Halftime Leisure

Critical Voices: Billy Idol, Kings and Queens of the Underground

October 27, 2014

Famous for his signature lip snarl, sexual innuendo-ridden songs, and a seemingly endless leather wardrobe, Billy Idol is at it again with his latest album, Kings & Queens of the Underground. The gruff, 80’s sensation has created an album that ties his roots to the modern era. He experiments with softer-toned ballads and a variety of punk style to create a cohesive picture. The album is dualistically split into new styles and keenly aware tributes to his punk rock and new wave roots.

The album breaks out with a spectrum of punk-influenced songs. Each carries a unique sound, yet all remain in a relatively similar genre. Some of the most interesting individual  parts of these songs  come from the distinctly modern influences. “Can’t Break Me Down,” emerges with a large group-sung section. Throughout the song, there are upbeat, pop-rock choruses that crash back into  each quick, palm-muted verse with an alternative style break. However, for those desperately seeking that 80’s sound, quick synth, hard guitar, and throaty vocals are still prevalent in fun tracks like “Postcards from the Past” and softer songs like “Save Me Now.”

The album starts to make sense through the titles of these tracks and their lyrics. The ballads are reminiscent stories about the past. Idol makes the most obvious message in the album’s title track, “Kings & Queens of the Underground.” Idol created this as the centerpiece of the work to introduce its second half of this album, which is mostly devoted to these nostalgic, softer songs. This second half change is marked from this track’s lyrics, “I was ‘Hot in the City.’ Yes I thought I was ace. But I didn’t know then when I was in your front room. On MTV baby I was high as the moon, Oooh Golden years.” Tracks like this and “Ghosts in my Guitar” are truly rich in morose backing synth and guitar that complement this more sensitive side of Idol’s sound.

Most songs remain interesting even after four minutes because of slight digression between Idol’s 80’s punk roots and these ballad-esque styles. The only issue that arises is with the full commitment to the ballad style in songs like “Eyes Wide Shut.” It simply proves predictable. There needs to be something to occasionally break this pattern up. The deep verses to stronger chorus are tired when done this way, and the redundancy undercuts the general messages of love, loss, and change with time.

Although a reflection on his past career, the album feels influenced by a wide range of performers including Bruce Springsteen, U2, and even Green Day. Billy Idol is nearly 60 years old. Understandably, those raw, aggressive sounds are not ubiquitous with this album. However, having listened to his live performance, Billy Idol has not lost his touch. Through this album, he wants to remind listeners of his past while knocking us in the face with the fact that he’s not done yet.

Voice’s Choices: “Ghosts in my Guitar”, “Can’t Break Me Down”

Photo: billyidol.net

Michael Bergin
Mike Bergin is the former executive culture Editor for the Georgetown Voice. You can follow him on Twitter @mbergin95

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