Like Madonna’s, the brutal tenacity of Iggy Pop’s longevity is most immediately legible in the crags and canyons of an otherworldly musculature. As goes the body so goes the body of work — the erstwhile Material Girl has staved off geezer oblivion by giving herself over as a rock-hard machine to niche European producers seeking aerobic Confessions on a Dance Floor. The more you know about supposed Godfather of Punk Iggy Pop, at 62 even gaunter than Madonna, the less surprising it should be that his path to late-career creative surprise turned out to be through the work of novelist-provocateur Michel Houellebecq. You needn’t read, or care about, Houellebecq’s self-seriously ugly fiction to appreciate the incongruous pulp genius of Préliminaires, Pop’s first album of new material since the inconsequential Skull Ring (2003); said to be inspired by La Possibilité d’une île, it’s mercifully more interested in spinning its own minor-key possibilities than dwelling on the barren symbolic island of Houellebecq’s nasty little book. The result is a woozily mature record that opens with Pop covering — you can’t make this up — “Les feuilles mortes,” the Edith Piaf standard. His French baritone is more than serviceable and sets the stage for the (English-language) originals to come, which range across languid torch song, ominous spaghetti-western spoken-word, and dinner-concert jazz and blues; its eclecticism above all suggests the lost world of vocal pop, a halcyon pre-rock catholicity that Pop excavated to great effect on his 1977 post-Stooges debut, The Idiot. But if Préliminaires necessarily lacks the vitality of youthful abandon, as 36 jaunty minutes of graceful songcraft, it is a wizened work in unusually good shape.
About the Author
Jonathan Liu is a reviewer and journalist who has written for The New York Observer, Gawker.com, and The Harvard Book Review.