Love it or hate it, Beat Em Up is inarguably one of the most appropriate titles Iggy Pop attached to an album in years; after an ill-advised detour into something resembling jazz on 1999's Avenue B, Iggy shifted gears again and served up his most physically punishing album since American Caesar in 1993. Beat Em Up starts out promisingly enough with "Mask," a hyperinsistent three-chord blast that, with its energetic riffing and manic vocals, sounds more like a prime Stooges number than anything he's cooked up in ages. But about halfway through the song, Iggy launches into a hysterical tirade against a number of cultural abuses common to modern-day America, and for every moment that he hits a nail on the head ("Irony in place of balls/Balls in place of brains/Brains in place of soul") there's at least one or two bits you can only hope he's joking ("Junkie frat boys in their shorts!"). And that pretty much sets the tone for the album; when Whitey Kirst's guitar isn't trying to split the difference between Ron Asheton-esque groove and speed metal shred, Iggy is ranting about one thing or another that annoys him until he sounds like a cross between Dennis Miller and the wino on the corner who yells at you when you won't give him a dollar. There are a few numbers where this all falls into place, and "Weasels" and "Ugliness" rock hard enough that you can forgive them when they start to go silly. But it's both ironic and appropriate that the most effective track on the album is the one that rocks the least -- "V.I.P.," six and a half minutes of slow vamp in which Iggy offers a hilarious stream-of-consciousness monologue about the joys of abusing your fame, which is funny and makes its points well at the same time. Beat Em Up takes an approach not dissimilar to what Iggy was reaching for on Brick by Brick and American Caesar, but where he sounded intelligent and thoughtful on those albums, on Beat Em Up, he sounds a like a crank who doesn't always realize he's being funny, and "V.I.P." suggests if he's going to go this route, he's best off directly aiming for laughs.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming