Iggy Pop growls his way through intriguing collaborations, while Lana Del Ray surpasses herself
Iggy Pop: Free (Loma Vista/Caroline International) ***
Yip Man: Pure Zen, Ken? (Armellodie Records) ****
Lana Del Ray: Norman F***ing Rockwell (Polydor) ****
At one time vilified, now regarded with affection and received with adoration, Iggy Pop is often cast as the archetypal lunatic wild man of rock’n’roll. Yet even a cursory glance at his career reveals variety, subtlety, erudition. In the last decade alone, he has released crooner cover albums and joint EPs with elegant electronica veterans Underworld.
He was back on full rocker alert for the making and touring of Post Pop Depression, his glorious 2016 collaboration with Queens of the Stone Age which was titled after the vacuum he left when the band downed tools. In complete contrast, follow-up Free is the musical equivalent of lying down in a darkened room on a bed of soothing yet also unsettling soundscapes.
Recorded with jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas and composer Sarah Lipstate, who trades as Noveller, Iggy has described it as “an album in which other artists speak for me, but I lend my voice”. This might give the impression that Iggy just showed up and slotted in but he is an undeniable presence as he makes the forlorn baritone assertion that “I wanna be free” on the opening title track over lapping waves of ambient drone and languid brass.
He looms large over the sleazy prowl of Loves Missing with its increasingly oppressive, heavy and foreboding shades of the gutter-trawling Nightclubbing. Sonali’s combination of skittering beats, fluid bass, mournful jazz trumpet, and Iggy’s baritone croon recalls his old mucker David Bowie’s valedictory jams on Black Star and there’s a stirring in the loins via the pliant bass line of James Bond, over which Iggy intones an ode to a femme fatale who would be an action hero.
The pace may be leisurely, even meandering, with serpentine trumpet and depth charge bass runs on Glow in the Dark but, as the album inches onwards, there is a sense that Iggy is straining himself to the limits in other ways. “I sound nearer and nearer to my expiration,” he recently told the New Yorker and he appears at his most vulnerable on Page.
We Are the People is even darker – “we are the people who conceive our destruction, and carry it out lawfully” is just one nugget from this morose meditation – while his dramatic reading of Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night doesn’t so much rage against the dying of the light as stare it down.
Yip Man, the pop moniker of Scots-born, China-based musician Al Nero, follows up his Iggy & the Stooges’ referencing debut Braw Power with Pure Zen, Ken?, a finely tuned blend of quirky power pop and sardonic lyrics which barrels along confidently, taking in the swaggering chorus of Suffer More (about tortured artists), gonzo rock’n’roll of Tremors (possibly the first song ever written about restless leg syndrome), the flamboyant flourish of Trying Not to Get Caught Out which gleefully declares “I don’t have a Scooby” and Aye Peckin’, an upbeat ode to pigeons embellished with Bacharachian horns.
Lana Del Ray has consistent form as an elegant stylist but surpasses herself on her fifth album, Norman F***king Rockwell. It is a ravishing reverie which maintains her distinctive evocation of America past and present with its daisy chain of pop allusions (“crimson and clover,” “dream a little dream of me”, “all the ladies of the canyon”) and the title reference itself to the great American writer and illustrator, while both expanding musically to encompass 60s psych pop, string-soaked 70s piano balladry, ska-infused trip-hop (on a cover of Sublime’s mid-90s track Doin’ Time) and analogue electronica, and twisting the knife deeper with her devastating lyrics, deceptively delivered with delicious breathiness. To paraphrase the prophetic track The Next Best American Record, it is just that good. Fiona Shepherd
Kenneth Hamilton plays Ronald Stevenson Vol 2 (Prima facie) ****
Ronald Stevenson, who died four years ago in his late 80s, was a Romantic figure with a contemporary twist. He was both a pianist and a composer, cutting a dash as a latter day Liszt or Busoni, whom he particularly admired. His music, largely for the piano, was often something he performed best himself, but there were, and certainly are now, admiring performers who have taken up the challenge his rhapsodic and virtuosic music demands. Kenneth Hamilton is one, having previously released Volume 1 of Stevenson’s Piano Music, following that up now with Volume 2, a range of works far less familiar than such giants as, say, the Passacaglia on DSCH. Many of these are quirky, flavoured with folksy charm – the whimsical High Road to Linton, the Barra Flying Toccata and Little Jazz Variations among them. Then there’s the impish Threepenny Sonatina, Weill’s hit tunes served up dry and sardonically. Hamilton captures the eccentricity of Stevenson’s style in these and other miscellaneous works. Ken Walton
Jazzmeia Horn: Love and Liberation (Concord Jazz) *****
The US singer follows up her Grammy-nominated debut album, Social Call, with this dozen tracks, seven of which are her own compositions, showcasing her knock-out vocal dynamic and assurance.Accompanied on piano, bass and drums by Victor Gould, Ben Williams and Jamison Ross, with occasional guests, Horn readily evokes the likes of Sarah Vaughan or Ella Fitzgerald, but is a powerfully sinuous voice of her own, whether in the exhilarating bebop scatting of Out the Window or in poised recitation, floating beguilingly in the drift of Time. Guest pianist Sullivan Fortner’s piano rings through the deliciously Pink Panther-ish pacing of No More, an uncompromising declaration of independence, there’s waspish trumpet commentary from Josh Evans in the bluesy holler of Still Tryin’, while springy solo bass accompanies the wry reproach of I Thought About You. Horn makes her debut visit here in November in the company of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. Don’t miss them. Jim Gilchrist