March 16, 2005

CD Review: Billy Idol - Devil's Playground

Billy Idol, the name alone is synonymous with spiky blonde hair, an outstretched, pumping fist, and a perpetual sneer. It has been 12 years since he has released an album of new material, that was 1993's Cyberpunk. Now in 2005 he is set to reclaim a spot on the new music charts with the release of Devil's Playground. Can he return to the heights of Rebel Yell and White Wedding? Or even Cradle of Love? Only time will tell. What I can tell you is that what you will hear will be a very different Idol than what has come before. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is definitely not the same Idol that you first fell in love with 20-some-odd years ago.

As soon as the first track, "Super Overdrive," burst from my speakers, I wasn't sure what to think. My first thought was "that's Billy?" It was strange because I couldn't hear the sneer, so to speak. His music always had the distinction of being able to hear a facial expression, but that seems to have faded a bit. The first single is "Scream," and that is the song that sounds the most like the Idol of old, the sneer can be heard and it has a recognizable Idol-ness to it. That just serves to ease the listener into the rest of the disk, which takes a little while to get used to.

Now before you all start thinking that I don't like this album, or Billy, please relax. I cannot claim to be a lifelong Idol fan, but I have always had an affection for the music he put out, it always had that "I don't care what you think" attitude that made for some great music, this is just different. After a few listens it was really starting to grow on me, and is slowly revealing itself as a potential sleeper hit. It may not have the same Billy attitude of old, there is an underlying energy that gets under your skin and festers until you find yourself getting into the groove and feeling the new sound that Billy is creating.

There are two songs in particular that stand out to me. The first is "Plastic Jesus," this was the first track to really grab my attention. He sings about driving and being OK because of the Jesus figure affixed to his dashboard, it is an odd song, but probably has a lot of meaning due to his past motorcycle accident. The other is "Yellin' at the Xmas Tree." This movie makes me laugh everytime I hear it, I am not sure if that was the intended reaction, but the song is funny, if slightly dysfunctional.

I should mention the rest of the band, they are a solid group of musicians, led by guitarist Steve Stevens. I am not terribly familiar with his past work, but he shines here solid rhythms and some excellent leads. Stephen McGrath on bass and Brian Tichy on drums offer up a solid rhythm section. There is one other name that was a contributor to the album, Derek Sherinian. Those who listen to progressive rock may be familiar with that name, he was a member of Dream Theater for a number of years and is one of the best keyboard players I have heard. Together they form a tight unit playing behind Idol and helping create a very good album, which took a while to hook me, but once it did...

Bottomline. This is a surprisingly good album, I always figured that Idol was a star of a bygone era, that he was nearing the end. This proves me wrong. The first listen did not do much for me, but the more I listened the more it grew on me. It is hopefully just the beginning of the next chapter of Idol's career.



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