LISTENING NOT LISTENING: IGGY POP'S "POST POP DEPRESSION"
In our first edition of Listening Not Listening, not dissimilar to its first cousin never removed Watching Not Watching, WNW Member #9098 Evan Brown reviews the newest (and perhaps final) album by Iggy Pop, Post Pop Depression. After Evan guides us on a poetic tour through this "moody, sinister and oddly seductive" album and the "long, shambolic career" of the "Godfather of Punk," we pick the LA-based copywriter's brain to learn which of his projects have made him the proudest, and how music keeps his creative engine humming.
Album Review by Evan Brown
Still surprising after all these years.
Iggy Pop’s had a long, shambolic career. While the late 60’s flower children were waving peace signs, Pop was fronting The Stooges, a nasty proto-punk outfit known as much for its knuckle-dragging rock as for Iggy’s wild performances. A drug casualty by the middle of the 70’s, Pop was resurrected as an art-rock professional, with the help of David Bowie.
Songs like “Lust for Life” would get rediscovered in the 90’s as both the soundtrack to the heroin-chic movie Trainspotting as even more improbably to Royal Caribbean Cruise Line commercials, pulling off the neat trick of propelling Pop’s career into Godfather of Punk status while selling out.
But that’s only part of the story. We’re also talking about someone who sang a duet about lost love with The B-52’s Kate Pierson, enjoyed a healthy acting career, released an album where he crooned jazz standards, and another sung mostly in French. He’s not the easiest guy to sum up.
Lou Reed died three years ago, David Bowie’s ghost is still visible in our collective rearview mirror. But the man whose real name is James Osterberg has outlived his contemporaries and at this point his nothing left to prove. Perhaps it’s this very reason why he’s perversely dropped an album that is bemusing, exciting and great.
Post Pop Depression was created by a super group of sorts, featuring Josh Homme and Dean Fertita from Queens of The Stone Age and the Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders on drums. Homme is a kindred spirit who soundtracks Iggy’s vision with a melodic groove not heard since Iggy’s Bowie period.
The albums overall tone is moody, sinister and oddly seductive. The first track, "Break Into Your Heart," announces his intentions: “I’m gonna break into your heart / I’m gonna crawl under your skin.” And he stays there for the remainder of the album, commanding your attention with a narcotic mid-tempo unease throughout.
“Gardenia” is a cheap film noir. “American Valhalla,” channels Gary Numan’s Teutonic rhythms. The most infectious song on the album is “Sunday,” a minor to major key shift with a throbbing disco bass line and beat.
If once upon a time, Iggy anticipated (however ironically) the idea of “Success,” then “Sunday” puts him in a position of having made it, only to find he’s enduring the kind of existential crisis that the seventh brings for all of us. We look forward to that proverbial day of rest, yet it’s one we can’t ever fully enjoy because of what the following day brings.
The final refrain underlines the sense of depression just beneath the surface of this album: “Got all I need and it is killing me—and you.” But just as it fades, the song turns into a string-laden melancholy waltz that would have felt right at home on Lou Reed’s Transformer.
The most intense song is the closer “Paraguay.” It’s less about a place and more a metaphor for escape. Pop reaches an angry crescendo at the end, feeling like he has nothing left to give and angry that you want more. Pop even updates a line from The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Only now, it’s gone from an S&M yearning to that of a guy who just wants a break, lamenting that all he wants now is to “be your basic clod, who made good, and went away while he could.”
If Iggy broke into our hearts and crawled under our skin at the beginning of Post Pop Depression, he leaves us with vitriol and anger at what we’ve done to him. “I’m sick and it’s all your fault. And I’m gonna go heal myself now.”
For all I know, the album’s title is a pun on Iggy’s stage name. Bowie’s Blackstar is recognized in hindsight as being a definitive goodbye from a man who knew he didn’t have much longer to live. Post Pop Depression might just be an album that explores what happens when Iggy Pop puts on his shirt for good and stops performing live or making albums. Let’s hope it’s only a literary exercise. But if this does turn out to be Iggy’s last musical statement, at least it’s a hell of a good one.
Q&A with Evan Brown
Tell us about your creative background. Who is Evan Brown and how did he get here?
I was a Cesarean born with my arms crossed, daring someone to bring me into the world. My dad was a journalist and also a writer, and my mom was a copywriter. I was destined for advertising and writing. I have lived and worked in Atlanta. New York, Montreal and now Los Angeles.
What are you working on these days?
I work at Media Arts Lab on Apple but that’s all I can say Except for the fact my coworkers rock.
Which projects in your book make you the proudest?
Pacific Standard Time. It was the perfect amalgamation for me: music, art and smart. Plus I got to work with Ice Cube.
Destiny’s Dark Below was one of those projects that allowed me to get super niche, as in subreddit niche. It showed what you could do with not a lot of money and I got to flex some humor writing chops
And I will always be proud of the adidas Originals Star Wars Cantina spot. Not just because of how it turned out but I worked with a stellar bunch of creative people. That was a formative time.
What do you do when Not Working?
In terms of non-advertising side projects, I’m writing a book of short stories based on song titles. One of them was published last year in Cancello Venice. I have also recently gotten back to my lifelong love of playing drums, and am currently teaching myself to play the bass. I also love to cook.
Do you listen to music while working? What artists fuel your creativity? What kind of music or artists stifle all of your creativity?
I listen to music all the time. I tend to listen to either familiar stuff that becomes background music, or more instrumental music. I cannot work to anything by Kanye. If I hear “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros one more time I won’t be responsible for my actions.
All-time favorite album cover? Favorite music video?
Too many to name. But the top three right now….Either “Mag Earwhig” by Guided by Voices because it’s just so mysterious, “In The Court Of The Crimson King,” by King Crimson because it’s harrowing, or Funkadelic’s “Cosmic Slop” because Pedro Bell.
What are some top tips you can offer creatives based on your area of expertise?
Doesn’t matter if you are old, young or in between: listen. The more you keep your mouth shut and observe, read and experience, the more it will inform your work. It will also make you less self-centered to pay attention to other people.
Get out of your comfort zone. We hear this one a lot, but it’s true. Specifically when it comes to your work. Creatives shouldn’t lock into one style. You shouldn’t pigeonhole yourself. One of my favorite visual artists is Wassily Kandinsky. If you compare his early work to where he ended up, it’s a dramatic evolution.
Who are some WNW members whose work you admire and why?
Right now it’s Aron Fried. He’s one of those guys where I knew his work before I met him, and then had the pleasure of working with him at my last gig, to discover he’s a humble guy and talented to boot. He’s an example of the versatility I’m talking about. He’s done funny spots for The New York Lottery but he also did some fantastic and touching work for Toms.