanship of James Brown and Mick Jagger, but he had an epiphany when he attended a Doors show where Jim Morrison was very obviously tripping on acid. Iggy took it all 10 steps further, becoming the most outre’ frontman in Rock history. The first to stage dive, puke, roll in broken glass and intentionally whip out his, um, second microphone during a performance.
Surprisingly, his antics never overshadowed the band’s protean sound. They quickly earned a reputation as one of the most incendiary live acts on the scene. After inking a deal with Elektra Records, their self-titled debut arrived in 1969. Produced by Velvet Underground visionary John Cale, their music sounded like nothing else on the Pop landscape. Brutal and primordial, it forged a template that served as a blueprint for every Punk album released for the next 50 years.
The Stooges made two more albums, Funhouse and Raw Power. Although they began was acquiring famous fans like David Bowie and Lou Reed, commercial success eluded their grasp. The band imploded in 1973. Iggy stage-dived headfirst into a crippling drug addiction, eventually checking into a mental institution. Although Bowie was dealing with substance issues, he threw Iggy a lifeline when he invited him to join his Station To Station tour.
More lastingly, they both relocated to to the quieter environs of Berlin. Free from media scrutiny, both managed to loosen the grip of addiction. In that time, Bowie created his legendary Teutonic triptych, Low, Heroes and Lodger. He also produced Iggy’s first two solo efforts, The Idiot and Lust For Life, effectively cementing the latter’s position as preeminent Proto-Punk provocateur.
For the remainder of the 20th century, Iggy continued to tour and record, releasing a serious of hit-and-miss albums. He also collaborated with members of The Sex Pistols, Blondie, Guns N’ Roses, Patti Smith guitarist Ivan Kral and Kate Pierson from The B-52’s.
In 2003, Iggy and The Stooges reunited for two studio albums and several tours. His solo output for the last 20 years has included Beat ‘Em Up, Skull Ring and Preliminaires, Apres’ (the latter two sung in French). In 2016 he collaborated with Josh Homme from Queens Of The Stone Age on Post-Pop Depression. Josh played on and produced the record, not only did Iggy receive the best reviews of his career, the album debuted at #17 on the Billboard charts and it was nominated for a Grammy award. Rather bittersweetly, he lost to his old pal, David Bowie, who had passed away rather suddenly, at the beginning of that same year.
Three years later Iggy released Free and received Lifetime Achievement awards from the Grammies as well as GQ. (Shockingly, although The Stooges were inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2010, Iggy has yet to receive the same honor for his prodigious solo career). This new record came about when producer Andrew Watt recruited Ig to play on an upcoming Morrissey album. They hit it off and the producer (who has worked with everyone from Justin Bieber, Eddie Vedder, Ozzy Osbourne and Post Malone) suggested they join forces. The result is his 20th solo album, Every Loser. This record comes fully-loaded. The first opening three tracks alone, are worth the price of admission. “Frenzy,” the first single, kicks things into gear with the unmistakably thrilling sound of a guitar plugging into an amp. A sustained power chord is quickly supplanted by slashing riffs, marauding bass and a pummeling beat. Only Iggy could get away with this priapic preamble; “I got a dick and two balls, that’s more than you all, my mind will be sick if I suffer the pricks, so shut up and love me, cause fun is my buddy, all the sharks in the sea are waiting on me.” Over sludge-y, primordial guitars and synthesized strings, Iggy reveals his enmity for fucking pricks, goddamn dicks and stoned douchebags, punctuating his rant with a neanderthal howl. On the break downstroke rhythm riffs give way to strafing lead guitar and the song powers down with some Hendrix-ian wah-wah.
Next up is “Strung Out Johnny.” alithery guitar fills (that share some musical DNA with the opening notes of The Plimsouls’ “I Want What You Got”), connect with tensile bass, dayglo keys and a caffeinated beat. Iggy’s intonation is suitably sepulchral as he unspools a saga of addiction. But his drug of choice is sex-or love- the two are conflated; “Love becomes compulsive, it’s wiser to say no, God made me a junkie, but Satan told me so….First time you do with a friend, second time you do it in a bed, third time you can’t get enough, and life gets all fucked up.” Flickering guitar licks leapfrog through the mix, by the break, icy keys cocoon spatial guitars before returning to insistent chorus.
By “New Atlantis,” lush piano notes wash over cascading acoustic guitars. Iggy works in some spoken word for the first verse, as he offers up a barbed encomium to the Magic City; “Somewhere south of Alabama and north of Cuba, there lies a beautiful whore of a city, she accepts all donations and an endless stream of lovers, Colombian pushers and murderers, American swindlers and Slavic thugs, because here, a man can be himself, but now, she’s sinking inro the sea.” Toggling between spoken passages and croon-y verses, corrosive electric guitars roil across sturdy bass lines and a knockabout beat. On the break, soaring, AOR-flavored guitars are braced by plangent piano, fluttery keys and chunky rhythm riffs. The song’s caustic denouement finds him decrying the climate crisis, but ultimately declaring his love; “Some say the world will end in fire, some say ice, Me? I just see fewer birds, fish and butterflies, plenty of concrete/ThoughI run to Europe, I run to the Caribbean, but coming here is the best thing I ever did, Miami, I love you.” It’s a tart ode to “the shitty, shady paradise” he calls home.
