Review Summary: The charm of a 'do-it-yourself' experiment bogged down in the pretense of a revolutionary musical idea.
On the surface this album seems like a shallow attempt at chasing trends gone horribly wrong, glancing at the articles about Cyberpunk
you're immediately intimidated by the immense amount of information there is to read about it. If you haven't bothered to read all of it you have at least gathered it is often considered one of the worst concept albums of all time. Taking a closer look reveals that it was an attempt on Billy Idol's part to take creative control of the production of his albums, being an early pioneer in internet promotion for mainstream celebrities and musically quite a departure from Billy's usual radio-friendly Elvis impersonations. With all of this in mind, it is a bit of a shame then that the caveat emptor for this album comes from not the outlandish artistic concepts the listener would need to prepare for, but from the fact that it's too concerned with basing itself on books Billy himself had by his own admission not even read.
is cyberpunk in aesthetic only, the lyrics of the album conjuring up themes of future shock and anarchist cyberdelia, in subtext more intended for Billy's own creative emancipation as opposed to serving any subcultural ideology. The album was a first for Billy to use computer software as a means to produce his music, the idea of producing from a home studio as opposed to a professional one enhancing his punk-influenced 'do-it-yourself' ethic, resulting in the music sounding almost intentionally lo-fi. Having only recently been acquainted to computers, you can almost hear Billy's cogs turning during the album whenever a new sound comes into a song, the finished product ending up sounding more like a newcomer's experiment in making old sounds with new technology rather than an innovative veteran's revolutionary soundscape.
Because of its fumbling nature, when listening to Cyberpunk
purely as a prototypically punky DIY statement, there's a genuine charm that emanates from the production, a sense of an artist attempting to discover themselves in a new medium that is not present in Billy's past or future albums. Unfortunately however, in this juxtaposition of marketable commercialism and indie 'experimentalism', a sense of humour about the material gets lost, in the process eliminating the enjoyable effect a truly self-aware album would have. From the sensory overloading album cover to the skeletal, undynamic beats, the poorly executed concept sermonizes for you to believe technology is being pushed to the limit, while the instrumentals are blaring with garish, underproduced synth hooks.
Looking at Cyberpunk
from the perspective of an unassuming indie record, you'd want to be more forgiving to the ridiculous hypnotization session in "Adam in Chains" or the idiosyncratic throat-singing in "Shangrila". Furthermore, the corny lyrics of "Power Junkie" and the completely inapposite dance-rock cover of The Velvet Underground's "Heroin" do their best to only accentuate the potential for a wacky, off-the-wall experience. However, Billy's insistence on having his cake and eating it too inhibits the material from unlocking its true potential, the sales pitch of the the superfluous references to William Gibson's novels in songs like "Neuromancer" coming off like an old-fashioned tobacco company attempting to convince you having tar in your lungs is good for you. As if 'Billy Idol going indie' wasn't an interesting enough pull for him to retain a niche following, on here he's decided to try and appeal to everybody, in the process making the sub-par production inexcusable and alienating himself from the critic, the consumer, and the fan.
An extremely antiquated yet fascinatingly uncategorizable product, Cyberpunk
is 'punk', but it is not 'cyber', from its thin drums to its overmuch synths, nothing about the album invokes any kind of soundscape. The hints of cyberdelia begin and end with the song "Shock to the System", compared to which every other song sounding like they make the backbone of an extremely sparse demo. The hints of hooky guitars and ragged bravado seeming to want you to believe it's harkening back to Billy's roots as the shabby frontman of Generation X, putting out abrasive punk music, which is the kind of gumption an album like this would have needed in order to have consistent statement. A certain David Bowie is an interesting example of executing almost the same idea of a dystopian near-future at the turn of the century with his album Outside
, released only three years later and embodying everything that a well-executed Cyberpunk
could have been.
Where simply a misunderstood album would garner points for being 'ahead of its time', Cyberpunk
is afraid to truly go unapologetically experimental or unabashedly commercial, resulting in being neither self-indulgent nor cheesy enough to be a worthwhile record in either regard. Rather, the result is an at times entertaining experience - with Billy's vocal performances especially going far beyond his usual rebel yell - and a simultaneously frustrating one as the intense reaction to its contradictory pretensions would bring about the end to Billy's ambitious tendencies. Not a recommendable album to the consumer or the critic by any stretch, its only potential lies in cult appeal for hard-boiled fans who have exhausted everything else in Billy's discography, wanting to contemplate on what could have been in store for a true follow-up to a competently executed Cyberpunk