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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Underworld/Iggy Pop - Teatime Dub Encounters EP Music Album Reviews

On their collaborative EP, the UK electronic duo provides a lush and polished bed of sound for Iggy Pop to grouse about the state of the world.

Iggy’s got a few complaints: The world’s changing, nothing’s fun anymore, he hardly has any friends and the ones he does have are a pain, the music industry is a drag, his reputation isn’t what it used to be. Oh, and you can’t smoke on flights. On an EP filled with these kinds of lamentations, one couplet neatly epitomizes his gripe: “It’s getting harder to be free/It’s getting so much harder to be me.” The first line might be on the money, but the second reduces his message to one of solipsistic whining.

Pop belongs to a tiny club—alongside Keith Richards, George Clinton, and perhaps no one else—of the hard-living, perma-cool rock-icon survivor whose lives are marked by a steel imperviousness to consequences. Pop’s work writhed and spasmed to historic effect while he remained, apparently, unbreakable. As the frontman of the Stooges, he set the high-water mark for punk intensity. As a solo artist, he narrated the tumultuous dreamlife of a junkie street urchin who was also a star. Now, teamed up with UK electronic duo Underworld on Teatime Dub Encounters, he sounds like something else entirely: a resentful baby boomer grumbling about the state of the world.

The collaboration came about via a bit of sabotage in 2017: With the release of Danny Boyle’s T2 Trainspotting looming, Underworld began to envision their own sequel. After all, their anthem “Born Slippy (Nuxx)” highlighted the iconic soundtrack to the original film (the start of the disc was Iggy’s 1977 groover “Lust for Life”). A plan was hatched to get Pop to a meeting at a hotel and surprise him, upon arrival, with a fully functioning studio and a batch of tracks ready for vocal overdubs. The fruits of this impromptu session sound exactly as you might expect. Underworld’s compositions are lush and polished, while Iggy’s ad-libs tend to spin their wheels, at times pausing and sputtering while he searches for the next word or phrase.

The pairing itself is a canny one. Iggy’s always had a pop edge that balanced out his feral persona, and Underworld frequently added doses of weirdness to their crossover electronica. In the Venn diagram of the two groups, there’s an overlap that’s worth exploring and might even bear fruit. So it’s unfortunate that Iggy, now 71, is in such a half-baked and aggravating form. His voice has the leathery gravitas to pull off more reflective moods while still being elastic enough to go for a full frontal attack.

But he needs better lyrics than these. On “Bells & Circles,” he bemoans an uptightness encroaching on his daily life.

If I had wings I wouldn’t do anything beautiful or transcendent
No! I’d get my finger into everything I wanted
I’d do all the beautiful things
Those things you can’t do
Because nobody wants you to be able to do the things that make you feel good

The man dated Nico, made it out the other side of a heroin addiction, collaborated with Bowie, helped to invent modern rock, and hasn’t worked a day job since the ’60s—who exactly is victimizing him? The revealing double use of “beautiful” suggests a worldview hopelessly skewed by entitlement. Later he bemoans a character named Johnny for getting a mortgage, thereby killing his inner child. At a time when the middle class is reaching its nadir and basic services like health care and education are cripplingly unaffordable for many Americans, stale critiques of a dated bourgeoisie are callously out of touch.

Die-hard followers of both artists may find something to love here, in the same way Star Wars fans devour hastily written, officially branded novels set in the same universe. Aging rockers might get a jolt of smug satisfaction from Iggy’s rants, but few will be genuinely thrilled. If Iggy were to dissect his pride more surgically, he could harness some genuinely moving work. But on Teatime, his reflections lack rigor and drift quickly into petty grievances.

Closer “Get Your Shirt” poses as advice to a younger generation of musicians on the perils of the music business. But it’s just a matter of time before the real thesis comes: “Wait for the music of the spheres/To move the stars/Into the right position/To reclaim my fortune/I want my shirt back!” Artists as varied as LCD Soundsystem and Drake have made riveting art exploring vanity and its pitfalls, and in the process gotten more than a few shirts. Will Iggy take us into his dark heart of vulnerability with the next line, reminding us why we should care about his fate? “Not a hair shirt!” he whines. “A fun fair shirt!” This type of flourish used to represent Pop ’s primal id, the one he spent his career turning into blistering art. But, as Freud said, “Where id is, there shall ego be,” and it takes a lot of ego to make a record as dull and demanding as Teatime.

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