Released: 2005, Sanctuary
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Billy Idol has managed to embody the essence of pop punk for the better part of 25 years while becoming the darling of MTV, overcoming a near fatal motorcycle accident, a heroin addiction and perhaps the most difficult, 1993’s hideous CYBERPUNK release. Along the way, he has shown up in films like THE DOORS and THE WEDDING SINGER but despite all of these career ups and downs, one thing has always been consistent: Idol has been himself, whether it’s good or bad. With DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND, Idol’s first release of new material since CYBERPUNK, he continues to deliver twists and turns and never panders to trends or attempts to be “cool.” He just is! Fans who bailed when CYBERPUNK was released can come back and enjoy Idol’s music again but new fans, acquired through nostalgia and wanting to see what all the fuss was about back in the 80s can bear witness to one of the most surprising comeback albums in recent years.
Back in his rightful position at Idol’s right is guitarist Steve Stevens after having sat out both 1990’s CHARMED LIFE and CYBERPUNK. These two go together like Jagger and Richards, Perry and Tyler, Lennon and McCartney. They just belong together and it shows here. CYBERPUNK was a disjointed mess with Idol seemingly unable to decide what he was doing but all cylinders are firing properly on DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND with thirteen cuts of vital Idol at the ready. Long-time collaborator Keith Forsey is back behind the production desk and he truly knows how to bring the best out of this band. Idol’s vocals are as sharp as they have ever been and Stevens continues to dazzle with tight riffs and the occasional shredding solo. Former Ozzy Osbourne drummer Brian Tichy is having a great time behind the kit, while ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian drops in to add some polish to several tracks.
Idol’s early punk days in Generation X are revisited on “Super Overdrive” and “World Comin’ Down” with loads of attitude and a bit of a varied vocal approach. The infectious choruses of tracks like “Rat Race” and The Doors-like “Evil Eye” will embed themselves in the listener’s brain for weeks. Simple, straight-ahead rock and roll is becoming a forgotten art by being bastardized by gimmicky bands like The Strokes but Idol and Stevens can write tracks like these in their sleep. Similarly, “Scream” is a great rock song that hearkens back to the “Cradle of Love”/CHARMED LIFE era, while “Body Snatcher,” the heaviest track on the album, features a searing riff by Stevens and a chunky bass line from Steven McGrath. Never one to avoid experimentation, Idol takes successful stabs at 70’s pop (“Sherri”), country rock (“Lady Do Or Die”), a tongue-in-cheek holiday song (“Yellin’ At The Xmas Tree”) and even a Neil Diamond-like acoustic pop track (“Cherie”). Somehow, Idol makes everything work and sound completely natural in doing so. The only two real missteps are the awkward-sounding “Romeo’s Waiting” and the schmaltzy and melodramatic “Summer Running” but the rest of the tracks on DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND could fit into Idol’s live set without missing a beat.
DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND is slick as can be, Idol is in top form and this batch of songs is a welcome return. Granted, Idol had twelve years to hone an album worth of tracks but none of these songs sound dated, nor did he require a team of writers to come in and help him get a competent release together. Not only that, Idol has created a modern sounding album and wears his influences clearly on his sleeve without distancing himself from his roots. A fan who has not listened to Billy Idol since WHIPLASH SMILE could pick up DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND and feel as if it was the next logical release. This is not an easy task but as always, Billy Idol remains consistent and even throws in some razzle-dazzle along the way to show he’s still got it.
KILLER KUTS: “Super Overdrive,” “World Comin’ Down,” “Rat Race,” “Scream,” “Body Snatcher,” “Evil Eye”