In 2009, Iggy’s musical direction took a U-Turn. After a couple of really great hard rock releases (2003’s ‘Skull Ring’ and 2007’s ‘The Weirdness’ – recorded with The Stooges, marking their first studio album in 34 years), comes ‘Préliminaires’, a largely soft, introspective record. Interestingly, this career shift mirrors Iggy’s change in direction at the end of the previous decade, when he followed the hard rock ‘American Caesar’ and ‘Naughty Little Doggie’ with the reflective crooning of ‘Avenue B’ – an album which gathered mixed reactions.
‘Préliminaires’ is heavily influenced by European easy listening material. Its softer nature means that it’s a record which has various things in common with ‘Avenue B’. He’s called upon the crooning style he employed for some of that album; and for those who can remain open-minded, pretty much everything about ‘Préliminaires’ works – even though on paper, the idea of Iggy returning to crooning (and sometimes in French) doesn’t sound like the best career move.
The album is bookended by two renditions of ‘Les Feuilles Mortes’, a song associated with Yves Montand and Edith Piaf, so that should give you a fair idea of how most of ‘Préliminaires’ sounds (or more importantly, feels, as it’s an album about atmosphere and tone rather than attention grabbing songs). A gentle drum loop lies beneath Ig’s deep vocal, accompanied by gentle organ work by Jon Cowherd. ‘I Want To go The Beach’ (an album high point) again features Iggy’s deepest Leonard Cohen-esque croon. This track has a really tasteful musical arrangement, with beautifully played bass work, courtesy of Hal Cragin (co-writer of most of the album’s original compositions). The New Orleans jazz styled ‘King of the Dogs’ (a track based around music written by Lil Hardin Armstrong, second wife of Louis Armstrong) provides the album with its first upbeat moment. The brass work here, played by Tim Ouimette, gives this number a really classic feel.
A duet with Françoise Hardy, ‘Je Sais que tu Sais’, has a slightly stompy quality, like an odd French cousin to ‘Nightclubbing’ (from Iggy’s 1977 album ‘The Idiot’). It’s not aggressive by any means, but retains an edginess compared to a lot of the album. If it’s edginess you want, ‘Préliminaires’, offers a couple more upbeat moments: ‘She’s a Business’ offers a similar stompy style to ‘Je Sais que tu Sais’ but fares badly due to a treated vocal. ‘Nice To Be Dead’ is the album’s only ‘traditionally Iggy’ sounding song. I’m sure on any other Iggy Pop album it’d sound great, but once you become accustomed to the softer qualities of ‘Préliminaires’, it just feels wrong somehow.
‘Machine For Loving’ highlights how great Iggy’s voice still sounds during spoken word moments. Here, he’s accompanied by effective reverbed, twangy guitar and bass, while drums are used sparingly. It sounds like a narrative from a movie scene in a desert and fits the mood of the album excellently. There are a couple of other excursions away from the album’s warm, lush sounding safety net. ‘He’s Dead, She’s Alive’ is a simple acoustic blues number finding Iggy in an unmistakable, slighty rough around the edges vocal form. The bad language here jars a little, but doesn’t really stop the flow; the electronica based ‘Party Time’ is less welcome – it really screws up the otherwise very natural approach of most of the album.
It’s similarities to ‘Avenue B’ means ‘Préliminaires’ isn’t an album everyone in Iggy’s listening audience will like. If you’re a new fan, then your money is probably best spent on a few other Iggy classics. Likewise, if you claim to be a fan, but only own ‘The Idiot’ and ‘Lust For Life’, then maybe this isn’t for you either. In fact, I’m not sure who Iggy has made this album for…if indeed it was made for anyone other than Iggy, just because he wanted to make it. It feels like an important album in the man’s large catalogue of releases and keeps ‘Avenue B’ in decent company.