Release Date: Oct 21, 2014
Record label: BFI
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Hard Rock
Long held as a guilty pleasure for some, Billy Idol’s new long-player should be a sharp reminder to everyone else of his existence. Like The Cult, Idol mined a rich seam of direct rock that won him a worldwide audience in the 80s, and this LP – his first in 10 years – is good enough to see him fill stadiums again. Produced by Trevor Horn, it’s a widescreen affair with power, panache, great melodies and compulsive hooks; it goes for the jugular from the off.
Decades after emerging as the "Sneer of the Year," Billy Idol's face seems to have gotten stuck that way. On the singer's first album in nearly 10 years, he's still brooding on the schmaltzy "Ghosts in My Guitar" and on the title track, an autobiographical mini rock opera. He even manages to re-create the UFO synth line from "Rebel Yell" on "Postcards From the Past." So much intensity can be unnerving coming from a man in his late fifties – but Idol makes up for it on the carefree "Can't Break Me Down," a punky pop tune with a "bang bang bang" chorus catchier than anything Fall Out Boy have written lately.
Introspection never has been required from Billy Idol or even desired; he designed his stardom not to bother with such messiness as recognizable human emotions. Nevertheless, a veteran rocker with nearly four decades of experience behind him only has so many cards left to play, so it does makes sense that Idol devoted 2014 to a double-barrel blast of autobiography: a memoir naturally called Dancing with Myself paired with an album called Kings & Queens of the Underground. Confessions are bellowed throughout Kings & Queens but it never feels like they've been pushed to the forefront, not with Trevor Horn's production creating a glassy arena rock cocoon.
Billy Idol’s recent autobiography, Dancing With Myself, candidly traces his trajectory from Bromley punk pin-up to excess-all-areas 80s stadium rocker. Having swapped pills for Pilates, his first album in eight years attempts the difficult passage from lovably ludicrous rocker to confessional crooner. Now 60, Idol’s rebel yell might be more restrained – and occasionally is actively straining – these days, but he sounds convincingly wistful on the slow, brooding likes of Ghosts in My Guitars.
His first record since an ill-judged 2006 Christmas covers album, Kings & Queens finds Billy Idol attempting to rekindle his mid-80s, sneering-MTV-fixture glory days. To that end, he ropes in Trevor Horn on production duties, but this collection of “edgy” rock numbers (Postcards from the Past, in particular, sounds like a pastiche of his biggest hits) and dreary ballads is a turkey of epic proportions. At least it’s entertaining, though: the autobiographical title track showcases some of the clumsiest lyrics since the Cranberries’ demise (“1984, and Rebel Yell had the floor/All we said was, ‘More, more, more’”) and his hammy scream on Eyes Wide Shut is straight out of an Ed Wood production.
There isn’t any getting away from it. 1977 was a cultural watershed year for music and, now approaching four decades on from the first appearances of the Sex Pistols, Clash, the Slits, Siouxsie & The Banshees and a host of other less well remembered bands, the whole UK punk thing remains spoken of as if it were the actual end of music history, with everyone that attempted to play music after that date somehow overshadowed by the noise and shock tactics of that first wave of London bands. Four decades on, one of that scene’s most enduring performers and arguably its biggest actual star has a new album, tour and biography on sale and while he may not figure so largely in the hipster stakes, the former Generation X frontman is here to tell us that, now in his late 50s, he hasn’t changed a bit.
Remember when a sneering, spiky-haired Billy Idol was all the rage, throwing a fingerless glove-clad fist in the air with a rebel yell? Idol does, and on his first album in nearly a decade, “Kings & Queens of the Underground,” he wants to reminisce. (Presumably he plows similar ground in his new memoir, naturally titled “Dancing With Myself.”) The 11-track collection looks back through the mist of the “Eyes Without a Face” video to reflect on when Idol was the toast of MTV, the good times, bad times, and self-medication. There are perfectly acceptable, arena rock-style tracks, a groovy electro-rocker, and one sneering, punkish jam.