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Iggy Pop: rock’s iconoclastic icon

The 19th solo studio album from the septuagenarian ‘Godfather of Punk’ offers a whiff of the old Iggy

Iggy Pop’s latest album features a galaxy of musicians.
Iggy Pop’s latest album features a galaxy of musicians.

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A quick quiz question. Actually, two quick quiz questions rolled into one: Which veteran rock singer was once considered as a replacement as the lead vocalist for The Doors after Jim Morrison’s death, and then, later, offered the lead singer’s job in AC/DC, presumably after the death of the band’s former vocalist Bon Scott? No? Well, here’s a hint: The musician in question is turning 76 later this year; and—this could be the clincher—he has usually performed shirtless.

Yes, Iggy Pop, who is often described as the “Godfather of Punk”, could have been Morrison’s successor in The Doors if the band had not decided to carry on as a trio. And, he could have been the Australian hard rocking band AC/DC’s frontman had he not turned down the offer.

Those are just two interesting facts about the multifaceted rock musician who has released his 19th solo studio album, Every Loser, early this month. It features a galaxy of musicians, including members of Pearl Jam and Jane’s Addiction, and the late drummer Taylor Hawkins. The album itself may not be a blockbuster—it is certainly not Iggy’s best and can’t be compared to his stellar work from the past, such as Lust For Life and The Idiot from the late 1970s or even the more recent Post Pop Depression (2016)—but it definitely is rock music at its most basic, simple and essential.

Every Loser doesn’t compare either with the five albums Iggy released with his band, The Stooges, who were hailed as the precursors of the punk rock wave in the late 1960s-early 1970s. That was when Iggy adopted his stage name (he was born James Newell Osterberg, Jr), started performing shirtless (ostensibly inspired by illustrations depicting Egyptian pharaohs) and pioneered the art of extreme acts on stage (think of leaping into the audience or cutting himself with broken glass) besides being addicted to heroin and other substances for long periods.

For a long part of his career, those antics, more than his music, were what people associated Iggy Pop with. But towards the late 1970s, Iggy began a long-lasting collaboration with the late David Bowie that helped him launch his solo career and garnered for him a sort of late bloomer’s recognition. And although commercial success didn’t come in heaps, he became an icon for the punk and post-punk generation.

Bands such as Sex Pistols and Nirvana are believed to be influenced heavily by Iggy’s stripped-down, raw manner of making music.

There are, however, other fascinating aspects about Iggy. For instance, in the mid-1990s, he wrote an article about the relevance of the British historian Edward Gibbon’s six-volume work, The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, to modern-day society and the world. The article was published in an academic journal.

More accessibly, Iggy hosts his own show as a radio jockey for the BBC every Sunday. Listeners can easily discern his astonishingly eclectic taste in music. During a recent episode, he played tracks, among others, by the late jazz saxophonist Coleman Hawkins; the poet and precursor of rap, Gil Scott-Heron; a Polish rock band called Kacperczyk (the song of theirs he played was called IGGY!); and Zoh Amba, jazz composer, flautist and saxophonist.

Iggy himself may have started as a primitive rock singer—raw, aggressive, in your face—but over the years he has experimented with genres that straddle a wide spectrum: heavy rock, metal, new wave, blues, jazz, electronic, and so on.

On Every Loser, Iggy collaborated with the leading young producer Andrew Watt, who has produced albums for Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Ozzy Osbourne, Pearl Jam, Lana Del Rey, and Morrissey, among many others. Iggy has been a bit subdued on his recent albums, such as Free (2019). Instead of the aggressive fuzzy, guitar-led fare on his early albums, it’s horns and guitarscapes that build a mood which, incredibly for a punk rock icon, veers nearly towards lounge music.

That seems to have changed with Every Loser. The new album offers a whiff of the old Iggy. What a relief! The snarling vocals, raspier than ever, are back. So too are the wah-wahs and screaming riffs. In the frenzied opener, aptly titled Frenzy, the lyrics go: Got a dick and 2 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. Did somebody say Iggy has become an elder statesman of rock music? Well, it certainly doesn’t sound like that.

Every Loser is yet another comeback for a rock musician who has often been expected to either hang up his boots or, given the excesses of rough living over much of his career, just be no more. In a recent interview with the magazine Classic Rock, Iggy talked about how when the Grammys decided to give him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020, he wanted to refuse it because “they want me to be an exhibit in their museum”. They later convinced him to accept it.

His new album ensures that Iggy will remain an icon, albeit an iconoclastic one.

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