Monday, November 27, 2017

Review: 3 Billy Idol Vinyl Reissues

It didn’t really matter what tube you were in. In the eighties, you could grock Billy Idol if you were a metal head, a top-40 fluff head, a new waver, or even a less dogmatic goth or punk, particularly if you’d been following Idol since his Generation X days. With his cross-over appeal, personal style that felt more like a personal brand (the bleached spikes; the leather wardrobe; the Elvis sneer), and a sound that was really more pop than anything else, Billy Idol could have been little more than generic “Rocker” for the eighties if he and his hits didn’t exude so much personality.  The best of them are on his first two albums, which have just been remastered and reissued on vinyl by Universal Music.

Idol’s eponymous debut doesn’t give us much of a peek at his punk roots. The key hit “White Wedding” is fairly sinister stuff, but the rest of the album is straight pop with enough variety and tunefulness to keep it fun. However, choruses of “If you wanna rub-a-dub, rub-a-dub” and a closing number that sounds like it could have easily fit on a Tina Turner album help build a case that Idol needed to tap more into the darkness of “White Wedding”.

He managed to do that without alienating the hit parade on the classic Rebel Yell, which is both atmospheric and tirelessly catchy. Idol’s eternal compadre Steve Stevens, who’d been pretty restrained on Billy Idol, gets to show off his six-string flamboyancy to his heart’s content as Idol gets to do some legitimate sneering on the bourbon-soaked title track, the beautiful/absurd “Eyes without a Face”, and the appealingly sleazy “Flesh for Fantasy”. Those are the hits, but album tracks such as the brooding “Daytime Drama”, the crazy catchy “(Do Not) Stand in the Shadow”, and the celestial “Dead Next Door” are excellent too. The only misstep is some farty sax on the flop single “Catch My Fall”, but cut him some slack. It was the eighties.

Sweeping up the essential tunes that weren’t on Idols two best albums is the vinyl debut of the 2008 compilation The Very Best of Billy Idol: Idolize Yourself. This set is necessary for “Dancing with Myself” in its original Generation X version, Idol’s big chart return “Cradle of Love”, “Sweet Sixteen” (which suggests that Idol was listening to Chris Isaak before Heart Shaped World became a smash), and “World Comin’ Down”, a 2005 number that shows that Idol had not forgotten his stint as a member of the Bromley Contingent. The more synth-drunk singles from Whiplash Smile and covers of “L.A. Woman” and “Mony Mony” are not among Idol’s most timeless recordings, and the two tracks recorded for the compilation are pretty cheesy, but a track from the dated-upon-release Cyberpunk is actually not at all embarrassing.
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