Iggy Pop

American Caesar

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Boasting a big-name producer and appearances from a handful of actual mainstream rock stars, Brick by Brick was a remarkably successful attempt (critically, if not commercially) to create an "event album" around Iggy Pop, so the follow-up came as a surprise -- American Caesar was cut fast and loose in a New Orleans studio, with Malcolm Burn (hardly known for his work in hard rock) in the producer's chair and Pop's road band backing him up. But the real surprise was that American Caesar ranks with Pop's very best solo work. Dark, loud, and atmospheric, it's a far riskier album than Brick by Brick, lyrically following that disc's themes of America teetering on the edge of internal collapse with the same degree of hard-won maturity, but adding a wacked-out passion and force that recall the heady days of Raw Power. While Pop's group doesn't play with the subtlety of the studio cats on Brick by Brick (I'll leave it to others to debate if they won't or they can't), they also sound tight and forceful, like a real band with plenty of muscle and some miles under their belts. Eric Schermerhorn's guitar meshes with Pop's vocals as well as anyone he's worked with since Ron Asheton, and Malcolm Burn's production is clear and detailed but adds subtle textures that season the formula just right. The hard rockers are full-bodied ("Wild America," "Plastic and Concrete"), the calmer tunes still bristle with tension and menace ("Mixing the Colors," "Jealousy"), the few moments of calm sound sincere and richly earned ("Highway Song," "It's Our Love"), the manic rewritten remake of "Louie Louie" actually tops the version on Metallic K.O., and the title cut is a bizarre bit of spoken-word performance art that's as strange as the entirety of Zombie Birdhouse, and a rousing success where that album was a brave failure. In a note printed on the CD itself, Pop says of American Caesar, "I tried to make this album as good as I could, with no imitations of other people and no formula sh*t." And Pop succeeded beyond anyone's expectations; American Caesar is an overlooked masterpiece.

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