Billy Idol. OK. I got it out of the way. That is what Generation X is really known for, right? Then there is the Idol song, Dancing With Myself, which launched his career as a solo artist but was originally an Idol song performed with Gen X. Idol's monkier sneer and perma-blow dry platinum flair-hair always made me think he was a f***in' phony. Just poses and drug problems with an irksome smirk with a bare chest and a leather vest.
Idol was a walking photo-op who fit the punk suit and mined gold enshrouding himself in accepted punk stylings. In my mind this band has always come as across as the first sign that punk was going "commercial".
Idol started the band after seeing the Sex Pistols and began playing music. Second Generation. Naming the band after the 60's novel fictionalizing the drug abuse and battles of London "Mods and Rockers" stinks of a marketing ploy. More poser choices that seem solely based on "branding" than any real identification with a "Mod" or a "Rocker", outside of getting them to fill shows while seperating them from their shillings. Idol just seems like a huckster, shyster, marketeer over a heart-and- soul punk. Instead of the real deal being exploited it was turned around and the "fake deal" exploited the exploiters. I guess that is kinda' punk.
The CD re-release of Kiss Me Deadly adds five bonus tracks (including two live tracks), giving us a chance at either a second look, redemption or castigation. Kiss Me Deadly is the third and final Generation X album (the rest of the band had already departed - hence the change from Generation X to Gen X). The brief liner notes state that Green Day's Billy Joe Armstrong considers Kiss Me Deadly to be his favorite punk album of all time. Now redemption seems out of the question. But, on this album you get ex-Sex Pistol, Steven Jones, lending his stylings to the carousel of musicians that were recruited to finish this album.
Other musicians walking through the revolving door were James Stevenson (Chelsea and Gene Loves Jezebel) and the late John McGeoch (Siouxsie and the Banshees, Magazine, Heaven 17, PIL) teaming up with Tony James (Chelsea, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Sisters of Mercy), Terry Chimes (The Clash, Hanoi Rocks and Black Sabbath) and founder Billy Idol (Chlesea) it was a band of shoulda' been's and shouldn't have been's. This was the monumental album in their history and not just for the band hopping career-making hit but marking the grave site of Generation X.
Dancing In The Dark is the lead off track and it is a "dead-on" rock anthem. Is this punk? Was it punk? Now it is a TV commercial, sports arena, high school dance staple. It has a bridge that sounds like U2 and an infecting ryhtym with hair/air-guitar bigness that trancends Generations, punk purism, pop afficianados. Alright, it is a good track. Now it is Billy Idol. Not Generation X.
The Untouchables is a decent, poppish, punk tune. It falls a little flat but has great english punk/pop guitar work. Lackluster but well made. Happy People has a reggae-spiced beat with a little more subduded style. A decent tune with some nice guitar work and an ESG-ish bass line, drum kick and echo. Heaven's Inside has is a slight rework of Dancing w/Myself meeting with The Replacements. Van Halen and Slash (Guns and Roses) chirping guitar makes it alright. But again this is punk? It is lackluster but a talented presentation. Triumph also sounds like a rework of the "hit". A good train trucking beat and echoing vocals of "triumph" sounds prime for a Idol remake of more epic proportions. Revenge is also has a reggae influence turned ballad. New wave keyboards and stratospheric guitar wails and gunshot drums make it a nice tune and Idol stretches his minimal range in a more settled and emotional pose. The title makes you think they would scream and sneer. I guess that is irony. That is punk, right?
The guitar in Stars Look Down shows the Siouxie influence. The start is engaging but like the other songs before it, it falls flat. There is nothing raw about it. This is punk? This an attempt at pop. Great guitar work mixing electric with over dubbed acoustic saves this tune that just can't find its thread. Can the drugs have something to do with it? Maybe the lack of rapport amongst the turnkey musicians who were just hired to get this work out as the band was falling apart in between nods, binges and other musical commitments?
Starting with a power chord call to arms, What Do You Want goes into a Clash-Black Cadillac/Crampish rock-a-billy guitar intro. A competent rocker with the more known Idol style vocals. The musicianship is good but it is just rock. It isn't punk and the pick-neck sliding guitar only proves that this is more metal than punk. Just another well crafted song for Idol to snarl and pump his fist into the air. Next is Poison with the John Lennon-Cold Turkey guitar riff (Gen X covered Lennon's Gimme Some Truth) it changes to a new wave bright guitar flare like Simple Minds. The song also gives Idol a chance to snarl in his trademark style but just can't seem to get what it is trying to do. The final track from the original album, Oh Mother, is in the hard rockin' NYC tradition of the Dictators or Dolls. The guitar work makes this cut slice through but I am so tired of Idol's limited range and " 'tude" I am not going to let it kill the great guitar work.
The bonus material included in the CD starts with Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Dubble which is billed as "eight minutes of experimental madness!". In reality, this is a dub remix of Happy People. Nothing experimental here but it is catchy and has some Pigbag percussion coming straight out of 1981. No Idol vocals but a echoing "Happy People" thrown in at key moments. Loopy Dub is second and a continuation of the same beat and "experimental madness" with some guitar and more Idol. Ugly Dub is another continuation on the remix theme. These bonuses are repetitive, catchy filler. The two live tracks are From The Heart and a cover of David Bowie's Andy Warhol. Heart is a good solid rocker. Overly echoed Idol vocals are a distraction but the great guitar work and solo give this tune more force then the studio material. Warhol is nowhere near as good as the original and Idol kills the recollection of Bowie's masterful delivery. Like the band this cover is a novelty.
I can see how Billy Joe Armstrong can say that this is his favorite punk album. This album has as much to do with punk as Green Day and all their "punk" pop comrades like Good Charlotte and New Found Glory. Are they punk or are they Pepsi commercials that market to a punk mindset in cozy, 21st-century, middle-class, suburban homes so they can be on "Cribs" and show off their "tricked-out" Hummer? Generation X has a lot of punk royalty on this record but it just doesn't come close to The Dead Kennedys, X, Sex Pistols, 999, The Clash, The Damned. There is no heart here, just all the trappings and trimmings of drug abuse, outfits, hair and groupies. One listen and you can tell that Billy Idol has moved on. In the beginning the band exploited an industry exploiting the talent but from Idol's solo career he turned out to be punks Johnny Bravo. Exploited by the industry to pay for his drug habit and hair dye then banishing him to the hell of leather vests, a hair style, a sneering smirk, and a fist thumping "rebel" yell to three songs. That will be his legacy. One of those tunes is a Gen X tune. Hey Billy, the eighties called- they want the look back.