When you think of Iggy Pop, you think of Raw Power, Lust for Life, the Stooges, pre-pre punk’s original wild-man, crawling through broken glass, jumping onto an adoring main floor crowd at a concert, or exhorting them to jump onstage during “No Fun”, …and now (on his first solo album since 2003’s Skull Ring), French jazz? Spoken word? New Orleans swing? It sounds weird, but on Préliminaires (Astralwerks Records), it works intoxicatingly well.
Préliminaires is based on the novel La Possibilité d’une île (The Possibility of an Island) by controversial French writer Michel Houellebecq. A literary provocateur whose fiction deals with subjects of sex tourism, fringe religions, and cloning, Houellebecq was put on trial in France for alleged anti-Islamic themes in one of his books. Loosely conceived as a soundtrack for the film version of “La Possibilité", this short (36 minutes) jazzy collection of Iggy originals and jazz covers conveys an elegant, laid-back decadence that even non-readers can appreciate.
It’s unsettling to hear Iggy crooning the first few notes of the French jazz classic “Les Feuilles Mortes” when that raspy voice jumps out at you. Iggy’s balladeer vocals are a little shaky, and more lecherous than romantic, but his world-weary sincerity and Marc Phaneuf’s clarinet draws you into the eclectic journey that follows. Think of Serge Gainsbourg with a twist. This song provides a leitmotif for Préliminaires, easing into the album and then tying it up with a slightly different arrangement on track 12. “Je Sais Que Tu Sais” combines breathy female vocals in French (by co-writer Lucy Aimé) over heavy percussion and Iggy’s exhortations of “She’s a Business/and business is good”. This is reprised a few tracks later with “She’s a Business”. The repetition fuses the CD together as a cohesive story instead of providing mere filler; there’s a method behind this madness.
In his 62 years, Iggy's seen and done it all and then some. His gruff, smoky voice is perfect for the lyrics “You can convince the world you’re some kinda superstar/ when an asshole is what you are” in the sardonic “I Want to Go to the Beach.” The snarling Iggy-of-old makes his appearance on “Nice to be Dead”, but by that time, we don’t care that Préliminaires isn’t all rock ‘n’ broken glass.
The New Orleans style swing of “King of the Dogs” has a cocky Basin Street swagger, complete with a rollicking brass section. It’s based, says Iggy, on a passage in the book where the main character's Corgi Fox, talks about how a dog’s life is better than a human’s. The most touching song on the CD though is, “A Machine for Loving”, a homage to man’s best friend and unconditional love. “And however ugly, perverse, deformed or stupid this human being might be, the dog loves him.” The lyrics, taken from Houellebecq’s text, are haunting, and Iggy brings them to life against bare bones guitar accompaniment.
Iggy and producer Hal Cragin have created a sophisticated yet undeniably accessible marriage of music and literature with Préliminaires. It draws you in, whether you have a musical “open” mind or not.