“To explain all this needs further explaining,” says the godfather of punk on his eighteenth studio album Free, and we’re all craning our necks to know what’s on his mind. Is he talking about the internet age? How does he feel about politics in 2019? Is there a solution to the ills of modern American society? Does it matter? The rest of the lyrics on ‘Glow In The Dark’ don’t deign to blame anyone in particular for the problems we face, and it looks good on him: “Everyone must play their part in this world/ servants will serve and kings will rule/ pretend we don't know but I bet that you do.” If he’s holding any of the solutions to our problems, he must not feel like sharing.

Iggy Pop’s last album, 2016’s Post Pop Depression, didn’t push his career forward as much as solidify it. The subsequent Live at Royal Albert Hall was proof enough that he gave all his classic energy to the performances. After this long tour (with a handful of much younger rock stars), it’s no surprise that Iggy needed a break from the grind: “I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back, and walk away. I wanted to be free,” he explained at the album’s announcement. As a result, Free just kind of happened to him. It’s short and blunt, but not lazy or arduous; and that’s really the most we can ask for.

See, in 2016, Post Pop faced up against a lot of late career gems that proved to the world that you could make a classic at any point in your career. Iggy’s album wasn’t one of those records, and as such the stage was set for a kind of rebuttal. Free is in some ways a response to David Bowie’s Blackstar - however the two records don’t bear many sonic similarities. Blackstar’s bleak saxophones are traded out for a bolder, sharper set of trumpet sounds on Free; and where Bowie obsessed and dissected his impending death, Iggy Pop is now lounging luxuriously in an Eno-inspired pool of peaceful noise. Despite all this, it’s hard not to compare the two.

The album opening title track, although the shortest, tells you all the great things about the record. Easygoing ambience flows like the seaside depicted on the cover, letting you know that this isn’t going to be the whack in the head that made classic Iggy so good. ‘Loves Missing’ shows up after, crawling along at the pace of a Low song and never conforming to pop music’s usual forms. What does change over its length is the intensity of Iggy’s voice, mutating from a low mumble in the beginning to a pained wail by the end.

This formlessness looks real good on Iggy. He’s more interested in reading poetry than writing hooks, and longtime fans will have no problem admiring the words like a kid listening to a parent read them JRR Tolkien. “Love and sex are gonna occur to you/ and neither one will solve the darkness,” he mutters on closer ‘The Dawn’. Notable here is his use of the word “solve.” He’s past the point of fighting off his demons tooth and nail, but is also quite aware of the good life can offer in spite of “the darkness.” Iggy’s found freedom in acceptance, and we’ve much to learn from him.

Incidentally, the vast majority of the words on Free weren’t written by Iggy Pop. From a reading of Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight’ to a handful of songs co-written by jazz auteur Leron Thomas, this could almost be considered someone else’s album. The collaborations with Noveller are particularly prescient, with Free bearing many similarities to Sarah Lipstate’s wonderful 2017 album A Pink Sunset for No One. “This is an album in which other artists speak for me, but I lend my voice,” Iggy explained ahead of release. It shouldn’t matter much to us whether or not he wrote the songs - if it’s poetry that he approves of, we ought to approve of it as well. Still, more original lyrics would have been welcome.

Things turn sour is on second single ‘James Bond’, where a flatline bass dirge (especially dull compared to the incredible bass playing on ‘Sonali’) guides Iggy’s voice. The track isn’t all that bad, but serves as a bit of a slap in the face to the rest of the record’s sobriety. Iggy takes a dig on promiscuity-as-virtue on the following ‘Dirty Sanchez’, a song as nastily composed as the sex move itself. But, it doesn’t suffer the blandness of ‘James Bond’, instead showcasing a squealing Iggy Pop that we’ve heard little of since he collaborated with At the Drive-In in 1999. The song would work better if it wasn’t a constant onslaught of monstrous vocals on a record of soothing treatises on age and industry.

Though it’s not surprising that Iggy included a couple of left hooks, it hurts a little bit that the album doesn’t have more of the sing-speak poetry and post-rock dreaminess. He does it so well, but only about 22 minutes are dedicated to this sound. ‘James Bond’, in contrast, is a distraction from a compelling new direction.

Whatever the case, it’s good to listen to an album where you can feel Iggy taking it easy on himself. At this point, there’s no tour announcement, but it’s really your own damn fault if you haven’t caught him live yet - the man’s a workhorse. Still, I’d like to see him out there screaming onstage a few more times. If that means we get less content, albeit good content without a tour, then fine. At the very least, let’s revel in the fact that Iggy put out maybe his first album that goes well with red wine; and that it’s still punk as fuck.