It's hard to imagine what the landscape of rock would look like today had Lou Reed and Iggy Pop not had a hand in shaping it. Reed and the Velvet Underground's drone, klank, and burble set the stage for everything from Siouxsie and the Banshees down through Nirvana, and Iggy and the Stooges practically created punk rock 'round about '69. Rock 'n' roll owes a great deal to Iggy and Lou; unfortunately, they're calling in their debts now.
"Naughty Little Doggy" (Virgin), Iggy Pop's latest, is definitely a dog of an album. Iggy tries to create a rock anthem with each cut, and ends up with a mostly homogeneous series of radio-friendly snoozers. He starts with "I Wanna Live," an upbeat, state-of-the-career address that recalls the depths of the Ramones' "Pet Sematary," followed by a Cramps-like ode to chickenhawking called "Pussy Walk."
"Shoeshine Girl" is a gorgeous anomaly here, a mellifluously seedy, country blues acoustic gem about a goth chick he ogled in an airport. After that, though, Iggy reverts to hype with "Heart is Saved," a power-pop sock hop ditty to the (cranked-up) tune of "Ballad of the Green Berets," and brings it on home to a crooning, burbling finale with the get-out-yer-lighters rock ballad "Look Away."
Iggy Pop has been more or less coasting for years, so another shoddy album doesn't make much difference. I expected far more from Lou Reed's new CD, "Set the Twilight Reeling" (Warner Bros.). Reed's managed to hammer out some quality albums in the last decade or so ("Legendary Hearts," "New York"), but this isn't one of them.
There's nothing terribly wrong with the music itself, but there's nothing exciting about it, either. Reed's trademark nasal, half-spoken vocals are all that distinguish "Trade In" from any other sappy love song. "Hang on to Your Emotions" is in the same vein, a melodic cross between "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Spanish Harlem," punctuated by the occasional vocoder wah-wah by partner Laurie Anderson. "Finish Line" is pervaded throughout by the acoustic guitar intro to "Tommy," and "Riptide" is eight looong minutes of heavy-distortion guitar-rock-lite.
The central flaw of "Twilight" lies in the lyrics. Reed's words have always held a large part of his appeal, but on this album his verse has lost its bite, and winds up sounding childish. Choruses like "You scream, I steam, we all want Egg Cream!" and "I want to hookywooky with you" riddle the album, and when Reed tries to wax philosophical he winds up with a treasury of non sequiturs ("The way AIDS needs a vaccine/Somewhere a vaccine needs AIDS") and garbled literary allusions such as "Lady Macbeth went crazy but Macbeth ended slain/Ophelia and Desdemona dead leaving Hamlet in a play/But I'm no Lear with blinded eyes." (To refresh your memory, Desdemona was in "Othello," not "Hamlet," and Lear wasn't blinded.)
By far the stupidest song on the album is "Sex With Your Parents Part II (Motherfucker)," which Reed meant to be a political song, positing that all the right-wingers in Congress have been doing the Oedipal horizontal mambo. All the song really illustrates is how ingenious the Right was to make obscenity a hot issue, spurring leftists to undermine themselves by proudly ranting like remedial third graders with potty mouths. A lyric like "Senators you polish a turd" surely belongs to the "pooeyhead" school of policy debate.
"Take me for what I am... a star newly emerging," Reed sings in the title track of his CD, "I accept the newfound man and set the twilight reeling." If these hackneyed hucksters are the newfound Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, I'd just as soon leave them alone to muck about in their brazen new world.