RATINGS: A = must own B = buy it C= average D = yawn F = puke

Billy Idol - Kings & Queens of the Underground
BFI Records

Rating: B

The man with most famous sneer of the 1980s is back with an album of new tunes... his first since 2005 (well, he had a holiday album in 2006 but probably better not to bring that up here… Idol has as much in common with “Frosty the Snowman” as Kim Kardashian does with an I.Q. Test).  The new album, titled Kings & Queens of the Underground is a fine return for Idol, as his presence in today’s musical landscape has been missing.

Idol scores major points for not straying from his musical vision.  Kings & Queens of the Underground finds Idol pumping out rock tunes with that kinda groovy cool undertone that Billy is famous for.  His voice is still great, and his low register crooning is still sexy, even to us heterosexual rock writers approaching fifty. 

You see, what works with Billy is that he is cool and anti-cool all at the same time.  His punky, boyish teen-out-of-control shtick makes him a pain in society’s ass, which makes him a true rebel and thus cool.  His sneer and snarl make him edgy and dangerous which again equates to cool. His name, Billy Idol, makes him kinda nerdy, and his poppy tunes kind of negate his hard rock coolness; so where he was really cool on “White Wedding” he was less cool on “Mony Mony” that is unless you were a Frat Boy, which all rockers know is NOT cool

On this album Idol shows a more grown-up side lyrically, while keeping to this 1980’s sound.  A grownup Idol is neither nerdy nor cool.  Billy comes off as just a guy… one of us, which I suppose is pretty cool.  

While there is nothing even close to “Rebel Yell” or “White Wedding,” there are a few tunes like “Save me Now” and “Can’t Break Me Down” that have a cool groove to them that fits in with the mellow parts of “Eyes Without a Face.”  “Bitter Pill” is a great song that shows Idol looking back on his life and swallowing the truths that he must face at this stage of his existence, no matter how distasteful. This track is perhaps the best tune on the release. 

What’s missing for the most part, however, is the huge rock sound… that guitar… that thing that made Billy cool and the envy of those watching his videos on MTV.  One would expect it to be there as long-time guitarist Steve Stevens is back in the fold.  Like Idol, Stevens takes a more adult approach to the music.  Where the loudness is gone, there are layers of sounds and interesting twists and turns in nearly every song.  With “Whiskey and Pills” however, the guitar comes out, as does the rebellious attitude.  One must get through the rest of the softer and gentler tracks to get to this, the last song on the album... but it’s worth the wait.  The album, as a whole, has a very musical way about it that keeps the listener engaged.  It ends, thankfully, with a bang. 

This one is a solid effort that sneaks in some courageous musical passages disguised as ‘80s pop, which is pretty cool in and of itself, if you think about it. 

Track Listing:

Bitter Pill          
Can't Break Me Down
Save Me Now
One Breath Away          
Postcards From The Past
Kings & Queens of the Underground       
Eyes Wide Shut
Ghosts In My Guitar      
Nothing to Fear 
Love and Glory 
Whiskey And Pills          

By Jeb Wright