Artist: Iggy Pop
Whenever someone creates a cover album, the first question that comes to mind is whether that album needed to be made or not. Some songs, like great films, evidently got it right the first time. When a new interpretation of a song comes along, that version faces the fierce scrutiny of every die-hard fan of the original. Iggy Pop’s Après is a cover album of primarily French songs with some English ones thrown into the mix, in the vein of his previously released album of 2009, Préliminaires. Suddenly the question of whether or not a cover album of these songs should be made dwindles in importance – surely with Iggy Pop involved, Edith Piaf’s “La vie en rose” will shine, “Michelle” by The Beatles will resonate afresh with a new set of pipes to sing it. The disappointment that arose upon listening to the album itself was indeed a melancholy affair.
To those unacquainted with Iggy Pop’s vocals let it be known that they are not merely idiosyncratic, they are bewitching – a feast of aural mesmerism that groans, quavers, and wavers with bass-driven emotion. Pair this talent with the alternately moody and breezy selection of standards on the album, and one might expect alchemy to render instant pop gold. Unfortunately, this is not the case. While occasionally a few singles have momentary sparkles, the songs largely suffer from overproduction and simply too much instrumentation on melodies that would benefit from simplicity.
The opening cover “Et si tu n’existais pas” – originally a Joe Dassin song – is a prime example of the instrumentation turning bad seed. Here Iggy Pop’s delightfully rich voice is preceded – and consequently accompanied – by far too much full orchestration, and when he begins to sing, the female supporting vocals incrementally drown rather than actually support. Regrettably this becomes a regular occurrence, rendering several of the songs dissatisfying. There is often the sense that the music is searching for something, and indeed according to a post on Iggy Pop’s Facebook page it appears that this album was looking for emotional closeness by communicating through human breath rather than the human heartbeat – yet it is precisely the instruments imitating those heartbeats that end up obfuscating any whisper his voice attempts to speak.
“Only the Lonely” is possibly one of the most successful songs on the album because of how stripped down the instrumentation becomes, allowing Iggy’s long, drawn-out vowels to resonate with arcane beauty. After the introductory background walla, and the somber piano and bass begin, Iggy Pop’s voice sadly unfolds, and the listener is taken with clear immediacy to the sorrowful recollection the story of the lyrics relays. If the rest of the album had the courage to pare down the instruments to that intimate, personal level, it would be a dazzler. As it currently stands many of the songs are simply too busy, forcing the listener to hunt for a fantastic vocalist amid fairly standard but overwhelming instrumentation.