If you'd been a baker for more than 50 years, you could be forgiven for being sick of the sight of chocolate éclairs. Similarly, a half-century on from the first Stooges album, Iggy Pop has made it clear he's not as in love with rock & roll as he once was. Albums such as 2009's Preliminaires and 2012's Après have found him exploring less aggressive and more thoughtful material, and Iggy continues this trend with 2019's Free. In his liner notes, Iggy writes, "I began to recoil from guitar riffs in favor of guitarscapes, from twangs in favor of horns, from back beat in favor of space," and that's a concise and accurate summary of the sound he approaches on this album. While there are electric guitars on most of these numbers, there's little in the way of fuzz or bark, and a ghostly trumpet and waves of atmospheric keyboards play a much bigger role in the arrangements. Iggy had a hand in writing three of the tracks on Free, but most of the songs were penned by his primarily collaborators on this album, trumpeter Leron Thomas and Noveller, who is credited with "guitarscapes." There are a few playful moments, most notably on the sly and slinky "James Bond," but for the most part, Free finds Iggy contemplating a culture caught in a tailspin, and while no one would have expected the guy singing on Fun House to set Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" to music back in the day, here his deep, craggy voice and tone of weary rage fits the classic verse like a glove. Not everything on this album works, and the sex and porn rant "Dirty Sanchez" may be the stupidest thing Iggy has sung since 2001's misbegotten Beat Em Up, though at least take comfort in the fact he didn't write it. As a detour from rock & roll, Free is a fine and compelling study of the mind and mood of Iggy Pop at the age of 72, and if it's clearly the work of an older artist, that works to its favor, a pointed contrast to the abandon of his youth but with no less gravitas.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming