More than half a century into his career, Iggy Pop now takes many forms. To most he remains the proto-punk showman who used to roll around in broken glass or crowd-surf covered in peanut butter. His early records with the Stooges on the 1960s/70s cusp remain some of the most influential in the canon – documents of devil-may-care nihilism that provided a scuzzy counterweight to the era of peace and love. Others immortalise Iggy in the 70s alongside his buddies David Bowie and Lou Reed, a triad of exalted reprobates.
Nowadays, Pop is a gravelly, erudite voice on BBC 6 Music, as well versed in contemporary sounds as he is in genres far from his own recorded output. He enthuses about Sons of Kemet and the Blessed Madonna. He’s a droll wit and mischievous raconteur, some distance from the “godfather of punk” cliche. (Now 75, he retired from stage-diving some years back.) Having survived decades of decadence, the singer is long sober and maintains his wiry presence with qigong. The film-maker Jim Jarmusch, who has directed Pop in a number of movies, attests to his interest in art and history.
You’d be hard-pressed to recognise that interesting guy on Every Loser, Pop’s 19th album – a record that dusts down his most basic persona for one more sneery flail in the company of celebrity fans. Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses and Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers play bass and drums respectively. On guitar is producer Andrew Watt, who won a Grammy in 2021 for his work with artists such as Dua Lipa, Post Malone and Ozzy Osbourne.
The mood is straightforward: lairy and loud, but slick and tuneful with it. The mix is pin-sharp. The godfather of punk is very much in the building, sneering at careerist musicians on the overdriven Neo Punk, or knowledgably commiserating with a junkie on Strung Out Johnny. “I’m in a frenzy, you fucking prick,” yells Pop on Frenzy, not the only time he lashes out at all-comers.
To be clear: hating “dicks” and “douchebags”, as Pop does, is to be encouraged. In better contexts, his caustic delivery, underdog energy and Holden Caulfield-calibre disdain of phoneys are among the wonders of the natural world.
Here, not so much. The best way to read this perfectly serviceable, pacy rock record is as a salutary rant against a lifetime of dolts and philistines. Over the years, Pop’s wildly varying solo outings have often taken expedient forms, conforming to certain expectations. The Stooges’ early albums sold poorly, just like the Velvet Underground’s. Both bands, though, inspired untold numbers of misfits to take up confrontational poetics.
Every so often, these famous fans will sweep Pop up and engineer a commercial-sounding record around him – a process that began in the 70s with Bowie and their two classic collaborations, The Idiot and Lust for Life, records that provided Pop’s first real hits. Green Day and Sum 41 had a hand in 2003’s Skull Ring. In 1990, Don Was produced Brick By Brick, which also figured McKagan and Slash from Guns N’ Roses.
Every Loser is another one of these celebrity wax jobs, where stars rally round and Pop plays to type. Moreover, records such as Every Loser are often necessary. Not everyone will have warmed to his last studio album, 2019’s truly intriguing Free, an oblique, often jazz-inflected set of tracks recalling Scott Walker’s late experimental work, or Préliminaires (2009), Pop’s response to a Michel Houellebecq novel, which Iggy made when he got “sick of listening to idiot thugs with guitars”, or indeed Après (2012), a record of cover versions sung in French, praised by Bob Dylan.
Sometimes, these rocker group hugs are critical and commercial wins. Post Pop Depression, the singer’s 2016 outing in the company of a higher calibre of rock pig, Josh Homme and Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age and Arctic Monkeys drum powerhouse Matt Helders, is often held to be the best solo Pop in some decades.
You would not want to deny the man born James Newell Osterberg Jr commercial success or a comfortable existence. But this project seems oddly unnecessary and a tad retrograde. New Atlantis, on which Pop praises his adopted Miami as “a beautiful whore of a city” where “a man can be himself”, doesn’t sound great in 2023. That the song is concerned with the climate emergency consigning Miami to the depths is not a counterweight. It really says something when the desolate ballads (Morning Show) and spoken-word interludes on an Iggy Pop record are the tracks you want to go back to. It feels like elsewhere, Pop is impersonating himself.