Local MusicOld dogs, new tricks
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Longevity is one of the greater, if rarest, achievements in pop music. With it, however, comes the burden of reinvention and the dilemma of what to do when, say, you once claimed you wouldn't be singing "Satisfaction" at age 30 ... and then find yourself still doing it night after night as you approach 70. But two of Detroit's favorite musical sons demonstrate how one can still do it with total class on their latest releases.
Jaggedland is Marshall Crenshaw's first album in six years. And while the singer-songwriter is still best recognized as the master pure-pop meister who released the most memorable and purest pop album of the summer of '82, it's a much more world-weary troubadour we find in 2009. Perhaps the early Crenshaw's most refreshing and admirable trait was that there was no sign of bitterness or even anger in his songs of unrequited love. While there may still not be what one would term "bitterness," there's some regret, even traces of anger in his newer songs. In other words, it's a somewhat darker and more cynical Crenshaw on display.
Likewise, he's more of an "adult" composer, musically speaking. He even occasionally draws on jazz concepts and structures, creating melodies that aren't always as obvious as the purest pop can be, meaning some of the material is less easily accessible. Which isn't to say that Marshall doesn't still know how to rock. In fact, the bluesy "Stormy River" (co-written with Ivan Julian of Richard Hell's Voidoids and Matthew Sweet fame) features an awesome guitar solo by Wayne Kramer that provides the CD with some major riffage. The brief, eco-minded "Gasoline Baby" is timely, fun (in an early rock 'n' roll sorta way) and totally rocks. (The great Jim Keltner plays drums on the entire album, by the way.) And just when you think MC is less about the POP! these days, he delivers a pure pop classic called "Eventually" right near the album's conclusion, before ending with "Live and Learn," which wouldn't have sounded out of place with his early '80s output. But pop-based or not, each one of these songs has a payoff, if the listener puts a little effort into really listening.
Preliminaires, meanwhile, isn't Iggy Pop's best album — he's set a pretty high bar for himself, after all — but it's certainly one of his most eclectic and interesting, not to mention one of the most satisfying of his more recent output. Early reports that it was a "concept" album and involved introspection were alarming, suggesting perhaps another Avenue B, arguably his worst disc ever. But a lot of Preliminaires is, surprisingly, just plain terrific.
Much was made of "Iggy as crooner" in those early press reports. Not a surprising development; he did a beautiful, non-ironic version of Sinatra's "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)" during his weeklong 1980 stint at Bookies in Detroit. And the album is bookended by striking renditions of the standard "Autumn Leaves," delivered with its original French lyrics (the idea behind the LP's concept was inspired by a French novel). But the "crooner" aspect here is closer to Serge Gainsbourg (Ig even has his own Jane Birkin via French vocalist Lucie Aime on one track) or Charles Aznavour ... that is, when he's actually crooning at all.
He also explores ragtime and Dixieland ("King of the Dogs") as well as traditional country blues ("He's Dead/She's Alive"). "Nice to Be Dead" features a chugging and then thunderous rock riff and crescendo; the burping synthesizer-based "Party Time" would've worked on Ig's own The Idiot, right down to its lyrics and title. Speaking of lyrics, the poetry here sometimes touches on the "decadence" (more like "mainstream," actually, these days) he's dealt with his entire career, even on his lovely, self-composed ballad, "I Want to Go to the Beach." But the lyrics are often equally as lovely and poignant as the word "ballad" might suggest. Dog lovers will be saddened by the opening of "Machine for Loving," which depicts the death of a beloved old canine. But its conclusion, part of which surmises: "Love is simple to define but it seldom happens. Through these dogs, we pay homage to love and its possibilities" ... well, hell, that's just absolutely beautiful.