Is The New Billy Idol Album "Kings And Queens Of The Underground" Worth Your Cash?

If we're being completely honest with one another, Billy Idol hasn't made a good record since Rebel Yell.  In fact, one of the albums he did make remains one of the most aggressive misfires in the history of recorded sound.  And that's to say nothing of his Christmas record.

Coming off of the platinum, career-defining success of Rebel Yell, Idol put everything he had into recording a worthy follow-up, only to decide at the last minute that the tweeky drum machines he and producer Keith Forsey had been using as a click track were just fine and that there was no need to bring in a live drummer to spice things up.  That's fine if you're making a Depeche Mode record, but Idol's miscalculations would continue through an ill-advised flirtation with lunky corprorate metal and a prolonged Jim Morrison fixation that felt a little like betrayal to his punk fan base.

Even 2005's high-octane Devil's Playground came off sounding more like a latter-day Offspring record thanks to co-writer/tour drummer Brian Tichy, who we also have to "thank" for planting the bug in Idol's ear that would lead to the aforementioned Christmas album.

So when I heard that Idol was in the studio with Trevor "Video Killed The Radio Star" Horn, I couldn't help think this would result in either a brilliant return to form or a travesty of "Cyberpunk" proportions.  Having spun Kings & Queens of The Underground the past few days, I can safely say that Idol's first proper studio album in nine years is the album he should have made back in 1986.

While most of Trevor Horn's nuances are lost in the flatness of the brick wall compression that reduces the live instrumentation to the thickness of cardboard, his dedication to ensuring that the songs and arrangements were solid going in makes all the difference in the world.

Whereas Devil's Playground sought to reconfirm Idol's punk machismo, Kings And Queens gives Idol a chance to drop the pose and let his true colors shine.  After all, with the music industry incapable of producing even one platinum-selling artist this year, a legacy artist like Idol may as well cut a record he can be proud of after the buzz of the week-of-release press blitz subsides.

"Postcards From The Past" and the title cut see Idol gazing longingly in the rearview mirror, sad for the opportunities missed, but proud as hell over what he accomplished.

Not everything hits the mark, though; "Eyes Wide Shut" sounds like a rejected Seal song from a Tom Cruise movie soundtrack and album-opener "Bitter Pill" seems better suited for an Allanah Myles record.  Who?  Exactly.  She sang "Black Velvet", by the way.  "Can't Bring Me Down" is so delightfully misguided and pandering that I find myself alterating between loving and hating it in the span of a single play.  Sample lyric: "When I hit the floor, I'm the original assassin."  Is that a Pants Off Dance Off challenge, Mister Idol?

I kid, I kid.  I mean, do any of us really expect a Billy Idol album to be lyrically profound?  The best we can hope for is a minimum of overused cliches and "I made it through the tough times" sloganeering.  I mean, if he expects us to feel sorry for him for getting to live the life most of us can only dream about, he best not hold his breath.

For this is a man who manages to build up a considerable amount of goodwill over the course of Kings And Queens that even a couple duds near the end (the forgettable "Love And Glory" and the comical "Whiskey and Pills") can't take away.

Rating: A strong 7 out of 10

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