Billy Idol – Kings and Queens of the Underground

Billy Idol - Kings and Queens of the Underground

Billy Idol – Kings and Queens of the Underground

There isn’t any getting away from it. 1977 was a cultural watershed year for music and, now approaching four decades on from the first appearances of the Sex Pistols, Clash, the Slits, Siouxsie & The Banshees and a host of other less well remembered bands, the whole UK punk thing remains spoken of as if it were the actual end of music history, with everyone that attempted to play music after that date somehow overshadowed by the noise and shock tactics of that first wave of London bands. Four decades on, one of that scene’s most enduring performers and arguably its biggest actual star has a new album, tour and biography on sale and while he may not figure so largely in the hipster stakes, the former Generation X frontman is here to tell us that, now in his late 50s, he hasn’t changed a bit. Or not much.

Generation X were probably the most mainstream of those 77 bands, moving swiftly from three chord anthems to more musically and lyrically developed songs in the space of two albums and maintaining their cool as they did so. Idol’s biography will contain the story of how he made the crossover from sneering rebel to MTV respectability, and his 80s work, songs that most people will have heard at some time even if only on an oldies show, were products of the kind of cinematic values the music industry could portray then (watch the video of Dancing With Myself for proof of this ) and while his particular type of chest beating AOR possibly wasn’t to everyone’s taste the music, and certainly Idol, appears to have lasted.

First track on Kings and Queens of the Underground is “Bitter Pill” and, his voice rasping as he recounts past misadventures (‘I’ve forgotten how to fly / I’ll remember before I die’ runs the lyric), it seems we could be in for a sorrowful meditation on aging and regrets. Wrong. Aside from its title track, most of Kings and Queens of the Underground sounds a lot like primetime 80s Idol, untouched by the ravages of time, lifestyle, changes in musical fashions or anything else. Second track “Can’t Break Me Down” could’ve provided a satisfactory follow up to “White Wedding”, “Rebel Yell” or any of Idols other hits from that period, as does third track ‘Save Me Now’ and ‘One Breath Away’ equals the noirish mood of ‘Eyes Without A Face’ with as much confidence as Idol possessed in his prime. ‘I know the past is dead and gone’ runs the lyric of ‘Postcards From The Past’ just before it turns into a virtual rewrite of ‘Rebel Yell’ and by this point, even hardened 70s punk survivors will probably be grimacing slightly as Idol’s complete lack of objectivity in relation to his persona has him completely hamming it up like a Spinal Tap level parody of a Rock Star.

The album title track is the only attempt at a song that doesn’t sound a lot like one of Idol’s 80s hits, and its flute and acoustic guitar melody sounds awkwardly out of place alongside the unapologetic Rockism of the other ten tracks but not to worry, “Eyes Wide Shut” is a credible attempt at a film theme, “Ghosts In My Guitar” was perhaps written for Bon Jovi, “Love And Glory” is a lighters-in-the-air crowd pleaser, and finally “Pills And Whiskey” is about as obnoxious and authentically punk as anything either Generation X or Billy Idol ever recorded, and we can only hope that Mr Idol doesn’t take his own words too literally as, let’s face it, a lot of us would miss his sullen charm and handy way with a synth fuelled guitar epic.

Whether or not Kings and Queens of the Underground is the very last we’ll hear from Billy Idol isn’t something I’d make a definite guess about. With a probable unreleased back catalogue that’s in treble figures and a persona that belongs on the big stage, he could probably make a similar return to the music world a decade from now, still unrepentant and shaking his gloved fist like it’s 1983 all over again. Or perhaps he won’t think he needs to. His recent live shows have certainly been well received, at least proving that there’s an audience now for the kind of glossy power pop that  some of us probably thought the actual last had been heard of and whether you like him or not, the last thing he wants is our approval. 40 years hasn’t been long enough for Billy Idol.