Street Sounds: Idol curbs his rebellious side

On his first album in nearly a decade, rock singer/songwriter Billy Idol is back with a strong collection of autobiographical melodic songs.

On his first album in nearly a decade, English rock singer/songwriter Billy Idol, is back with a strong collection of autobiographical melodic songs.

Idol is one of those characters whose tongue is so often firmly in his cheek that seriousness seems a put on. But his rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold image is toned down on some of these luxurious confessional tracks.

He is backed by longtime guitarist  Steve Stevens, and his old band. They build on Idol’s Brit rock/punk heritage to create pulsing grooves that show how his music was ahead of the curve back in Idol’s 1980s’ heyday. Save Me Now and Nothing to Fear have moody chords and ethereal keyboard figures that bring the sweetness above the grind.

The album breaks in with an anthemic riff (Bitter Pill) but most of the music isn’t bravado based. As proved in his past, Idol has always had an ear for melody and classic chord progressions and that’s what this album is about. There’s only one stumble: the goofy Can’t Break Me Down and that’s because it falls prey to formula.

The music flows and Idol doesn’t stretch himself vocally but lets the songs carry him. He drops the rebel yell and gets going with a romantic croon, at times evoking Gary Numan, Jim Morrison and Simple Minds. But on the aptly titled Postcards From the Past, Idol barks out a patented “Come on!” as Stevens unleashes a shrieking line of notes. He co-opted it so well, it became his own.

There are unexpected oddities that have some left-field impact. The autobiographical title track checks 1977, 1984, the London scene, MTV and being high as a kite. Idol breaks from script here. The song has a baroque feel akin to acoustic rock of the 1970s.

As he says, “I don’t need to be profound but if I’m still around/ We are still kings and queens of the underground/ Ah, golden years.”  It’s an honestly inspired song that highlights Idol’s been-there croon and delicate interplay from the musicians.

Idol has mellowed a bit and the songs have a dreamy, reflective feel and the music is melodic and solid. Well done.

Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician and longtime music critic with The Morning Star.