Billy Idol - 'Kings & Queens Of The Underground' (BFI Records) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Dom Daley   
Monday, 13 October 2014 03:00

IDOL QUEENS COVER 1600-NEW-lo RESIt's been many a year since Mr. Billy Idol was an inhabitant of these shores and the gritty London wastelands that birthed 'Valley Of The Dolls'. Since his heyday when he was a regular chart botherer with his chart friendly hard rock of 'White Wedding' his last album, 'Devil's Playground', is almost a decade old and ready for the deluxe reissue. But fear not, he hasn't been idol (sorry), he's been penning his autobiography (the newly released 'Dancing With Myself') and writing and recording this here new album over the last few years with Billy Morrison and the riffs of one Steven Stevens.

 

'Kings & Queens Of The Underground' is big, slick and aimed at those very same FM radio stations that made 'White Wedding' such a huge hit - as to whether they will play Idol in 2014 is a different matter, but this is safe as and huge. It's 3D with no rough edges... much to its detriment I think. You do know what you're getting, folks, and there are some fine songs on this record, but if you want Billy and Co. to go back to the garage and just record a set of rough-arsed tunes then maybe this isn't for you.

 

Operner 'Bitter Pill' is swallowed up by a big drum pound and some lush guitar licks before Idol's softly spoken croon ushers in this new album over a big bass line, and it's the familiar lush radio friendly Idol that we've known for many a year that rears its head on this new album. Made for a video of him riding through the desert on the back of his Harley fist pumping with his trademark Elvis sneer. Close your eyes and you can almost hear the song in your mind before you actually hear it for real.

 

The second track is yet more lush American Rock: 'Cant Break Me Down' sounds auto-tuned or at least produced to death with any rough edges smoothed over as the once named William Broad rocks out in a measured and safe environment - maybe Health & Safety have taken over and gotten rid of any edges. It's not that it's a bad start to the album, just that nobody should be shocked at how polished and well safe it is with those chiming synth effects jumping in here, there and everywhere, often masking the guitar until Stevens rips out a solo or a run through the scales.

 

I guess one word that kept coming to the fore of my mind when I was trying to get this review down was "Safe" - whilst I'm not sure if I like a track it's hard getting past the veneer to get into the nuts and bolts of the song, but one thing you have to notice is how safe it is. One play and I'm thinking "yup, I like that" whilst the next time I put it on I find I'm jumping the track after a minute thinking thoughts of have I got it all wrong.

 

Anyone thinking they love to hear Billy hark back to the glunk of his former days can walk away now - this record has more to do with the "Rock" shifted by the likes of Mötley Crüe than his punk rock roots - and that's fine - but the studio trickery that's evident on 'One Breath Away' does nothing for me and actually reminds me of why I'm not a big fan of U2.

 

The synth rumble on 'Postcards From The Past' is Hollywood Sigue Sigue Sputnik and, in fairness, when the guitar kicks in at least it sounds like it has a pair of throbbing bollocks. Maybe this record has just woken up?

 

We get to the halfway point and, with the album's title track, in come the acoustic guitars and some Jethro Tull-like wind instrument blast. With some awkward lyrics and Idol professing to still be king (and queen) of the underground. Uh, not for a long time, sorry. Underground, you say? C'mon Billy, maybe the LA smog has gotten to him but harking on about golden years certainly hasn't inspired him musically. At least the lyrics made me chuckle. Grande, schoolboy lyrics, lush strings about as far away as you can honestly get from the underground and William knows it... or maybe he doesn't or he just doesn't give a fuck (how punk rock).

 

I keep waiting for a fire to be lit under this album and whilst I'm wrestling with it being a decent offering (or am I kidding myself in wanting it to be a great album and in denial not wanting it to be a turkey?), having to admit that the guy who wrote 'King Rocker' is just like the Crüe or Bon Jovi is tough.

 

Having almost every song lasting well into four minutes, which for the most part is at least a quarter of the song too long, doesn't help and having a Beatles melody and song structure on 'Ghost In My Guitar' doesn't help either (unless you like the Beatles).

 

For the most part this album is mid-paced radio friendly hard rock. Maybe the Californian sun and writing his book has mellowed Billy and finally he's settled into his pipe and slippers and his rocking chair on the porch chewing the fat with fellow semi-retired rock stars, 'Love And Glory' being a perfect example of everything that's safe and easy listening.

 

It's a shame that we have to wait until the album's closing track for something with a real pulse, but maybe it's the subject matter? 'Whisky And Pills' has a great riff; I could do without the keyboard stabs, mind, but that aside it's alright.

 

I'm still none the wiser as to what to really make of this record but I'll keep it close in case I want to keep playing it so it might grow on me (which I genuinely do). Maybe without the frills and studio trickery this might be better live and rawer - there might be a half decent album inside this fighting to get out. Perhaps reading his book whilst listening might work better so until then I'll stay perched on this here fence.

 

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To pick up your copy of 'Kings & Queens Of The Underground' - CLICK HERE