Iggy Pop 

Beat 'Em Up (Virgin)

Throughout his storied, bloodied career, Iggy Pop has succeeded by not merely defying convention, but by deconstructing it. Pop's opening volley with the Stooges was a revolutionary step forward for music that only pretended to be as stupid as it was loud. By the time anyone recognized its intelligence, he was already on to the next thing -- a pattern that he has repeated consistently for three decades. One such move was his last outing, Avenue B. Fresh from obsessing over Sinatra's bel canto period and still navigating the emotional trauma of a divorce and turning 50, Pop shaped Avenue B as a dark exploration of his mortality and decline. Although it still kicked hard in places, the album was a relatively quiet rumination. But with Beat 'Em Up, the time for reflection is over.

Beat 'Em Up is Pop's white-hot second-century manifesto, a clarion call to all the young dudes to watch their backs. The album leaps off with "Mask," a song inspired by a backstage fan at a Slipknot concert who inquired of a band member, "Which mask are you?" Pop sets his diatribe ("Irony in place of balls, balls in place of brains, brains in place of soul/Where is the soul? Where is the love?") to a pummeling soundtrack that sounds straight outta his Lust for Life. It perfectly tees up the remainder of Beat 'Em Up. If Avenue B was Pop's bleak look into the abyss, Beat 'Em Up is Pop's examination of his amazing sonic scrapbook. There are elements of his brutal metal period ("L.O.S.T.," "Drink New Blood"), careening rock abandon ("Savior"), and early Stooges punk creationism ("Howl," "The Jerk"). Pop's confidence in his destination has kept him completely unafraid of a false step. Reviled or simply misunderstood, he has never cared if his work is received well, as long as he remains true to himself. Beat 'Em Up is Pop at his best and truest.

More by Brian Baker

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