“You can convince the world/ That you’re some kind of superstar/ When an asshole is what you are/ But it’s all right.” ~Iggy Pop, “I Want to Go to the Beach”
It is lyrics like that that reassured me right away that all was still well. As word first surfaced about this project, I was nervous. Iggy Pop doing a record of jazzy ballads? Such an outing would be akin to the Sex Pistols playing at casinos or something. (Oops, they did.) Yet, Preliminaires works, and often very well. Who knew that Iggy had it in that voice to lower it to Leonard Cohen-esque levels of jaded smokiness, enough to give most of the record a seedy, inspired torch songs?
The songs are based on image and ideas from The Possibility of an Island, a 2005 novel by the latest decadent French writer, Michel Houellebecq. Like Villon, Sade, Bataille and Genet, Houellebecq swims in waters where the holy is unholy, and often vice-versa. Apparently there was talk of a film version of Island, but it never came about. Iggy, asked to write some songs for the soundtrack, ended up with an album’s worth of what he called the alternative soundtrack to the proposed film. Preliminaires evolved from there.
Risky though it may have seen (in terms of both taste and talent), this is a great record. Even Iggy’s French vocals — on “King of the Dogs” and “He’s Dead/She’s Alive,” and cover of the standard “Autumn Leaves” — ring authentic. One thing that has always been a hallmark of Mr. Osterberg, even when delivering tired material — is that he has always been sincere. And he often sings his heart out here. The “jazzy” elements are mostly New Orleans horns or a muted trumpet. No big band abominations. Of the up-tempo tunes, the jump blues of “How Insensitive” works much better than the dancer “Je Sais Que Tu Sais” or “Nice to Be Dead,” a sort of rock tune that is mostly stillborn.
To call Preliminaires “Mature Iggy” might be stretching it, but it is surely among his most daring releases. Like the inspiration for these songs, Iggy is tired and jaded, with more loneliness than disgust in that heavy heart of his. This is a record that hopefully opens up new creative veins for Iggy and for his voice, a voice that, like those of Dylan, Cohen and Waits, is fading with grace and defiance.