13 November 2014

Billy Idol - Cyberpunk

Well, this album shat a few people up the wall when it first came out! In a nutshell, the critics aside from calling the album shite also accused Idol of not only selling out, trying to reinvent himself for the 90's but jumping on the cyberpunk bandwagon, all claims he denied. Make of it what you will, but fact is this was quite pioneering at the time as not only did the album come with his (long since deactivated) email address but also a couple of screensavers and stuff. This was quite revolutionary in 1993 as this type of stuff was still in it's infancy. I myself got onto the internet for the first time in 1995. It seemed like this big, huge revolutionary thing but now it's a hub for porn, social media and a great place to find out what nerds think about Star Trek.

By the time this album came out, Billy Idol was pretty much a media darling as aside to his work in punk band Generation X, he also had a pretty successful solo career. With pop-rock anthems such as 'Rebel Yell' and 'White Wedding', he was a fixture on the then-fledgling MTV, back when they played music videos instead of reality TV shows that glorify teenage pregnancy. However, in 1990 he suffered a broken leg in a motorbike accident which pretty much brought things to a halt for a few years. During his recuperation period, he ended up reading a fuck-ton of cyber punk books and novella, spurred by a chance comment that the electronic muscle stimulator on his bad leg gave him a "cyberpunk appearence". Taking punks DIY ethic and applying it to electronic music made on computers seemed to be the order of the day, so over the course of ten months, he recorded the majority of this album at his house in Los Angeles and the rest in New York.

Opening with "Wasteland", it sets the tone for the album - distopian society themes. It's a canny song which doesn't sound like it was recorded by a chancer. The "no religion" sample that permeates the song sounds quite haunting. After that, it's lead single "Shock To The System". This is one of Idol's typical rockers, with a video inspired by the Rodney King incident. This is a really good song but the only drawback is the drums - they're too lightweight. Sure, they're programmed but you can still make them sound heavy. Just listen to Godflesh! Anyhow, we're then off into "Tomorrow People" which is another decent song. Then we're onto "Adam In Chains" which starts off with a bollocks speech on hypnotism before turning into a good song. Ethereal keyboards and groovy drums, it sounds like something that would play at the end of the movie, the sun coming up over the city sort of thing.

"Neuromancer" then starts us off on another journey into the mind. "It's the age of destruction", apparently. It's not too bad, I guess. "Power Junkie" starts with the kind of drum pattern that wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Stock Aitken Waterman song. Again, it's not too bad - and therein is the albums problem so far, It seems to be all cyber and no punk. I know this was 1993 but surely they could have got some heavier techno sounds than this? "Love Labours On" is next and brings the pace down a bit. A cybernetic ballad. Definately one of the highlights on here.

The next song attracted a wave of derision - a techno cover of 'Heroin', originally by The Velvet Underground. It's not the worst over in the world (That honour belongs to All Saints with "Under The Bridge"). It's actually pretty good! Very techno influenced, no surprise given the overall theme of the album. It wouldn't have sounded out of place during the decadent-club-scene in any given 80's movie. "Shangrila" brings the pace to mid-level. Very sparse and echoy with a sitar-sample all the way through it. Mind, it's about two minutes too long. Canny enough song though. "Concrete Kingdom" tries getting funky on our asses. It's not too bad, although it could be better. Pretty much the story of this album.

"Venus" is next and kinda goes in one ear and out the other. "Then The Night Comes" is a lot better. and brings the pace back up, with the kind of riffs that hark back to his heyday, "Mother Dawn" continues onward towards the end of the album, all techno beats and flourishes.

So, there you go. Whilst not the artistical failure it was deemed at the time, it definately isn't an essential album. The main problem is a lot of the songs are of the slow-paced, trippy variety which is fair enough but it begins to grate. What the album needs is some faster stuff. The techno itself sounds rather lightweight and fluffy, yes it may have been 1993 but as I said before, surely they could've got some heavier stuff going? Gabber (a partuclarly heavy variant of techno from The Netherlands) originalted in the early 90's so surely this would have made a more suitable influence? Still, the album is quite good.

6/10 - Now I see where you were going, but not quite there.

Chris J.

Top Track: Shock To The System.

This album isn't available on iTunes.

Amazon link.
Spotify link.

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