Reviewed by Mike Mosher
Tuesday, December 19 2000, 3:35 PM
Sad and bogue. In Detroit-Ann Arbor slang of three decades ago, this phrase meant pathetic, played out and out of steam, bogus and inauthentic. It is most discomfiting to fit it to Iggy Pop's 1999 album Avenue B. America loves a winner, not a whiner, and whereas Iggy toured vigorously at age 50 to prove "he's still got it" in this "easy listening" album at age 53 he so much as whimpers "I've lost it". All bummed out about his failed marriage and subsequent (sigh) meaningless affairs, Iggy has attempted to created a Leonard Cohen album, a mature lover's songs of experience. The result is dankly self-pitying in a way that Cohen has so far avoided. Upon the album's release, Robert Christgau of the Village Voice mercifully gave Iggy credit as one not afraid to make a fool of himself, calling the clunky lines "jokes nobody got" in an essentially humorless and cheerless album.
"Nazi Girlfriend" tells of a conquest screwed on the floor a la Marlon Brando upon Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris. Iggy's event supposedly took place "among my books of ancient lore," as if we are to believe the mature Osterberg wants to be respected as the Walter Benjamin of Rock, fudgepacking and unpacking his library of groupies amidst volumes of esoterica. "Miss Argentina" is a minor key mediocrity while another song is sung in bad Spanish and tries to sound like Carlos Santana. "I Felt the Luxury" has Iggy rhyming like Eric Burdon and War's "Spill the Wine," accompanied by the sleepy Medeski, Martin and Wood. Iggy mumbles his way through several tracks with this overrated combo, huffing and dribbling along like a sad and tired lounge act that might be found on a bad weeknight at Joe's of Westlake in Daly City, California. Iggy clearly needs some eccentric, creative young collaborators to showcase him...perhaps as David Bowie trotted out the aged Bing Crosby for a televised Christmas 1973 holiday duet of "Little Drummer Boy".
Produced by Don Was, who saw Iggy and Stooges play his highschool in Detroit, there are some things onAvenue B to like. "Corruption" most evokes the best of Iggy's post-Stooges solo rock n' roll. "Shakin' All Over" is a dirgelike take on Johnny Kidd and the Pirate's early-1960s song, with a dragging Goth beat and insistent guitar whose fuzzy drone is reminiscent of Ron Asheton, the first (and foremost) Stooges' guitarist. Asheton's own work excels in the 1999 Funhouse box (Rhino Handmade) of 7 CDs containing all recordings made for the Stooges second album in 1970.
Yet on Avenue B tough Iggy rock is swamped and waterlogged by sadness. "Long Distance" sounds both written and sung at 3 AM, Iggy lonely and unembarassed in his mawkish sentimentality, calling friends on the phone and appreciating the company of (aww...) his cat. Other tracks are bad "film music," non-songs constructed of offhand chords upon a synthesizer set to "strings", like the first thing anybody listlessly does upon obtaining such an electronic keyboard that seductively does too much and too easily sounds like serious music. The track "She called me Daddy" is another slice from the loaf of woe, though soon you can hear his smile as he mentions his ex's reading of the magazine Cosmopolitan. Like Schopenhauer, Iggy hated sound filling his house, at least when it was that of "her stupid TV shows".
I was wrong in predicting to friends that this release would be Iggy's cool, swank "Swing" album. After all, he finished his set at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco on the New Values tour in 1979 with Frank Sinatra's "One More for My Baby" so could claim to have early on furthered the lounge music revival.
Though Avenue B indicates he could as easily become Punk's Andy Rooney, it could also be nice to see Iggy get more political and leftist in his old age. A decade younger, Jello Biafra has forsaken stage dives for spoken word social commentary, and Iggy's turn in this aesthetic direction would benefit from content outside his own loneliness. Iggy wrote of his distaste for capitalism in his autobiography I Need More, mostly equating it with the record industry. Over the years he has put out curiosities like "Watching the News," "I'm a Conservative" (so was he or wasn't he?) and "Watching the Colors", albeit with a bent more disjointedly topical than seriously poltical. Like the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man" and "Undercover," his direction is to grumblingly comment on political events, not to analyze or command.
Can we get through the pathos? Many first saw Iggy's pathetic streak on his 1977 tour when he vamped on the ending of "China Girl" with repeated cries of "I want to be loved!". Pablo Picasso turned his own declining carnal powers into series of rich graphics like "The 47 Gravures" suite of prints that featured combinations of defeated but observant old painters (or painting apes), nubile female models and young male artists enjoying sex with the models. Perhaps Iggy sees the rest of his own career distilling the melancholy of advancing age.
William Butler Yeats wrote in the poem "Vacillations", "My fiftieth year had come and gone/I sat, a solitary man...so great my happiness/That I was blessed and could bless." Yet Iggy believes he knows only how to bless with his dick, upon which he's still carving notches. Like the more pompous, self-aggrandizing rappers--perhaps Detroit's own Insane Clown Posse--this old peckerwood knows only how to sing to his pecker. The quaint mid-century phrase "aging roué" conjurs up a dapper David Niven rogue pursuing an Audrey Hepburn ingenue and the subsequent melancholy when the quarry proves elusive. Except for when it's applied to Bill Clinton, the phrase has never seemed so pathetically apt for a recent public figure as for Avenue B's Iggy Pop.
Avenue B is Available from Virgin Records and Megastores