Review Summary: What should be the musings of a cool uncle turn out like the retrospects of a nostalgic dad.
There never particularly was a time when Billy Idol 'ruled the world' as it were, apart from having a handful of hot hits during the rise of MTV, every time he's tried to be adventurous he's been a critical and commercial flop. Because of his commercial punk and radio rock fusion, over time he has become to sort of bridge the gap between what music your mother and father both liked, a hybrid of nostalgia that Kings and Queens of the Underground
readily indulges in and seems to have taken to heart. For what is the first album in the Billy Idol canon in nine years, it is not a comeback album by any means and certainly not a change of direction, rather it's an attempt to recapture the energy of his heyday by offering those good ol' punk rock songs with modern production and simultaneously reminiscing about the time tracks like those would have been popular.
Contrary to popular belief Billy was not always chasing trends, in the '80s he was part of creating them with his self-titled debut and the ever-popular Rebel Yell
, playing an inarguable part in most likely your parents' mutual discography. Unfortunately, because he wasn't around enough talented producers and fellow songwriters, it was not until he got too ambitious with the often maligned Cyberpunk
that he took a larger mouthful than he could chew, in the process dislodging his creative tooth and losing his artistic bite in the process. Kings and Queens of the Underground
is still self-conscious of this disfigurement and, as a result, is afraid to let itself fully smile, opting for a half-assed smirk as opposed to a toothy grin.
Like on many of Billy's more underwhelming albums, so too does the juxtaposition of marketing anarchy and corporatism rear its ugly head on Kings and Queens of the Underground
, this time around however the marketed demographic being indubitably clearer. This is not to say that some of the cheesier material doesn't work to the album's advantage, the cautionary tale of "Save Me Now" being a very good example, taking Billy's troubled personal history and wrapping it up in catchy, easily digestible vagueness. On the flip-side, the reflective lyrics of "Nothing to Fear" give off the clear impression that Billy is old and matured, giving a positively dreadful perspective on his past addictions. It is not until the title track that he tries to bridge the gap between sentimentalism and self-consciousness, and starts sounding all too complacent in tugging at the heartstrings of disappointed parents and rock-romanticizing teenagers.
At its core, Kings and Queens of the Underground
is a story about endurance, the album beginning with a blast of trend-chasing and a hint towards the underlying nostalgic theme, diving deeper into darker, more self-exploratory territory but ultimately coming through with a 'he's still got it' sentiment. The boastful overtones of the album are all about convincing you Billy Idol is not going away any time soon, with the man himself being in arguably the voice of his life, the pronounced production and the vocal performances at times even exceeding 'the Billy we all know and love'. By all accounts the album is a well-crafted one, "Eyes Wide Shut" being the only track feeling a bit like filler, and can certainly satisfy the average Billy Idol fan, if only for a moment.
As apparent as it is on Kings and Queens of the Underground
that Billy himself can beat time at its own game, on the same album we can observe his music aging like cottage cheese, as Billy is assuring the nostalgic listener that if he doesn't get old, you don't have to either. It is not an out-of-touch album, au contraire its touch on what made Billy Idol great is a bit too on-point, as the themes pander to the lowest common denominator for his fans, a new album with the good ol' punky bravado. Even though it might seem like a lot to ask from one of the King Kongs of '80s radio rock, after listening to Kings and Queens of the Underground
eventually the thought of the critic must enter your head; we know you can still do it Billy, but can you do anything else？