Back in the '60s, James Osterberg regularly performed stunts along the lines of rolling bare-chested in broken glass or diving head-first off high stages, in his role as frontman for Iggy and the Stooges. It was genuine, first-person, nihilistic theater.
The Stooges have long since disbanded and the solo "Iggy Pop" has become an established figure on the contemporary rock scene. A clutch of LPs has been released, with the new one, "Zombie Birdhouse," being seventh. None has matched the mad transcendence of the Stooges' recorded legacy, but some have been pleasant and a few outright excellent. "Zombie Birdhouse" is one of these.
The solo Pop is quite a different creature from the Stooges' Iggy. This material is rather Brechtian: literate, urbane, allusive, ironic. Osterberg actively exploits the artificiality of art, putting the distance between person and persona to work for him.
Such songs as "Life of Work" and "Run Like a Villain" reveal as much about the observer or the act of observing as about the things observed. He incorporates bits of folk tunes and popular standards to remind the listner that he's a craftsman depicting how other people live. "Eat or Be Eaten" is a ferocious, bluesy rocker where his Iggy persona is held up for inspection only to be dismissed with the flip, "I've Got Nothing Left to Eat in This Old House; I've Got to Go Out and Catch a -- Mouth!"
There are a couple of clinkers here -- a pair of loose jams on side two that fairly scream "Filler!" But most of this music is clever, tastefully rich with a marvelous mixture of acoustic, electric and electronic sounds. It seems inspired by the work of Pop's old crony, David Bowie, around the time of the "Alladin Sane" LP, which in turn was inspired by the Stooges-vintage Iggy.
ON RECORD, ON STAGE
IGGY POP -- Zombie Birdhouse (Animal, APE 6,000).
IGGY POP, Tuesday at 9 at the Wax Museum