BILLY IDOL - KINGS & QUEENS OF THE UNDERGROUND
I've always been a bit unsure on how I stand regarding BILLY IDOL.
Generation X were without doubt one of the hidden gems of the punk era and songs like "Your Generation", "Wild Youth" and "Ready Steady Go" were superb three minute raucous pop songs. It is a shame therefore that they have been somewhat overlooked in the countless TV documentaries periodically aired when the decayed bones of punk rock are once again picked over for public delectation.
However, I was less enamoured with his later Americanisation, although it cannot be questioned that this period was by far and way his most commercially successful. Major hits such as "White Wedding", "Rebel Yell", "Hot in the City", "Eyes Without a Face" and "Mony, Mony", coupled with constant exposure on MTV, meant that for nearly a decade William Broad, and his curled lip, was one of Uncle Sam's favourite rock rebels. However, fate decreed that a near fatal motorbike accident and drug related problems meant his career went into virtual hibernation subsequently, with only sporadic releases and film appearances to keep his die hard fans happy.
So it was intriguing when a copy of his first album in over a decade landed in my lap in the form of KINGS & QUEENS OF THE UNDERGROND. Being produced by Trevor Horn (Buggles, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Band Aid etc) the production qualities were never in doubt. However, the acid test is how would an old punk rocker (now nearing his 60th birthday) sound? Well, in all honesty, pretty good.
It is definitely on the mid to up-tempo rock numbers that the Billy Idol of old re-emerges. On tracks such as "Bitter Pill", "Can't Break Down" and "Whiskey and Pills" time rewinds and the leather clad rock god struts his stuff. Unsurprisingly there is a certain 80's feel to several tracks with radio friendly LA guitar riffs aplenty and even the odd synthesiser on "Save Me Now" and "Postcards from the Past" He has retained the services of long time collaborator Steve Stevens and drafted in ex-Cult guitarist Billy Morrison to give the album a definite overall "rawk" sound.
In truth, I am not as enamoured of the slower numbers, but that it personal choice rather than a reflection on the quality of the songs. I know the title track is semi-autobiographical, reflecting as it does on the punk era of the late 70's, but feel that the lyrics are too simplistic to do the song justice ( "Johnny told us to rise, not give a shit and then Kiss Me Deadly and we had a hit"). I believe he is to shortly release an autobiography (entitled "Dancing With Myself") which hopefully should more eloquently shed some light on the ups and down of his public and private life.
His vocals are more gruff that I recall, yet remain distinctly Billy Idol and, judging by recent pictures, he has aged remarkably well. So good on him, despite major obstacles he has never given up the fight and continues to want to make music.
This is no radical departure from any of his releases of two decade ago, but in a way perhaps that just means he has remained true to his roots. Maybe this album is more of a cathartic vehicle to himself to prove he can still cut it. Whilst I can't imagine it will snare him too may new fans, if you were into Billy Idol when he was heavy rotation on MTV and VH1, then the chances are you are going to like this release as well.