Yesterday in a fit of sleep deprivation I came up with a new game, I call it ‘F*ck yeah! Iggy Pop!’. The rules are simple, players need simply take in the majesty of existence and think to themselves ‘F*ck yeah! Iggy Pop!’. I never said it was a particularly good game, after all it’s barely 24 hours old. But it’s a sentence that willingly conjures an aura of sex and danger that I find compelling; a persona I could never inhabit invoked briefly as a selfish pick me up. As an exemplar of life’s possibilities, few can top Pop and few ever will. That’s not to say we can’t push in newer, unknown directions, just that this particularly appealing path has been well charted. The anarchic stage persona is his. The suggestive darkness and lyrical wit are his. The creativity and musical freedom are his. All of us who come after pale in comparison; we lack the influences to fill out the full persona so are left building our petulant aggression on the idea, not the man. But that is what makes Pop so compelling to me, there is great depth in his musical output that exists independent of the stage. Music has always come first to me, followed by text, followed by marketing. It’s a flaw in my musical appreciation but I offer no apologies. Iggy Pop’s music is good. It’s very good. Now, as he begins the process of releasing a new album of songs with Josh Homme, I want to visit one of his best. 1979’s ‘The Endless Sea’.
My route to Pop was via Bowie. James Osterberg was a name that kept appearing in biographies and almanacs relating to the ‘Berlin‘ years and nothing more. Later when I was trawling through everything that Bowie had ever breathed on (I’m an unabashed superfan) I finally heard The Idiot and after endless prompting from my best friend came to the conclusion that it was pretty neat. The same can be said for Lust for Life; well constructed songs performed with gusto and aplomb. Yet the spark wasn’t quite there yet; it would take years of casual listening, Bowie’s endless covers and a slew of rather phenomenal TV performances to open me up wholly. I started looking beyond Bowie and found an artist of similar stature with an output of gloriously poly-stylistic music that prodded my brain as much as my hips. Since then it has not been lost on me that the first non-Bowie produced solo effort is my favourite. New Values just has such a focus of energy and direction that, for all the rackety passion found in earlier works, raises it higher.
‘The Endless Sea’, to me, is the song that best highlights the strengths of this focused production. It is a dark and oily-slick croon on anxiety and societal constrictions that builds and builds till an inevitable break. Metronomic bass ekes out factory floor footsteps and a repeated 3 chord phrase provides the bed for Pop’s glorious baritone to bloom. The relentless atmosphere is claustrophobic and malicious as the synthesizers slowly blend into a violin and saxophone; the plastic becoming organic and the fake becoming real. Slowly the music brings us to clarity as Pop’s desire to run and fold by diving into this ‘endless sea’ turns into a condensed rage against ‘the phony on the take’ he would become were he to follow through with this threat. A moment skillfully supported by the arrangement, mirroring the harmonic change with an expanded instrumentation that catches our minds and makes us listen. But the moment passes, the silence falls and the rage descends. Pop is resigned. He goes home. The cycle repeats itself.
Artists need to change and evolve as their careers progress else we’d end up in some Brave New World where music exists only for manipulative crowd control. We may think this happens only in the mainstream charts; but it exists in all genres as so often the young seek to literally ape their influences instead of working it out as they go along. You have to work it out as you go along. You can’t remain in boxes and you need to expand beyond your boundaries.The societal role of an artist is to comment on our nature, good or bad, and to make us question the order of things. If we can dance to it at the same time then that’s clearly a bonus. Jim did this. He did it with bells on. All that is left having listened to such craft is to sit back, mull on eternity and mumble gladly; ‘F*ck Yeah! Iggy Pop!’
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