'Kings & Queens of the Underground' is Billy Idol's first new album in over nine years. It's also now been over two decades since he flew too close to the sun and lost his place atop the rock world. So does this new record give him any chance of reconquering the world -- and is that even what he's after anymore?
To hear Idol tell it, a place in the spotlight wasn't the only thing he lost after the utter commercial failure of 1993's overly ambitious (and overly mocked) 'Cyberpunk.' "The immediate reaction to the album humbled me," he explains in his new autobiography 'Dancing With Myself.' " ... I wouldn't make another album for 12 years."
Then -- and again, by his own account -- when he did return, for 2005's 'Devil's Playground,' he let outside voices dictate the creative direction too strongly, resulting in a bit of a muddled mess and a quick fall from the charts. It was an uncharacteristic display of nerves from a once-confident artist who never got enough credit for boldly slashing through genre boundaries to create some of the most exciting and enduring rock 'n' roll of the '80s.
So now, almost another full decade later, Idol's back, years sober and fully in charge of the creative process. But is the resulting album worth your time and hard-earned money? Here's Five Things You Need to Know About BIlly Idol's 'Kings and Queens of the Underground' ...
The Best Song Is Really Great
Both Idol and longtime guitarist Steve Stevens have recently stated that 1986's 'Whiplash Smile' album suffered from Idol's ambitious attempt to blend programmed and live instrumentation. Well, we're not sure exactly how they put it together, but the muscular 'Postcards From the Past' sure seems to get the formula right, and is easily the most dynamic and dramatic updating of the classic Idol sound on 'Kings & Queens of the Underground.'
The Worst Song Is Really Groan-Worthy
If you're not listening to Jethro Tull, chances are you're really in trouble when the flutes kick in on the new album by your favorite rock star. And that's the case with the title track, 'Kings & Queens of the Underground,' as Idol saddles a lovely melody with oddly medieval and ill-fitting production touches (is that a lute solo?). But the biggest problem is the clunky, self-referential set of lyrics chronicling Idol's career and personal struggles while cheekily name-checking the titles of his various past hit singles. On the positive side, the far subtler and equally elegant 'Ghosts in My Guitar' covers similar territory in a much more successful manor.
Don't Let a Little Trend-Chasing Scare You Off
Much as with his last album, 2005's inconsistent but too-harshly judged 'Devil's Playground,' Idol spends the first couple of songs trying a bit too hard to fit into today's musical climate. Last time out it was the Green Day-aping tracks 'Super Overdrive' and 'World Comin' Down,' and this time out he seems to be after the punk pop sound of Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco. Admittedly, he almost pulls this look off on the catchy lead single 'Can't Break Me Down.' But somehow -- like a father moshing at a high-school prom -- things don't quite seem natural until we hit the less hyperactive, deeper Duran Duran groove of 'Save Me Now.' Luckily, for the most part the further you get into the album the more comfortable and confident Idol sounds.
Don't Expect Too Much Old-School Guitar Mayhem
Just to lay personal biases bare, "more guitar!" would be our first critique on just about every album ever recorded. Obviously, Stevens sounds excellent throughout this album, and the diversity and range he and Idol reach for and largely deliver on 'Kings & Queens of the Underground' is certainly rewarding in its own way. But as an admitted former addict would hopefully understand, our craving for those surprising, song-elevating bursts of distorted guitar work a la 'Eyes Without a Face' and 'Flesh for Fantasy' is hard to kick. We'd also argue that without more "dangerous" moments like that, Idol's blend of pop, dance and rock music doesn't hit quite as hard -- and winds up feeling a bit less special. Then again, the duo sounds much more compelling on slow-burning tracks such as 'Nothing to Fear' and the album-closing 'Love and Glory' than they do on the one-dimensional, borderline Metallica rave-up 'Whiskey and Pills,' so maybe we're barking up the wrong tree.
Minor Frustrations Aside, Idol Remains an Interesting and Underrated Talent
In some people's minds Idol is probably seen as something far too close to a one-hit wonder. That's a shame because the confident genre-blending of his best work can still be heard echoing through the music of later generations. Even while he was delivering hit single after hit single, Idol never got enough credit for exploring new territory or delivering interesting, increasingly sophisticated albums such as 1990's 'Charmed Life.' As detailed above, Idol has admitted to being a bit lost on his first comeback album. Nine more long years later, on 'Kings & Queens,' it sounds like for the most part he's regained his confidence -- and he sounds more interested in exploring new, more mature territory than in recapturing his 'Rebel Yell' heyday. There's more ballads and mid-tempo numbers than you might expect, and to varying degrees most of them work pretty well. In fact, the album's weakest points -- aside from the aforementioned title track -- come when Idol tries to keep up with trends or set the town on fire. So our advice would be to clear room on your Billy Idol playlist for the four or five new favorites you're sure to find on this album, and to hope he turns the next record around much quicker.
You Think You Know Billy Idol?
Did you know the Rolling Stones helped Billy Idol name his most famous album? Or that he almost starred in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie? Learn more crazy Billy Idol facts here..