There are few, if any, opening shots in rock more magnificent than that fired off by Iggy Pop in 1973. “I’m a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm,” he snarled – probably shirtless and bleeding – at the start of Search and Destroy.
The track was a glam rock meditation inspired by the Vietnam war, and Search and Destroy – and Iggy himself – somehow came to encapsulate a central contradiction of rock’n’roll: how destructive nihilism could simultaneously express joie de vivre – gloriously damaged, but joie de vivre nonetheless.
“If I had wings, I wouldn’t do anything beautiful or transcendent,” he offers, an impossible 45 years later, on Bells & Circles – the first track on an entirely unexpected EP recorded with electronic heroes Underworld. Although released in the dead of summer, Teatime Dub Encounters is a short set too inviting to dismiss as an addendum to two already fabled careers. It’s an encounter that has dragged Iggy out of semi-retirement when he had vowed never to record another album, or tour, again.
“No!” he continues louchely on Bells & Circles, as Rick Smith’s percussive undercarriage chunters along, “I’d get my finger into everything I wanted.” Iggy goes on to mourn smoking on aeroplanes, and hoovering up lines of coke on tray tables while propositioning the cabin crew. In passing, he also regrets the passing of liberal democracy. “Sunlight, on my wings,” interjects Karl Hyde, Underworld’s enduringly impressionistic singer, trying to crowbar the dial back towards more beatific vibes.
Teatime Dub Encounters began as an attempt by the two opposite ends of the original soundtrack to Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting – Iggy Pop, with Lust for Life, and Underworld, with Born Slippy (Nuxx) – to cook up something for the sequel, 2017’s T2. As Iggy told Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh over cream tea and scones in a recent interview for Q, Underworld essentially ambushed Iggy while he was staying at the Savoy last year. He was on tour with his last album, Post Pop Depression – at the time, suspected to be Iggy’s final word set to music. “I’m tired of people looking at me all the time,” he said then of his winding down. “What I enjoy most in my life are my secret hours.”
As kismet would have it, his Post Pop Depression was released on the same day in 2016 as Underworld’s equally well-received latt erday album, Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future: two artists not content to rest on their hedonistic reputations. Time was tight. Smith had even set up half a studio in a hotel room, poised to strike if Iggy said yes. Bounced into it, Iggy went into raconteur mode and they were away, two men in their 50s and 60s and one in his 70s, Iggy essentially improvising. On these four tracks, they nod to 70s heroes Suicide on Trapped, in which Iggy sneers at mortgages – a line that dovetails nicely with the original Trainspotting’s “choose life” diatribe.
Iggy also ruminates on friendship – one of the central themes of T2 – on I’ll See Big. The final track, Get Your Shirt, nods to the frontman’s perennial toplessness, but actually discusses how he has lost his shirt to The Man a few too many times. As it turned out, these songs did not fit into the film: there is too much going on.
On Bells & Circles, Iggy is quick to conform to rascal type. Consider, though, his use of the word “transcendent”. Since the heyday of the Stooges, Iggy Pop – born James Osterberg 71 years ago – has been the poster boy for a mythical recklessness. Like Keith Richards, he has ingested more raw power than is prudent, and has parlayed that margin-walking cachet into umpteen guest appearances, semi-regular doses of advertising money and a surprisingly enduring afterlife as a chuckling survivor of wilder times. The contradiction embodied in Search and Destroy was expressed once again in 1977, when the solo Iggy released Lust for Life, his best-known track. It told the rest of the world what Stooges fans already knew: that Iggy “was worth a million in prizes”, and that he could make a desperate struggle with heroin addiction sound like a lot of fun.
His shop-soiled joie de vivre has now matured into a lizardly avuncularity in which he flexes his sharp mind on a range of subjects – surprisingly affecting in his candour, for one so previously numbed or dangerous. His cheetah-ish form has long been maintained by qigong. Post Pop Depression found him actually crooning, like some kind of midwestern chansonnier, but bits of Teatime Dub Encounters actually recall Giorgio By Moroder on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories album – another example of a legendary figure from the annals of hedonism calmly telling his war stories.
Iggy knows full well he has what it takes to be going for “transcendent”: this urbane elder statesman has always had considerable intellect, no doubt exceeding the expectations of those who assumed he would OD well before his friend and collaborator David Bowie. Iggy was always a wild man well-versed in the blues and minimalism, who – despite releasing an album entitled The Idiot – was no savage savant. His 2014 John Peel lecture took a rheumy-eyed look at the music industry under capitalism, and featured polysyllables, and his radio show has lit up 6 Music for some years now.
So you might come to Teatime Dub Encounters – a most English half-smile of titles, one that echoes the rueful cosiness of another Underworld opus, Second Toughest in the Infants – for the antic misdemeanours, or for the latterday Dylanish radio drawl, but you will stay for the way Iggy confesses that he has always struggled to make friends and keep the ones he’s got – the gist of I’ll See Big. As he tells it, the young Osterberg found some other guys who had no friends. It’s the ur-myth of a lot of bands – at least, the ones formed of cranky outsiders rather than careerists.
“Hey, is that me?” asks Iggy at the start of the track. Yes, you conclude, it probably is.