First David Bowie releases an album and now comes something from Iggy Pop. A certain fandom feels like it has died and gone to old Berlin.
Ready to Die is from Iggy and the Stooges, the punk-rock assaulters from the 1970s who released a reunion album in 2007 (The Weirdness, which underwhelmed). Guitarist Ron Asheton and drumming brother Scott were on board then, as was bassist Mike Watt. Ron has since died. Stepping in for him is the returning James Williamson, whose contorted guitar work was front and centre on 1973’s Raw Power, the Stooges’ disquieting proto-punk howl, produced by Bowie.
On the title track to Raw Power, Iggy implored his followers to “dance to the beat of the living dead.” Remember that Iggy was famously described by rock critic Lester Bangs as a person who felt so “profoundly unalive” (or, conversely “rawly alive”) so as to be imprisoned by it, with all feeling perceived as pain.
Now Iggy is 66 years old, with a gut-punching but often reflective and droll album called Ready to Die. And maybe he is.
Opening salvo Burn chugs and pounds, led by Iggy’s baritone intone. The world is aflame and the man of the future is a “bullying bruiser.” This is apocalyptic, but Iggy questions whether he should even care. He’s a laughing old man bowing out, with no plans to lead or fight on – “the spectre of duty is odious to me.”
The title track riffs-and-rolls in crunchy glam fashion. Iggy’s skin is lonely and wearing thin, and he’s “shootin’ for the sky, because I’m ready to die.” Fire all of your guns at once and explode into space, that kind of thing. Why hold back now.
But, say hey, let’s not assemble the pallbearers just yet. There are two things worth living for, according to the roaring Sex and Money. And to emphasize the point, the Motown-bouncy saxophone-happy romp of DD’s is a sophomoric salute to full sweaters.
The album closes with rocking-chair thoughts from the onetime “streetwalkin’ cheetah with a heart full of napalm.” The Departed is bluesy, languid and existential – “where is the life we started?”
On Beat That Guy, Iggy sighs that he is out of space, time and reasons. Still, there’s a spark, if not a lust for life: “Can’t think about slinking off in the dark.” So, maybe’s he not going anywhere just yet. And maybe it is true that we’re never more alive than when we’re ready to die.
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A concert by Iggy and the Stooges will be streamed live from New York, April 28, 5 p.m., at npr.org.