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BILLY IDOL

billyidolKings & Queens Of The Underground
BFI/Kobalt

Tying in with the release of his autobiography, Kings & Queens Of The Underground sees Billy Idol continuing to reflect, and many of the songs here reference his career and love life.

The human sneer is not only in a reflective and redemptive mood here, he’s also playing to his strengths, revisiting the feel of his biggest hits like Rebel Yell, Eyes Without A Face, White Wedding and Hot In The City, and exuding confidence rather than arrogance, honesty rather than chutzpah – where in the past he was all ‘look at me’ machismo, now he’s big enough to admit he made mistakes, lost love, had his heart broken and been played for a fool.

No-one ever said rock’n’roll lyrics needed to be literary, but what Idol lacks with his sometimes clunky rhyming couplets, he more than makes up with disarming honest, reflective candour, and his yearning for some kind of liberation from the ghosts of bad behaviour past is endearing.

The result of all this reflection, honesty, revisiting his past lyrically and musically, is that Kings & Queens… sounds exactly like what it is: Idol testing the waters after a long absence from the scene (let’s pretend his 2006 Christmas album never happened, for everyone’s sake!)

Steve Stevens is back and as usual lifts everything he plays on – most people remember the impossibly-haired Stevens for his flashy stunt guitar playing and wow-factor, but it’s his more subtle contributions that have the ability to completely transform a song.

Postcard From the Past, Ghosts In My Guitar, Bitter Pill, Eyes Wide Shut, Nothing To Fear and the hyperactive punkish Whiskey And Pills all take us back in time, reliving the glory days when Idol ruled MTV with a studded leather-clad fist and ever-more-over-the-top antics. The biggest surprise, meanwhile, is reserved for the title track, a bittersweet glance back through his career set to what starts off as almost a Medieval madrigal before becoming a stirring, string-filled epic.

There may not be any radio mega-hit a la Rebel Yell or White Wedding here, but in consciously delivering a collection of songs from the heart that should surprise and convert many, he may score something altogether more important – respect and credibility.

4 stars

SHANE PINNEGAR