- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2003

Iggy Pop

Skull Ring

Virgin Records

It doesn’t bode well for an Iggy Pop album when the best tracks are played by Green Day and Sum 41, especially when that album sees Mr. Pop (born James Osterberg) reuniting with his legendary band mates, the Stooges, for the first time since 1973.

Hard as it is to swallow, punk’s poseurs fare better than punk’s godfathers. The Stooges — Ron and Scott Asheton, minus the late Dave Alexander — pitch in four tracks on Mr. Pop’s latest, “Skull Ring.”

Each is an embarrassing, self-parodic blast of sludge. With the bawdy imagery and four-letter outbursts of Mr. Pop’s lyrics, “Skull Ring” as a whole sounds like the soundtrack to a beer commercial on a porn channel.

Here’s a sample appropriate for a family newspaper: “Here comes the summer / the mighty mighty summer / Here comes the summer / We’re gonna have a good time.”

OK, fine. Let’s head for the Rockies while we’re at it.

As the producer, Mr. Pop keeps purposefully lo-fi, but even that cosmetic authenticity can’t rescue his flaky, shallow anthems.

The title track consists of little more than a rip-off of the “Peter Gunn” guitar riff, while Mr. Pop and the Asheton brothers mindlessly chant, “Skull rings! Fast cars! Hot chicks! Money!”

A pair of Stooges vehicles, “Loser” and “Dead Rock Star,” are built around identical — and I mean identical, right down to tempo and tonic root —”Helter Skelter”-style descending riffs, and both collapse into wheezy headbanging, with Mr. Pop singing like David Bowie on a cocktail of steroids and acid.

The younger pop-punkers improbably give Mr. Pop a firmer, tighter foundation. “Private Hell” and “Supermarket” (Green Day) and “Little Know It All” (Sum 41) may be overcompressed and not quite as jagged as Pop devotees may like, but at least they’re tuneful.

No matter who’s accompanying him, whether it’s the electro-punkette Peaches or his traveling band, the Trolls, dirty old Mr. Pop recurs to a few central ideas: sex, violence and death.

There’s the perfectly proportioned “Superbabe,” the hair-frying execution of “Little Electric Chair,” the sinful rendezvous at the “Motor Inn,” the grisly rock-star excess of “Blood on the Cool.”

The spasmodic bits of lightness and wit are lyrical land mines: “Are you a heel or just a toe? / It’s hard to say ‘cause you feel so low,” Mr. Pop sings on the dank and oppressive “Inferiority Complex.”

Probably the most offensive thing on “Skull Ring” is Mr. Pop’s potty-mouthed attempt at country blues on “Til Wrong Feels Right.” He got his start respectfully playing electric blues but now uses the form to whine self-pityingly about the state of the music industry.

The image of a skull is a perfect symbol for the contents of “Skull Ring”: It’s empty, lifeless, ugly and better left underground.

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