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Pop Goes the Iggy

Get Along, Little Doggie: Iggy Pop asks some alarmingly intimate questions on his newest album.

Punk progenitor looks back in lust on 'Naughty Little Doggie' album

By Gina Arnold

Iggy Pop is ugly. No doubt about that. He looks like the alley stalker of your worst nightmare: pockmarked cheeks, cadaverous body, leathery skin and hair like a zombie's. If you saw him on a bus, you would try hard not to sit next to him. That's how gross he is.

The mental image of Iggy naked makes his singing of lyrics like "Can your pussy walk/Can your pussy talk" on his new album, Naughty Little Doggie, all the more offensive. And yet, there's something rather touching about his voice and sentiments that rings right through even the boldest sexist statement. No more the devil-throated menacer who growled, "That's like hypnotizing chickens" on 1977's Lust for Life, he is turning, in his old age (he's 49), into an exuberantly effective midtempo songwriter, and Naughty Little Doggie is his most accessible album in years.

This is a good thing, since Iggy's been struggling for a long time to find a sound that's both as accessible and as edgy as his classic solo records Lust for Life and The Idiot. In 1990, Brick by Brick saw him turning in an almost sickly sweet duet with Kate Pierson of the B-52s (appropriately called "Candy"), while 1994's American Caesar took the opposite tack. It was a peculiar and tuneless album, more Henry Rollins Band than Green Day and certainly not his finest moment.

On Naughty Little Doggie, however, Pop finally seems to feel comfortable with writing mere catchy three-chord rock tunes a la "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Lyrically speaking, he has never been more true. On the opening tack, "I Wanna Live," for instance, he contemplates his past as a raucous rock star and the unpleasant process of aging but decides that one can be a bad rock star even when one's young: "A prick's a prick at any age/Why give one a break?"

On "Knucklehead," he continues to fret about the joylessness of modern music, singing, "The music sounds like dead ham/The dj is a con man/He's saying 'I I I want something from you.' "

And on the fabulous and touching "Look Away," a song about the late New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders, Pop sings, "Now Thunder and me/Did not part friends/What we did once/I wouldn't do again/So he stayed with the pure dream/And followed the moon/Til the drugs in his body/Made his mind a cartoon."

In short, Iggy Pop is emerging as a sensitive, rather than a scary, guy, one of the few elder statesmen of his era to continue to perform in a vital, exuberant and even unembarrassing way. This is fortuitous, since few bands are more relevant to today's grunge- and punk-riddled scene than Pop's first outfit, the Stooges.

Along with their hometown cohorts, the MC5, the Stooges invented and refined the whole concept of punk rock back in 1971 (six years before it was named by the British press). But as is so often the case with innovators, Pop did it a lot better than many who came after him, a fact that seems to be a bit on his mind as he contemplates today's sterile and phony music scene.

"It was Lollapalooza day/but she didn't like the groups," he sings about one girl he lusts for, and you can tell that's his idea of the biggest compliment going. And when he wails, "I'm giving up my soul to belong here," one can't help but hear that he feels at odds with his own place in music--and, possible, in life.

But no wonder, given that his mere survival into the present day is something of a surprise. For years, Pop--who often cut himself with glass at live performances, and on occasion exposed himself--was a legendary groupie-snatching, law-breaking drug abuser for whom the now-dated phrase "sex, drugs and rock & roll" may well have been coined.

How to reconcile his wild past with his fairly clean-cut present without seeming phony, forced or just plain boring is Pop's peculiar dilemma, but he manages to pull it off with some aplomb. "I'm weird and I'm half-dead," he sings on "Heart Is Saved," and it's probably painfully true. Certainly, his looks bear that description out.

If Pop has a fault, it's that his current music is a mite blunt. "Pussy Talk," for example, is merely a lesser version of the Cramps' far more cleverly put "Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?" "Knucklehead" is musically akin to "Steppin' Stone." Most disturbing of all is Pop's obsession with sex and drugs.

Since he clearly is singing longingly, in the very past tense, however, there's something a tiny bit touching about even his grossest statement. ("I slept with Sable/when she was 13," for instance, or "I found myself surrounded by Latin American ... women/... I couldn't help but thinking about their pussies."

Pop is still a riveting performer (as a recent free show in Austin, Texas, proved), and he has a felicitously light touch with melody that elevates every song on Naughty Little Doggie. When, on the song "Keep on Believing," he sings, "Life won't leave me alone/Trouble won't leave me alone/Strength don't leave me alone/Truth don't leave me alone," you know he speaks with the utmost sincerity. And sincerity is always a joy to hear.

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From the March 28-April 3, 1996 issue of Metro

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