The timing of Iggy Pop's album Preliminaires is probably a product of coincidence and fate rather than careful planning, but it's hard to ignore the fact that just a few months after the unexpected death of Ron Asheton put the Stooges into limbo (at least for a while), Iggy has released an album that almost entirely avoids the issue of rock & roll. In a publicity piece for Preliminaires, Iggy wrote "I just got sick of listening to idiot thugs with guitars," and the man whose music helped inspire so many of those thugs keeps a wary distance from electric guitars on most on this album. Advance reports suggested that Preliminaires would be a jazz album, but that's not accurate, even though one of the best songs on the set, "King of the Dogs," features Iggy borrowing a melody from Louis Armstrong while backed by a traditional New Orleans jazz band. Instead, most of the music on Preliminaires recalls European pop -- music influenced by music influenced by jazz -- and the lion's share of the arrangements resemble some fusion of Serge Gainsbourg and late-period Leonard Cohen, fitted with a distinctly American accent on songs like "Spanish Coast," "I Want to Go to the Beach," and a cover of "How Insensitive." For those put off by such things, "Nice to Be Dead" is dominated by distorted electric guitars and "She's a Business" (like the nearly identical "Je Sais Que Tu Sais") booms with martial drumming, (both recall Iggy's moody solo debut The Idiot), while "He's Dead/ She's Alive" is backed by Pop's powerful acoustic blues guitar. Like 1999's Avenue B, Preliminaires is an introspective set, with Iggy crooning in a low murmur as he contemplates the failings of the world around him; he cites Michel Houellebecq's novel The Possibility of an Island as an influence (Houellebecq's words provided the lyrics for one stand-out track, "A Machine for Loving"), and the album is bookended by tunes which Iggy sings in French. Where Avenue B was a pretentious mess, Preliminaires is flawed but significantly more successful; though "Party Time" is mildly embarrassing in its depiction of decadence among the idle rich, the other songs are intelligent and often compelling meditations on a world where love and compassion are in short supply, and if "King of the Dogs" isn't exactly a new sentiment coming from Iggy, it's cock-of-the-walk air fits him like a glove (as does the trad jazz arrangement). Iggy's a better shouter than a crooner, but time has burnished his instrument with the character to fit these lyrics, and the best moments on this disc are truly inspired. Iggy Pop would be ill advised to give up on rock & roll, but Preliminaires shows he can do other things and do them well, and it speaks of a welcome maturity missing from many of his efforts outside the realm of fast and loud.
by Mark Deming