By Jacob Katel
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Sometime in the past few years, between digesting French literature and watching birds alight on the placid South Florida waters, Iggy Pop, the Godfather of Punk, decided, finally, that rock as we know it is a lost cause. No, actually it's worse. "It's clear that rock music, what's made right now, is the worst of all musical forms," Iggy says on a recent afternoon, installed, barefoot, in a dim inner room of what he calls his Miami "clubhouse."
So sure, diehard fans of the Stooges, Iggy's pioneering first band, may be initially taken aback by his new solo studio album, Préliminaires, due out Tuesday, June 2. Its 12 tracks are slow-percolating, a wistful collection of New Orleans speakeasy rattle, slinky lounge pop, and nostalgic French chanson that is best listened to at twilight.
Not that it's a sonic ride into the sunset. The chameleon-like icon has just shape-shifted again, and the album is still abjectly weird and reassuringly snotty in many places. It's even frisky. There is, of course, the album title — Préliminaires is French for foreplay, ooh la la! And Pop's unmistakable timbre is still intact, sounding a little more avuncular with age but even more bad-ass.
He simply doesn't need to call out foes at full volume anymore. "I Want to Go to the Beach," for instance, starts out as a sighing, meandering ballad but culminates with a chilling dismissal: "You can convince the world that you're some kind of superstarrrrr... When an asshole is what you areeeee... But that's alright."
And though Iggy begged for abasement, to "be your dog," when he was with the Stooges, now he's found glory in sniffing gutters and snarling at heels. His victory cry is the album's best track. "King of the Dogs" is a Louisiana-style saloon anthem built on wobbly piano and drunken brass. In it, Iggy celebrates his smelly rear and dirty nose while awaiting a fight or a visitation by spirits. It's eerie and dark but still danceable — the Tom Waits comparisons are inevitable, but this musical turn seems particularly suited to Iggy's voice.
Those who detect a distinct Gallic whiff as well as a movie-score quality to the songs will be absolutely right. Préliminaires didn't begin as a studio album but as a collection of tracks for a French documentary that was to track reclusive author Michel Houellebecq as he tried to make a film of his novel The Possibility of an Island. Pop had read the book a few years back, when it came out, and was taken by its air of resignation and loneliness set adrift. As in Camus' The Stranger, the protagonist of Houellebecq's novel spends much time wandering over hot sands in a fog of purposelessness.
And thus what began almost as a conceptual exercise morphed into a record, albeit one done outside of the industry machine. Instead of heading to a studio, Pop holed up in his clubhouse in Miami, his adopted hometown. While he actually lives in south Miami-Dade County, he keeps what he calls a cabin — but is really a full-blown house — as a creative playground. Located on a quiet canal, it has a densely foliated, magical-forest-hut kind of vibe. But it's far away from the crush of South Beach, where he first landed some years ago but which he now deems "a drag." Instead, Pop says, he prefers to roam the urban wilds of the mainland, where he can buy botanica trinkets and eat tacos unmolested and largely unrecognized.
I met him at his clubhouse recently to discuss the new album. And yes, he was shirtless, flexible, and still buff, a robust brown tan covering the light scars on his chest gained during his infamous onstage self-mutilations. But if Pop's an icon, the shock of initially seeing him in human scale wears off quickly; he laughs and smiles easily, holding forth while draped sideways over a thrift-store chair. Here's what he had to say about Préliminaires:
New Times: How much of the album did you actually write and record in Miami?
Pop: I wrote it here in this room, on that little Gibson mini-acoustic from 1969. I wrote the songs and recorded them on a businessman's voice recorder, like the lowest possible fidelity. [My assistant] Spencer would come over, and he'd sit there in the kitchen and plug the voice recorder right into his Apple. Then we'd send them out to the producer, Hal Cragin, in Woodstock — he used to be my bassist. Then they would get sent back as tracks with musicians. And then when I wanted to put a vocal on it, I'd go to the Estefans' studio in Coral Gables, Crescent Moon.
NT: Do you know the Estefans?
Pop: No, I just know the studio. It just happened where I bought a house out that way a few years ago with my wife, and I was looking for somewhere close to home where I could record. So I did the vocals there, and then I sent them back to Woodstock, and that's about it.
NT: How much back and forth did you have on the actual mixdown and production of the album?