“I’m the guy with no shirt who rocks,” announced Iggy Pop ahead of this, his 19th solo album. It’s this perception of the Stooges founder and “Godfather of punk” that’s most cemented in the public consciousness. In recent years, though, the now 75-year-old singer has seemed on a mission to do anything but rock with his shirt off: he turned unlikely jazz crooner for 2009’s Préliminaires, sang Edith Piaf and Beatles covers in French on 2012’s Après and echoed his superlative 1970s David Bowie collaborations on 2016’s Josh Homme-helmed Post Pop Depression. He has also become a much-loved BBC 6 Music DJ and has popped up to provide guest vocals for other artists ranging from Belgian violinist Catherine Graindorge to electronic giants Underworld. On his last solo album, 2019’s quietly reflective Free, he recited poetry by Lou Reed and Dylan Thomas – although it’s hard to tell whether he kept a shirt on while doing so.
All of this makes it slightly eyebrow-raising that, at 75, Pop has suddenly returned to harder rocking. When many of his contemporaries are dead or mining their hits in order to continue touring stadiums, rock’s eternal free spirit promises “music made the old-fashioned way”, which will “beat the shit out of you”. His choice of musical foil for this endeavour is one Andrew Watt, the Grammy-winning super-producer whose recent clients have included Miley Cyrus, Morrissey and Elton John. It doesn’t seem the most obvious fit, although Watt’s pedigree with legacy rockers includes Ozzy Osborne’s recent return-to-form solo albums, and he has been highly enthusiastic about working with Pop, a “true fucking icon”. As executive producer, co-writer, guitarist and pianist, Watt has made Iggy Pop’s music sound contemporary but not at the expense of his inimitable voice and character.
Few adult males – never mind septuagenarians – could get away with a lyric like “I’ve got a dick and two balls, that’s more than you all,” on the furious hardcore-ish opener Frenzy, in 2023, but Pop can, and he quickly signals that he won’t enter his later years quietly: “My mind is on fire when I should retire.” The singer is in a similarly time-defying mindset on Modern Day Rip Off, which affectionately pastiches the Raw Power-era Stooges sound down to the plinky-plonk piano, but replaces drugs with a smidgeon of dry self-mockery. As Pop – who gave up substances years ago – drily admits, “I ran out of blow a long time ago / I can’t smoke a J, all my ducks fly away”.
An all-star cast, including Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, infuse Every Loser with a controlled sense of insouciance. On the riotous Neo Punk, the “Godfather” sounds like the bands he influenced while lampooning what the punk movement has become (“My hair is blue, and my prescription, too”), enjoying himself so much you can hear his chuckles on the recording.
But for all the talk of “music that will beat the shit out of you”, there’s more to Every Loser than hard rock. Strung Out Johnny is a sublime rock ballad in the vein of U2’s One. Pop brings a beautifully wearied vocal to the song, which essays the stages of addiction with the candour and experience of someone who’s lived through them (“First time – you do it with a friend, second time – you do it in bed …”) New Atlantis, a heartfelt pop-rock love letter to Pop’s adopted city of Miami, refers to the threat from rising sea levels (“here, a man can be himself, but she’s sinking into the sea”).
Climate change also informs All the Way Down, a dry-sounding, sleazy rocker that wouldn’t sound out of place on 1979’s New Values. The post-punk track Comments and darkly melodic anti-music industry blast The Regency (“I’m alive, uncompromised”) will no doubt attract attention because they may well be late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins’s final recordings. They are also excellent songs in their own right, the latter tracing a compelling arc from an almost doo-wop introduction to its raging “fuck the regency” finale.
Every Loser’s main flaw is that you’re left wanting more. At around a minute each, curt narratives My Animus and The News for Andy (a Madness-type piano stomp in which Pop deadpans a spoof psychiatry advert) sound underdeveloped. Still, acoustic/piano centrepiece Morning Show is surely one of the most beautifully candid things Pop has ever done. “The pain in my face didn’t come from out of space,” he croons, adding a hint of rawness to the chorus” “I’ll fix my face and go, go and do the morning show.” The song addresses age, vulnerability and the daily grind of being Iggy Pop. In his 76th year, he’s managing it very well.
• Alexis Petridis is away