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Iggy Pop
Preliminaires Alex Denney , May 25th, 2009 12:21

Labelled variously as a genius, a crank and a self-publicising reactionary who 'mistakes his sexual vanity for the human condition', divisive French author Michel Houellebecq makes a strangely appropriate muse for Iggy Pop as he clocks up the mileage on his sixth decade.

"It's 1969 okay, there's nuthin' to do an-a nuthin' to say," ran the Midwestern firebrand's refrain while with his posse of Stooges, spat with menace just as hippy idealism began to backslide into what Greil Marcus dubbed the 'survivalist' mentality of the 70s. And the world's first counter-counter-cultural icon was born. For his part, Houellebecq has directed much of his mordantly funny invective in the direction of the soixant-huitards, his literally hell-raising 1998 novel Atomised satirising the hippy generation's incontinent weakness for self-serving cod-philosophies and its shaping role in engendering the present-day, youth-fixated consumer culture.

With fourth novel The Possibility Of An Island, Houellebecq narrates the hedonistic exploits of Daniel, a comedian who has made a successful career out of his outrageous social critiques, but who has come to tire of his audience - and of humanity in general. The book alternates between Daniel's increasingly jaded musings on sex, love and getting old, and the attempts of two of his clones living in a post-apocalyptic future to make sense of his sufferings.

In Daniel, Houellebecq presents us with a man who knows that "if you attack the world with sufficient violence, it always ends up spitting its filthy lucre back at you". All of which appears to have struck a chord with Pop, as the one-time nihilist poster boy newly flush with ill-gotten gains from a much-maligned (and controversial) spot on an ad for online insurance brokers Swiftcover.

The ageing wild child's response has been to make Préliminaires, a concept album based loosely on his reading of ...Island, intended originally as the soundtrack to a documentary about Houellebecq's attempts to film the book (attempts which eventually reached fruition; an audience was apparently less forthcoming).

For his own part, Iggy needn't worry much – the record's his finest in many a year, going some distance towards erasing the memory of The Stooges' abysmal last hurrah The Weirdness, even before Ron Asheton's passing earlier this year ended the ne plus ultra of unnecessary comebacks.

Inspired by the literary nature of his endeavour and a rising contempt for "idiot thugs with guitars", then, Pop has reached back to the blues and Dixieland jazz that inspired him as a youth – along with a large smattering of Gallic lounge and pop - to end up at a result that's less the product of rediscovered mojo as a willingness to engage the grey matter he's so often neglected.

On tracks like 'Spanish Coast' and 'I Want To Go To The Beach' Pop stakes out a shaky, singer-songwritery-ish territory that sits somewhere between Serge Gainsbourg, Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed circa The Bells. It works, too, Iggy's naive baritone sounding unsure of its footing but somehow winding up part of the charm.

Préliminaires' old-timey sounds could well be a tacit admission of Pop's own encroaching obsolescence, too, although it's left to the only garage rocker on here - 'Nice To Be Dead' - to take the bull by the horns, flaunting the risqué notion that suicide is the best way to avoid the indignities of old age in a society that leaves its elderly out with the rubbish. It rocks with more purpose than anything off The Weirdness did, precisely because it has a purpose.

A brace of end of the affair-type covers, 'Les Feuilles Mortes' and 'How Insensitive', are well chosen and offer nice meditations on the novel's starker themes, the former delivered in mangled French, the latter in a breathy, Bowie-ish croon. 'King Of The Dogs''s swinging New Orleans jazz upholds his tradition of penning strong mutt-related material, while the similarly canine intent of 'Machine For Loving' lifts directly from the novel to illustrate one of its more barking ideas – that love's a rotten old business, and it's only through dogs that "we pay homage to love, and its possibility".

"You can convince the world you're a superstar / when an asshole is what you are / but that's alright," runs one of the funnier lines on the record, knowingly echoing the sentiments of the washed-up Daniel. Houellebecq's protagonist, we are led to believe, winds up offing himself for the chance to be reborn. For Iggy, it just needed a little application.

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