Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Music Review

Billy Idol - Devil's Playground

Most people know Billy Idol as the frosted blonde guy who, along with Duran Duran, Michael Jackson and Madonna, gave us the MTV that used to be cool. He parlayed a long career out of being a sex image and having a sneer which reminds me a bit of Hayden Christensen (2 - more whiny picture of Hayden) and a bit of Ben Stiller in Zoolander, which is to say, I think he looks quite silly, but to tell the truth, he has a good voice too. Good for growling and crooning alike, which is what made those early songs (Rebel Yell, Mony Mony, et. al) so popular.

His career fell off a bit in the 90's and he released an album in 2001, the kind of album which spells the demise of all bands not named U2 - a Greatest Hits Album. It says a lot about his career that it was a horribly weak CD, featuring two versions of Rebel Yell and a cover of Don't You Forget About Me. Never mind the fact that Mony Mony is a cover too.

But then something happened to send him back to the studio - maybe he ran out of money or something. In any case, Devil's Playground is his first studio work in over a decade.

All that said, it's not as weak an album as you might think. Whoever was producing this album did a good job making sure it exhibited Idol's surprising versatility.

Several songs do stand out, as laden with pop cliches as they are. "Sherri" is the strongest song on the album. It's a bit of 80's fun and escapism, and it's refreshing that Idol or whoever was advising him on the tracks recognized the need to acknowledge that.

More than a couple of songs are more a look back on his career than anything else, and there's nothing wrong with that. After all, Idol is 50 this year, and what else does he really have to write about besides past glories?

A couple of the later songs have an acoustic guitar touch that actually works rather well with Idol's voice.

But much of the album is rather weak - for some reason, there's a Christmas song. Yes, a Christmas song.

Sure, the song is about a drunken father and is essentially a rebellious adolescent's sardonic reflection upon Christman memories, but it still has bells and lines about Santa for God's sake. Not exactly a good fit for a studio release that's not a holiday album.

And other songs suffer lyrically. Idol was never known for his lyric stylings; they had shock value, but that was about it. Now that the shock value is more dormant (although it's certainly still there, as we will see), the amateur lyricist comes out in Devil's Playground.

The euphemism of "You're on your knees, You are my little queen, You know exactly what I mean, Climb up my lemon tree" is a bit confusing, but unmistakable. He does, after all, sing "suck it." But why lemon tree? Is it an English thing? Either way, this song still has some amusement value for its crassness.

Then take the song "Plastic Jesus"

Rule #1 of songs about plastic Jesus on the dashboard of your car) you should NEVER include the lyrics "I don't care if it rains or freezes as long as I've got my plastic jesus on the dashboard of my car." Those lyrics just don't have an impact, especially when you repeat "dashboard of my car" about 100 times during the song (actually 9, but that's 9 too many). Other aspects of the song convey the dashboard and the car, namely, the lyrics about traffic jams and the road.

I think a good way to convey the effectiveness and even the sound of this album is to compare him with a fellow Englishman, whose most popular days have passed, who also wrote a song recently about Jesus. Not Sting - he writes about Tantric Sex. No, I'm talking about Morrissey. (Ok, Morrissey is technically Irish, but that's besides the point - he grew up in England)

Before you think "Wait, Morrissey and Billy Idol? Completely different sounds! They stand for polar opposite philosophies!!" let me extrapolate.

First of all, let's take a look at Morrissey's song, off his 2004 release "You Are the Quarry," entitled "I Have Forgiven Jesus."

Right off the bat, it makes you smile, because it's a great song title.

And the lyrics convey a wonderful adolescent Catholic angst, without mention of the words religion, Catholic, cross, church or priest.

To obtain full effect, read lyrics with glass of dark red wine

"Why did you give me so much desire
When there is nowhere I can go
To offload this desire?
And why did you give me
So much love in a loveless world
When there is no one I can turn to
To unlock all this love?

And why did you stick me in
Self deprecating bones and skin?
Jesus do you hate me?
Why did you stick me in
Self deprecating bones and skin?

Do you hate me?
Do you hate me?..."

Now, Morrissey is obviously known for his lyrical stylings than Idol. When Billy Idol goes from general adolescent anarchy to snide social commentary, it doesn't work because it still comes off as a child screaming through an adult's vocal cords. Idol's attempts to convey disdain for organized religion through personal experience come off quite lame in comparison. But Morrissey can get around that. His Jesus song is the despair of an adult looking back upon the blind faith of his childhood.

Both Morrissey and Idol grew up in the same era. Morrissey is 46, and grew up in the heavily Sex Pistol's influenced English music scene, just like Idol. The comparison's largely end there, as Idol was always in the limelight as a pop star, which Morrissey has been essentially an icon of indie rock, but it might also be pointed out that they both have very unique vocal abilities. But listening to Idol's latest work, one can't help but think that he's trying to channel some of Morrissey's black humor, and it's really not very successful.

Part of it is because Morrissey's sound with the Smiths was already laced with the irony and humor more evident in his solo work, but most of it is because no one taught Idol how to write a good set of lyrics.

When Idol sticks to singing about girls and how good he is, he can still convey that sex-rebel-your-father-would-be-scared-to-death-of-image. But otherwise, Devil's Playground sounds like a 50 year old's admission that he'd like to mature and write some witty shit, but can't because he's still reliving his adolescent glory days.


Blogger Satchmo said...

God damn it . . . more spam??

9:24 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

Ummm..Plastic Jesus is an old song from the late 50s that has been covered by hundreds of artists since then, including Flaming Lips and Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke.

No offense, but I'm pretty sure you're the only person in the universe that thought Billy Idol actually wrote this song.

7:23 PM  

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