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Numb Skull


Iggy Pop: Skull Ring

EMI/Virgin, 2003

Rating: 3.0



Posted: December 11, 2003

By Kevin Forest Moreau

The reunification of Iggy Pop with The Stooges, with whom he recorded the seminal punk classics Fun House and Raw Power in the early '70s, should be an event of much more import than Skull Ring provides. One hopes for a sort of homecoming, with Pop's Tasmanian Devil persona engaged in a raucous collision with classic, power-chord punk. But the handful of Pop/Stooges collaborations offered here are wildly uneven, and do little to add to a formidable legacy. Throw in the fact that these numbers are sandwiched between outings with relative newcomers Green Day and the snot-nosed Sum 41, and you've got what amounts to a sonic slap in the face to anyone for whom punk rock dates back farther than 1990.

But hold up. This isn't to suggest that Skull Ring is a bad Iggy Pop album; in fact, the numbers on which Pop is backed by his current band, The Trolls, are perfectly serviceable (save for the stumbling "Inferiority Complex"). More to the point, the first of these -- "Perverts in the Sun" and "Superbabe" -- set the tone for the album Skull Ring would be at its core, if the guest turns were stripped away. Which is to say, a decent but unremarkable pop-rock album by an aging godfather of punk rock. Songs like "Whatever" and "Here Comes the Summer" showcase an Iggy Pop who knows how to trade on his image as a whirling dervish whose electric exuberance teeters perpetually on the brink of self-caricature; a rail-thin live wire with a gravelly, Boris-Karloff-as-the-Grinch voice. Musically, Pop seems content to nod to his past as a living embodiment of punk's primal spirit, even if as a live performer he still thrashes and wails like a man less than half his age. As for those Stooges numbers? "Dead Rock Star" and the pleasantly dumb, anthemic title track are engaging enough (the latter, however, is a bit too blatant in its reliance on the classic "Peter Gunn" riff). But while competent, they're hardly worth the three-decade wait.

That said, Pop's jam sessions with today's torch-bearers aren't, as one would fear, pathetic indicators of a musical mid-life crisis. While the idea of letting a band like Sum 41 share album space with any incarnation of Iggy and the Stooges is misguided at best, these tracks do hum with an engaging accessibility. The Green Day tracks ("Private Hell" and "Supermarket") are both high points, although the trio's sonic stamp is inescapable. It sounds more like Pop's guesting on their album than the reverse, but that doesn't detract from their catchy energy. "Rock Show," a duet with trash-rapper Peaches, showcases an impressive bit of lyrical dexterity, although the pairing makes even less sense than the Sum 41 collaboration. Speaking of which, "Little Know It All" throbs along, surprisingly enough, thanks to an impressively memorable pop hook; it's an excellent disposable pop-punk number, though buffed to a sterile studio polish (the better, no doubt, to mask that band's lack of skill). But it's not a Pop-punk song, as we've come to understand the term. He may be singing on it, but there's very little to the song that actually speaks to us of Iggy Pop.

That's the problem with Skull Ring: It's the work of an artist who should be looking within himself to create a modern-day masterpiece, rather than trying to catch a spark from either his chart-topping successors or the band he once fronted so triumphantly. Both acts, in their way, give a whiff of desperation. Pop's reliance on guest stars both young and old smacks of a calculated, Santana-style bid for commercial viability. But Iggy Pop's essence isn't something determined by radio play or sales; it's tied to a feral, combustible and uncontainable fire within. Channeling that essence is the only thing that can realign Iggy Pop with his larger-than-life legend. Skull Ring is both too scattershot and too contrived to return Pop to the glory he so obviously misses; what's needed is an album that turns on his metabolic animation, instead of settling for a cartoon cutout.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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