By Gareth Watkins
A ghost is haunting the 17th and likely final album by James Newell Osterberg, Jr. The ghost of Osterberg’s friend, producer and collaborator David Robert Jones. From the bifurcated city of Berlin they cut a swath through 20th-century rock and roll, becoming the quintessential rock stars, living harder than anyone could and still recording songs as universally beloved as “The Passenger,” “Lust for Life” and “Nightclubbing.” With The Stooges, Pop took up the mantle of filth-encrusted rock ’n’ roll laid down by the Sonics and straight up invented punk rock. Decades later musicians are still picking up instruments because they want to be one of the two: feral, primitive Iggy Pop or mercurial, post-human David Bowie.
The former left on January 10th of this year, gifting the world the album Blackstar, recorded in secret as he was dying of cancer. While it was no Alladin Sane or Low, having Bowie’s spectral hand on your shoulder as the man who has been so many people and lived so many lives grapples with his mortality does something to the listener.
If Blackstar was the ultimate rock star forging for himself a life after death then Post Pop Depression is that same figure living a death in life, having outlasted his “usefulness” (Pop’s term, from an interview with Rolling Stone). The title itself is all you need to know about the content: what happens to Iggy Pop after Iggy Pop?
It’s a story he’s been telling at least since 2001’s Beat ‘em Up. His last few albums feature the kind of “kids these days” rants masked as righteous anger that characterize artists who have outlived themselves (complete with Sum 41 and Green Day cameos), then take a sharp left turn into Jazz standards and chanson on 2009’s Préliminaires. Bowie never did anything like that: in the nineties he was recording jungle and drum and bass songs, on Blackstar he was influenced by Kendrick Lamar and Death Grips.
Pop recorded the album with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal, one of the few figures in contemporary music who could conceivably have lived through Pop and Bowie’s champagne- and cocaine-fuelled Berlin years and come out the other side. The collaboration was initiated by Pop, who sent a package of lyrics and poems to Homme along with, tellingly, his recollections of the recording sessions with Bowie that produced his best solo work, the albums The Idiot and Lust for Life.
The least charitable reading of Post Pop Depression is that Pop and Homme have produced a decent Berlin-era David Bowie album. This would not be a terrible capstone for his career: Bowie acknowledged that he made Pop his “guinea pig” on The Idiot for ideas that would come to fruition in Low, the first part of his Berlin trilogy. If Pop’s first solo album was a covert Bowie album, then his last has every right to be. A layer of fuzz covering the bass on “Gardenia” could be scraped away and what would be left would be the funky yet still robotic, sparse, cold sound of “Sound and Vision.” Elsewhere, “Sunday”’s chorus borrows the distinctive cadence of Bowie’s own choruses, “Heroes” in particular, though the bulk of the song is reminiscent of Television and Talking Heads thanks to a bassline that gets stuck in your soul beneath a guitar line that’s more silence than sound.
As a Josh Homme album, the latest in his Desert Sessions, it fares better. Queens’ have never topped 2002’s Songs For The Deaf, though …Like Clockwork came close, but as an artist Homme still has the vitality, the “usefulness,” that Pop is mourning on this record. He sounds like he can keep this up for another twenty years, likely because he can and will. As a vocalist he hits the high notes that Pop’s low-end drawl can’t, as a guitarist he’s the best Iggy’s worked with since the Stooge Ron Asherton, as a producer he can take overdriven bass and make it sound as clear as church bells. Homme once said that he dissolved his first band, Kyuss, because he couldn’t write anything as good as The Idiot and Lust For Life, and he handles the compositions here with the reverence Pop has earned.
But where is Iggy Pop in all of this? His voice is still intact, still registering in the low frequencies and still evocative of a well-read guy from the wrong side of the track. Lyrically he’s a mess, jamming whatever rhymes into an ABAB schema and telling when he should be showing. His sloppy lyricism contributes to the album’s major low point, the song “The Vulture,” which brings us the couplet “his evil breath/smells just like death/he takes no chances/he knows the dances” over Ennio Morricone guitars, brass and bells. Despite this song and other missteps the album remains solid, and Homme’s production is a big part of that, but a bigger part is Pop’s willingness to finally say, “I’m done” and the license that gives him to revisit his glory days.Iggy Pop, Post Pop Depression