Andreas Neumann

Iggy Pop Wrestles With the Ghosts of His Past

Post Pop Depression, recorded with Josh Homme, is full of wit and surprise

Iggy Pop’s 17th solo album, Post Pop Depression, is a bruising wrestle with time. Recorded in collaboration with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, the album serves as a meeting place for two distinct artists, each with a signature sound: The “Godfather of Punk” meets the riff-rock guitar hero. But this is no tasteful bid for a big night at the Grammys. Iggy and Homme dig in for an album that's full of wry humor and dark wit, lacing every nostalgic note with a surprising twist.

Post Pop Depression swings with a wizened cynicism. "There’s nothing awesome here, not a damned thing,” Iggy sneers at one point, speaking frankly over a four-chord track with a guttural confidence. Even when he commemorates his most beloved bygone eras, there's an edgy undercurrent: “German Days” recalls the lurid underground of 1970s Berlin, where Iggy made several classic albums with David Bowie, with stomping, wiry guitar lines and a sarcastic sneer: “Garish and overpriced / Glittering champagne on ice." Elsewhere, he rewrites his history in bold and unexpected ways. Album opener “Break Into Your Heart” sounds like Leonard Cohen fronting a sludgier Animals, and longer cuts such as album closer “Paraguay” luxuriate in effusive sounds that Iggy’s earlier music was typically too visceral to embrace: plucky 12-string guitar solos and call-and-response vocals that sound more like the Byrds than the Stooges. His voice has grizzled and deepened with age; there are moments on Post Pop Depression that sound as if he’s been gargling with nails, and that gruffness colors lyrics that map the ways his worldview has changed over the decades. “Look out, honey, because I’m using technology,” he sang on 1973’s “Search and Destroy,” a classic single that helped establish his contrarian image. Here he echoes that moment with an aggressive new charge: “You take your motherfucking laptop / And just shove it into your goddamn foul mouth,” he sings on “Paraguay.”

Much of the album’s charm — which there's lots of, despite that cynicism — comes from Iggy’s self-aware reflections on his place in a culture that has passed him by. “America’s greatest poet was ogling you all night,” he says on the album standout, “Gardenia,” one of the warmest and most compelling tracks on the record. “I’m a wreck / What did you expect?” he later croons on “Sunday,” a song that begins with the ironic line, “This house is as slick as a senator’s statement / This job is a masquerade of recreation.” Loneliness, abandoned spaces, confusion, rebellion, and dissatisfaction accordingly become the recurring motifs on Post Pop Depression, which has more than a handful of references to death (“In the Lobby,” “Vulture”) and old age (“Chocolate Drops,” “Sunday”). Across the LP’s 41 minutes, Iggy’s deep baritone is underscored by sprangly, doleful melodies and the snappy force of Queens of the Stone Age’s Dean Fertita (who plays guitar and keys) and Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helder, most notably on the warbled “American Valhalla,” where Iggy sings, “If I have outlived my use / Please drink my juice”. Here, as with many lyrical couplets throughout the record, he vacillates between earnestness and jest. Post Pop Depression feels like a reflection on Iggy’s place within the cosmology of contemporary music, written as if in discussion with himself, as the bartender lifts his whiskey glass while cleaning the tables after last call. At the end of “America Valhalla," in an intense moment of quiet, he says, “I’ve nothing but my name,” over and over.

But while the record can be quite dark, there are thrusts of lightness and optimism throughout. “Gardenia,” despite its self-deprecating subject matter, is spirited and sanguine. “Chocolate Drops,” despite its lyrical fixation on mortality, features an upper-register call-and-response scenario between Iggy and Homme that sounds like a nod at Tame Impala and a spectral, optimistic post-rock arrangement. (“Don’t die,” Iggy bellows at one point; Homme echoes the phrase back in a beautiful, willowy, stratospheric coo.) Iggy playfully portrays himself as washed-up, over music that is as vigorous as he’s ever made, and cheekily inquires about who he has to kill to make his own death easier to swallow. The songs are forceful because there’s a sense that he and the listener are in on the same joke. At its best, Post Pop Depression feels like an audacious statement of intent: Iggy Pop knows he made his most enduring records over 40 years ago, but his creative drive shows no sign of slowing down.