By late 1977, when Iggy Pop unveiled Lust for Life, he had begun to look like a perfect candidate for king of the burgeoning punk/new wave scene. The one-time Stooges leader had, after all, been waxing titles like “No Fun” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog” since well before the Ramones left school. He had also been called “the Robert Johnson of heavy metal” and had long since proven that he could radiate boredom and decadence as well as anyone who ever crossed CBGB’s doorstep.
Granted, a few important stumbling blocks to success had plagued his career, but they seemed to vanish on Lust for Life. There, Pop demonstrated that he could sing almost as evocatively as he could grunt and groan; that he could temper his boredom with humor and even out-and-out exuberance; and that he could—albeit with considerable help from David Bowie—make records that are as listenable as they are weird.
There’s no question that Pop’s weirdness remains intact on New Values, the artist’s first album of fresh material since Lust for Life. (Two intervening sets respectively offered “live” and vintage tracks.) I wouldn’t quite go along with the Iggy publicist who recently wrote that “by comparison, Johnny Rotten seems a mere Frankie Avalon.” But one need look no further than the new LP’s fragments of “Summertime” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”—which sound a lot alike—to realize that this guy might not be playing with a full deck.
There’s no question that Pop’s weirdness remains intact on New Values, the artist’s first album of fresh material since Lust for Life.
Be that as it may, he’s no longer “playing” very well. For starters, he’s made some unflattering personnel changes and has regressed, on many of the cuts, to the grunt-and-groan level. He has also forsaken Bowie for a James Williamson production so underground that portions of it sound as if they issued from a subway. And, whereas Bowie’s deft songwriting contributions to Lust for Life eclipse the disastrous one cut on that LP that is credited solely to Pop, there’s no escaping Iggy’s compositional shortcomings here; he wrote seven of the new tunes all by himself and, like the Pop-coauthored remaining tracks, they offer little in the way of hooks, melodies or interesting lyrics.
The reason, though, may lie less with Bowie’s absence than with Iggy’s present mood. Back in 1977, he had a “lust for life”—even if it took “some weird sin” to keep him smiling. Here, though, he’s back to being merely “bored.” On the lead-off cut, he proclaims an inability to show emotion; on the title track, he’s “lookin’ for new values, but nothin’ comes my way”; on “Girls,” where he at least claims some enthusiasm, he belies his words with a nonchalant vocal; and on the cut after that, he announces, “I’m bored, I’m the chairman of the bored.”
I’ll buy that. And I’ll be the first to credit Iggy with making an album that perfectly reflects his lyrical stance and apparent attitude toward life. But who wants to pay six bucks for a dose of pure and simple boredom?