Billy Idol – Kings And Queens Of The Underground


Does Billy Idol do irony?

Review by Gary Cordwell

BFI Records

Release date: 21 October 2014

I’ve always had a soft spot for Billy Idol – we share the same birthday (date, NOT year) and ‘Whiplash Smile’ was the soundtrack to my 1986 – the hours I spent lurking around Kensington Market searching in vain for the boots he wore in the ‘To Be A Lover’ video!  Oh, and that time at the Hammersmith Odeon when he bounded onstage and promptly fell off the front into the crowd… Happy days! So, drawing a discrete veil over Cyberpunk and THAT Christmas album, he’s back – and I’m willing him on to get it right! His biography, Dancing With Myself, is released at the same time as the album so let’s hope the sane, clean Billy is drawing a line in the sand and rocking forwards into the present.

Things start in a “pretty good but let’s hope it picks up” kind of way with ‘Bitter Pill’, a single in waiting and a song that sounds like it should have been on an 80’s soft rock soundtrack. Mellow powerchords jostle with acoustic guitar while Billy emotes. The voice is still there – just. Grainier than in his heyday and the big notes sound a bit harder to hit. The first few songs rock on by pleasantly enough, although Trevor Horn’s 80’s production techniques do the album no favours at all –  Steve Stevens already unusually subdued guitar work is smothered by incredibly dated synths all over the shop…and then things begin to get odd.

‘Postcards From The Past’ is overtly biographical, Billy worrying if he’s lost it and wondering if he can “make it happen again” to a blatantly derivative tune – ‘White Wedding’ and ‘Rebel Yell’ rolled into one, even down to Stevens’ ‘Wedding’ intro guitar widdle! The title track sounds for all the world like Jethro Tull! All flutes, gently strummed acoustic guitars and string sections with Idol namechecking Johnny Rotten and the Roxy and declaring himself a king of the underground! The lyrics and music clash jarringly… unless it’s meant to be ironic. Does Billy Idol do irony?

And then we’re back to the AOR – moody airbrushed songs about Billy losing in love that require shadowy, sepia tinted videos with flashbacks to shoulder-padded supermodels straddled across performance cars. In amongst all this are nods to the Beatles, country ballads and even the U2 lite (yes, such a thing exists) of ‘Love And Glory’. The album finally finishes on a decent riff – Steve Stevens is let off the leash for ‘Whiskey And Pills’ – but unfortunately it’s a case of too little too late!

I really did want to like this album but sobriety and self-reflection don’t seem to suit the “world’s forgotten boy”. The lyrics throughout are a cut-and-paste collection of cliches, rock and roll chestnuts and A.A. 12 step platitudes. The album is hamstrung by songs that don’t quite make the grade and apallingly dated production, there is no edge or joy on display at all. It feels like a contractual obligation to plug the memoir, sorry Billy, but Idolatry is at a bit of a low ebb.

Billy Idol – Kings And Queens Of The Underground6 out of 10

Track listing:

  1. Bitter Pill
  2. Can’t Break Me Down
  3. Save Me Now
  4. One Breath Away
  5. Postcards From The Past
  6. Kings And Queens Of The Underground
  7. Eyes Wide Shut
  8. Ghosts In My Guitar
  9. Nothing To Fear
  10. Love And Glory
  11. Whiskey And Pills