Iggy Pop: Naughty Little Doggie

If Iggy Pop had died when most people expected him to — back in the mid-'70s, from an overdose of bad drugs and stage violence — we would probably be sitting around now wondering what kind of music he would have made in his middle age. But the heavy chemicals and broken glass didn't kill him, and he's still cutting records, so here's your answer: In 1996, the Pop is still singing about pussy. About needing it, getting it and how just thinking about it is good for what ails him. With its hip-swing rhythm and irresistible idiot-mantra chorus, "Pussy Walk" is topgrade, lowbrow lovin'. Because in rock & roll, as in everything else, life is too short to waste on double-entendre.

At 48, Iggy Pop isn't punking out. "I'm better than a Pepsi/I'm cooler than MTV," he brags at the outset of Naughty Little Doggie over the shake 'n' quake of "I Wanna Live." "Step up, it's fight time/Kick, scratch and bite time." He's as good as his word for the most part, turning on the power-elite pricks in "Knucklehead" while losing himself in the burntheart howl of "To Belong." And Iggy has not lost his lyric gifts for Burroughsian sleight of metaphor — "The music sounds like dead ham" ("Knucklehead") — and sly menace. "Strangle that rock & roll star," he sings on "Outta My Head" with just the right trace of irony. "Make him eat jizz."

But Iggy also carries the great weight of his own history; at this point in his life, nothing short of total meltdown on record would eclipse the Molotov cock tales on The Stooges, Fun House and Raw Power. And Doggie finds him struggling with the uneasy balance between the eternal joys of electric fuck-you rock & roll and singing about the hard truth of being an outlaw for life — that you'll probably die alone. Iggy almost nails it in "Outta My Head" with the wounded-animal way his voice bends slightly out of tune, but the song cries out for more explicit guitar madness, more real blood on the frets.

"Look Away," though, is a potent admission of screwing up on China white and cheap attitude. Amid references to Johnny Thunders' fatal mixed-up confusion and Iggy's own near-death experiences, electric and acoustic guitars blend in eerie, milky strumming as Iggy intones the words look away like some Zen chant and shows just how low you can go to get by. "I got lots of feelings/But I hold them down," he sings at the end. "That's the way I cope/With this shitty town."

If Iggy had died ahead of schedule, he would just be another rock & roll martyr. Instead, the fun house is still open for business and, as he puts it here, "I'm deeper than the shit I'm in/An' I don't really give a damn." Celebrity is great, but survival is the best revenge.