It’s not as if Iggy Pop has ever really needed to prove anything. If 2016’s Post Pop Depression—which he made with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and Dean Fertita, and Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders—showed that he could still cause a ruckus, Free shows he’s still more than capable of keeping his audience on its toes. Iggy has always attempted to strike this balance between music for the body and music for the mind: As far back as The Stooges’ first albums in the late ’60s and early ’70s, a meditative raga like “We Will Fall” would counter the scrappy, visceral force of “No Fun,” or a track like “Fun House” would tack left with Ornette Coleman-inspired saxophone runs. Free finds him tapping those exploratory instincts even more deeply.
“I wanna be free,” he says with a matter-of-fact inflection as a cinematic trumpet glistens over the moody, beat-less composition that opens the 72-year-old artist's 18th solo studio LP. That title track clearly sets the album's goalposts—or lack thereof. With the assistance of co-producers and collaborators Leron Thomas and Noveller, Iggy experiments with all kinds of new depths, playing with jazz, rock, electronics, dissonance, poetry, and even a little of the camp he embraced on 2012's Après, his collection of loungey pop interpretations. “Sonali,” one of Free's most robust, complex songs, juggles atmospheric synth notes with some inhumanly quick, off-kilter drums while Iggy softly croons lyrics that would almost sound like a stream of consciousness were it not for the fun images that emerge from his linguistic puzzles. (Enjoy untangling “To park the car, we must find parking/Or spend the day on the freeway/Stay in your lane/It's what you want/And yes, I approve/'Cause if I run out of gas/You'll be my excuse.") Though tracks like “Glow in the Dark” and “We Are the People” keep the arrangements to a minimum, there’s an incandescence to Iggy’s performance that’s full of energy—a spark of giddy excitement, as if he’s asking, “What’ll happen if I turn this knob? Say it this way?” It’s all a lead-up to his fantastic recitation of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” For someone who kicked off punk five decades earlier, and who has hardly let up for a moment in the intervening years, the line “Old age should burn and rave at close of day” basically belongs to him now.