Iggy Pop is 72 and in some alternate universe, he’s living in a suburban Detroit trailer park collecting pension checks, proudly wearing a shirt. But not in this one. In this world, he’s still a mass of nude, rubbery skin. He still writhes to gritty, lubricious sex rawkers. He still wants to be your dog. And, on his latest solo album, he wants to be free — or so he claims.
It’s hard to imagine someone like Iggy Pop, the prototype for punk rock, feeling confined by anything. For half a century, he’s been the poster boy for freedom – screeching holy terrors into a microphone, smearing peanut butter on his body, and generally lusting for life. David Bowie was his sideman during Bowie’s most creative period. In recent years, he’s made albums of French pop and, in a move that echoed his Bowie connection, enlisted the Queens of the Stone Age as his backing and. Yet here, on Free’s title track, Pop is gently yet resolutely declaring, “I want to be free,” over smooth trumpet runs.
Freedom to Pop, at least on this album, is a certain restrained swagger. The guitars simmer, never boil. The bass swells, and the keyboards shimmer behind him. And all the while, Pop flexes his baritone, expressing himself more clearly than perhaps ever before. On the sparse, measured “Love’s Missing,” he sings, “Love’s screaming, love’s missing,” and you can feel his pain. On “James Bond” — a track whose bluesy chorus goes, “She wants to be your James Bond” — you can pick up on Pop’s submissive side, in which the woman is his boss with a license to thrill and he very badly wants to be her dog. The only difference from this Iggy and the one who founded the Stooges is the album’s jazzy horns, synthy backdrops, and greater emphasis on Sinatra-style crooning. As luck would have it, the Iguana makes a convincing lounge lizard.
But perhaps the thing that separates this septuagenarian Iggy Pop from his AARP-card–wielding counterpart in the alternate universe is the fact that he hasn’t really grown up. On “Dirty Sanchez” (a song whose title should suggest where this is going), he trumpets about his original inspiration: sex. He rhymes “sluts” with “butts” and complains about how “online porn is driving me nuts.” It’s a not so subtle reminder that yes, this is the Iggy Pop we’ve known and loved all these years and that even if there is some other realm where he embraced everyday mundanity, he still probably doesn’t fit in there either.