Pop Croons

I’ve been listening to a lot of Iggy Pop and the Stooges on my iPhone lately and this has reconfirmed for me that “Search and Destroy” from 1973’s Raw Power is at the very apex of great rock and roll songs. The lyrics (“I’m a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm/ I’m a runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb”) are pure poetry. I know that rock critics who say such things sound pretentious. Believe me, I know! But “Search and Destroy” is a morbidly beautiful little poem about the violence of lust, made darker and more desperate with its imagery borrowed from the Vietnam war. The sophisticated form, with its internal rhymes within the rhyming lines, is masterful. I think of Iggy in this period as continuously debauched; I don’t know if it’s true when he wrote. Whatever state he was in, this is inspired, yes, but also intensely focused–disciplined, even–poetry writing. Put together with the menacing music and performance of that music by the band, this is rock and roll of a very high order.

I bring up Iggy today because of this news report from Reuters about his new digital-release-only album Apres, comprised of old standards originally by Frank Sinatra, Serge Gainsbourg and Edith Piaf, for example. He had to go to Paris, he says, where he recorded his last album Préliminaires (2009), a collection of arty songs inspired by a novel of French enfant terrible Michel Houellebecq, because his American label (Virgin has produced his most recent titles) doesn’t know what to do with a crooning Iggy. “The American company would have preferred I do a rock album with popular punks,” Pop tells a news conference, presumably meaning bands like Green Day and Blink-182. Pop’s last rock and roll album, Skull Ring (2003), used just such a star-studded backing lineup.

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