By Joel Francis
Purists of all stripes can relax: Iggy Pop’s much ballyhooed 15 studio album, “Preliminaires,” is not the jazz album Pop talked up before its release.
That said, the album’s lone foray into the genre is actually one of its best songs. Borrowing enough of Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans hot jazz sound and arrangements to earn Satchmo a partial songwriting credit, “I Want to Go to the Beach” is surprising triumph that should throw a nice curveball into dinner party playlists.
The rest of “Preliminaries,” however, is more French café than bebop bistro. Pop opens and closes the album with two spoken word pieces in French and provides two versions of “She’s the Business” – both with and without French narration – that are straight from the Serge Gainsbourg model.
Other tracks find Pop channeling late-period Leonard Cohen for “I Want to Go to the Beach,” dropping in some acoustic Delta blues for “He’s Dead/She’s Alive” and delivering another spoken word piece about how dogs are the ultimate companion based on the Michel Houellebecq novel “The Possibility of an Island.” On the gentle yet foreboding “Spanish Coast,” Pop croons in a deep baritone on what could be a lost Marianne Faithful song. There’s also a cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “How Insensative.”
Try as he might, Pop can’t repress his rock side for the entire album. “Nice To Be Dead” is a solid rocker that is one of the album’s best tracks and very much what one would expect from Pop. The electronic “Party Time” is to cocktail parties what “Night Clubbing” was to nights on the town.
While “Preliminaires” is a departure, it doesn’t arrive out of the blue. Pop first dabbled in jazz on a 1990 duet with Debbie Harry on Cole Porter’s “Well, Did You Evah!” He also did an entire album of jazz-tinged spoken word pieces. And although that album, “Avenue B,” was a disaster, “Preliminaires” succeeds in large part because Pop delivers each track with authority and authenticity.
While Pop’s genre hopping could be a bizarre recipe for disaster, he turns this into a strength, weaving the diverse threads together for a cohesive listen. The resulting variance in mood and texture is another element that keeps “Preliminaires” from being as stilted and dreary as “Avenue B.” “Preliminaires” greatest strength, though, might simply be that Pop knows when to quit. Most songs hover between two and three minutes and the 12-track affair is over in a brief 36 minutes.
“Preliminaries” will not bump “Lust for Life” or “The Passenger” off the pedestal atop Pop’s catalog and likely won’t even stand as a major entry in his canon, but curious fans interested in what the Wild One can do when stripped of his raw power should find something to like.