It’s been about a week and half since Billy Idol and his wonderful partner in crime, guitarist Steve Stevens, released their latest EP The Cage and man, it’s simply superb. It rocks so hard it makes me feel like it’s 1983 and I’m going to take the t-tops out of the Camaro and drive up and down Main Street with my car stereo turned up to 11… maybe grow my mullet back. I must confess, prime Billy Idol always puts a little steam in my stride.
I feel bad I’m only now getting around to writing about this new Billy Idol EP. With new LPs by Ozzy Osbourne (Patient Number 9) and Starcrawler (She Said) combined with going to see the Cult in concert here in KC last week (a very special evening) my rock n roll cup “runneth over” so to speak. Late summer and fall have always been my favorite times of year and this year is no exception. Great music to go with the great weather. Soon I’ll be sitting on the patio in the “wee small hours” with headphones and (yes!) a sweater on while nursing a tumbler of sour mash and ruminating on… everything.
Billy Idol burst onto the scene as a solo artist after leaving his first group, the English punk band Generation X in the early 80s. He somehow connected with guitarist Steve Stevens and things took off from there. His first album came out in the summer of 1982 and I’ll have to admit, I don’t remember hearing any Idol in KC on the radio at the time. Of course I was immersed in Van Halen, Journey and the Robert Plant at the time… I do remember after going to college in the fall of that year (gads, has it been that long?), seeing – not hearing – Billy Idol on MTV. You read all the time about how MTV helped certain artists’ careers and it’s true for many. For Billy Idol, to a bunch of beer drinkin’, Midwestern kids just out of high school I have to say Idol was kind of hurt by his videos in our circle. What can I say, we were small minded. Were we just afraid of punk rock? Punk had already affected all of our favorite bands, so why the fear? Idol’s blonde, severe crew cut and leather clothes put us off for some reason. He was always snarling and punching the air. We were used to rock stars that looked like hobos – long hippy hair, a couple of guys with beards (usually at least the bass player or the drummer), all dressed in blue jeans and tie-dye. Actually by the mid-80s it was more likely our rock stars were wearing spandex and yet we were still put off by Idol?
I remember working in the kitchen where I lived that fall of ’82 and hearing “Hot In The City” on the local (mostly pop) radio station and really digging it. Of course I had no idea it was Billy Idol. I remember thinking, while hearing the song and melting in the heat of the dishwasher (I could never get away from crappy kitchen jobs) and thinking, “This guy is a real crooner…he sounds a little like Jim Morrison.” Then I’d go to the common room and MTV would be on – because it was always on except football Saturdays/Sundays – and see “Dancing With Myself” and think, “This punk rock guy is crazy, he’s killing zombies.” I was listening with my eyes and not my ears. I don’t know if I’m the only one who let video imagery turn me off a band? I was the same way with Guns N Roses, I’m embarrassed to admit. If you’d blind folded me and tied to me a chair – and I had a girlfriend at the time who tried once – and made me listen to the music I think I’d have jumped right in on Billy Idol. I remember hearing “Eyes Without A Face” on my car stereo and then going to work and singing “Steal a car go to Las Vegas, oh the gigolo pool…” on the loading dock until my foreman Howard said, “Shut up and load the barrels on the truck.” It was then that I started to think Idol might actually be, well, “ok.” But of course by early 1984 everybody’s hair had kind of taken a step toward the more chaotic so maybe I was more emotionally prepared to accept a guy with a blonde crew cut by then. Finally, somewhere in there, a guy named Walt (name changed to protect the guilty) moved in with us and he had Rebel Yell on cassette. Man, we wore that thing out. “Blue Highway” is still my favorite track from that album and should have been a hit.
I have to admit, after Charmed Life in 1990, I sort of lost touch with Idol. He put out a couple album over the first 15 years of the new millennium and while I was hoping for the best I couldn’t connect with them. Then, last year in late summer he released an EP entitled The Roadside. I think he and Steve Stevens may have found the perfect vehicle to release new music. EPs only have four songs they have to focus on. The lead track from that one was “Bitter Taste” and it’s not only one of Idol’s best songs EVER, it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, period. Oddly, despite absolutely loving “Bitter Taste,” and shouting that fact from the rooftops, I didn’t review The Roadside. I’ve gone back and listened to it. “Rita Hayworth” and “You Don’t Have to Kiss Me Like That” are strong tunes. I remember being oddly disappointed when I heard the rest of the EP. I think “Bitter Taste” was so huge it eclipsed the rest of the songs to me. And admittedly, I didn’t like the ballad “Baby, Put Your Clothes Back On,” because… who says that?!? to anyone? But in retrospect The Roadside was a fine comeback for Idol.
The Cage is definitely a harder rocking affair than the previous EP. The lead off track, which is nominally the title track, “Cage” is just a huge hard rocking track that I can hear people in the arena singing along to. I can’t say enough about how great Steve Stevens’ guitar is. I have reviewed this song already, so I don’t want to beat the dead horse, but it’s a great rock n roll anthem. And I will say “Cage” was in high rotation here to end my summer.
The next track is “Running From The Ghost” and it’s a stunner. It covers a lot of the same themes that “Bitter Taste” did. A man looking back at his checkered past not with regret but perhaps more resolve. It’s a “yeah it was tough but it was what it was” kind of track. It starts with just Billy’s voice and a piano. I thought it might be a ballad. But then then some light percussion and strings come in. You can feel the track building. And then Steve Stevens’ guitar pops in and melts your face off. Guitar notes hitting you fast and furious. It’s a great, great song in the car. Billy sings over rumbling drums while Stevens weaves his guitar in and out through out the song. “I’m running from the ghost, the ghost inside of me, heavy on my mind.” Talking about ruminating over a tumbler of sour mash… Great guitar solo from Stevens on this track too. It ends the way it started, with just Idol’s voice (which may be treated) and that haunting piano. Splendid stuff.
The third track, “Rebel Like You” of course harkens back to Idol’s big song “Rebel Yell.” It starts with the sound of a motorcycle. It’s about the singer meeting his soulmate in the front row of a show. It’s an upbeat, bouncing rocker with an infectious chorus, “Yeah it’s alright, now you’re here.” I wish I could have written this track for the Rock Chick. I totally get the vibe. Like “Cage” I could see this track bringing the crowd to it’s feet with arms thrown in the air. I can’t get over how great Billy and Stevens sound on these rocking tracks. He obviously had some pent up energy to expend after the lockdown.
The last track is “Miss Nobody.” I’ll admit it’s a complete left turn. It’s still upbeat. Idol actually speaks the lyrics vs sings them. There are background singers… it’s kind of, well, Vegas-y. But I still really like it. I think the Rock Chick is a little more reserved about the track but while I blasted the new EP in her car on Saturday for her she could see I was into it and didn’t say much. Idol sets the scene in the first lyric, “I was walkin’ ’round MacArthur Park, It was late night and the streetlights sprayed the dark.” Idol just sounds like he’s having a great, naughty time and who isn’t down for that? The track is like nothing I’ve heard Idol do, and yes, when the back-up singers sing the chorus they overwhelm Idol’s voice a little and I understand if I alone dig this tune but I’m into it!
This is great new music from Billy Idol and I think none of us would have guessed he’d still be this vital in 2022… I’m sure many of us would have guessed he wouldn’t be here in 2022 but let’s not get negative. Everybody needs The Cage on high volume. When I reviewed the song “Cage” I said that Idol had arrived to “save summer.” He may just be saving my early fall as well! Turn this up to 11… get out the Camaro (but don’t drink and drive) and have a ball!