A couple of spoken word respites dot the record, “The News For Andy (Interlude)” and “My Animus (Interlude).” Set to a jaunty Music Hall melody, he former is scabrous satire mocking pharmaceutical and the class-action lawsuit commercials that saturate the television airwaves, in between reruns of Matlock and Murder, She Wrote. The latter blends sunny guitar with Ig’s growly declaration; “I am not some flimsy, stray-town strawboy, I am a terror, my animus can stand up all on it’s own, to smell out and find the saucer of milk and drink it all.”
Every Loser is simply stacked with superlative tracks, but three songs absolutely crackle with authority. First up is the metallurgic slink of Neo Punk. It’s powered by blitzkrieg guitars, brazen bass lines and a patented “1-2-3-4” jackhammer beat. His deadpan delivery drips with derision as he spits out scathing lyrics like “Got a custom Rolls-Royce, I’m a Neo Punk, got a spot on The Voice, I’m a Neo Punk, old ladies cum when I flash my junk, I’m a hunky Gucci model, Neo Punk, I’m a hunky libertarian Neo Punk” that handily take the piss out of 21st century poseur Punks. Iggy knows it takes more than sporting a purple mohawk and strategic piercings, to achieve authenticity. The arrangement accelerates on the break, as cyclonic guitars and stabby keys mosh atop a slam dance beat. The whole thing collapses in on itself in a sweaty, satisfying heap, accompanied some wicked heh-heh-heh laughter from guess who.
Completely shifting gears, the action slows on “Morning Show.” This minor key charmer features shang-a-lang electric riffs, sun-dappled acoustic fills, shivery bass, ticklish piano and a percussive kick. Sly and introspective lyrics find Iggy trapped by society’s misconceptions; “The clown you loved is dead, my insides have turned red. a future that is hopeless just makes each day delicious, time is like a peel, it opens and reveals/I’ll fix my face and go, go and do my morning show, I’ll fix my face and go, time to do the morning show like a pro.” The wry and reflective mood is underscored by a keening guitar solo and painterly keys.
Finally, on the aforementioned “Comments” search-and-destroy bass lines are matched by shimmery guitars whooshy keys and a thundering backbeat. Lyrics offer a trenchant diatribe aimed at the facile façade created by social media; “Hold my hand and we can take a leap, Earth is dirty, space is full of creeps, sell your stock in Zuckerberg and run, buy a passport to the end of fun.” “Clicks” and “Likes” can’t take the place of genuine human interaction no matter how we spin it; “Sell your face to Hollywood, they’re payin’ good, payin’ good, sold my face to Hollywood, I’m feelin’ good, lookin’ good…looking at those comments all right, wonder if the comments are right, wonder why I’ll feel so cold, I’ll never make a comment…yeah, I’m lookin’ for a soulmate in those comments.” The arrangement slows down on the bridge, as feathery keys partner with glassy guitars and jittery high-hat action, retreating for more rumbling bass before launching into a hell-for-leather finish.
Other interesting tracks include the squirmy cri de Coeur of “Modern Day Ripoff” and the swagger and strut of “All The Way Down.” The album shudders to a halt with “The Regency.” Spectral backing vocals ebb and flow atop a subdued “Be My Baby” backbeat for the first verse. Suddenly time signatures shift, brawny guitars are bookended by prowling bass lines and a piledriving beat. Iggy spews out a spit-flecked harangue that offers a jaundiced view of celebrity um, culture. Although he declares it a bore and a snore and cheesy, he gives the listener a gimlet-eyed glimpse into a shallow world beyond the V.I.P. ropes; “I saw a nose job, I saw a con job, I saw a heart-throb with a small knob…Satan is hiring, ah, but Satan is tiring, no laughs, no fucking chance, no laughs at all, Fuck The Regency…I battled with The Regency, I fought them to a draw, while I’m alive, uncompromised, I’m stepping out the door.” It’s a fearless finish to a stellar record.
This is a solo record in name only. While Iggy handled all the vocals, several superstar musicians lined up to play with a living legend. That includes Jane’s Addiction guitarist and bassist Dave Navarro and Eric Avery, Blink 182 drummer (and tattoo enthusiast) Travis Barker, Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, former and current Red Hot Chili Peppers, Josh Kinghoffer on bass, guitars, keys, organ, piano and synths, and Chad Smith on drums, ex-Alanis Morrisette bassist Chris Chaney, Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard and the late, great Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins on drums.
Since David Bowie and Lou Reed have both shaken off this mortal coil, only Iggy is left to carry the torch for outliers and musical miscreants. Rebellious, sinewy and forever shirtless, The Godfather Of Punk recently quit stage-diving. Even so, as he reaches his sunset years, he remains as potent and pugnacious as ever. Every Loser is the first great record of 2023.