Devil's Playground

Billy Idol

Sanctuary Records, 2005

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


Early in 2005, '80s superstar Billy Idol attempted a big comeback after more than a decade outside of the media spotlight. Due to classic songs like "White Wedding,""Dancing With Myself" and "Rebel Yell," Idol has retained a modicum of enduring popularity that many artists who were popular during the 1980s can only envy. In 1993 Idol released a somewhat experimental rock album with techno influences that was savagely thrashed by the media and promptly sank without a trace on the charts, banishing the once mighty rocker to 12 years in obscurity during the era of grunge and nu-metal.

As the 21st century began, a wave of '80s nostalgia began to take root in popular culture, giving many long forgotten bands who were hallmarks of that era a new lease on life. This resurgence, combined with an explosion of pop-punk, was apparently the right atmosphere in which the long-since washed up Mr. Idol felt his comeback would mostly likely succeed.

Enter Devil's Playground. The first sign of trouble comes at about 20 seconds into the opening track, "Super Overdrive," with a chorus lifted straight from Green Day's recent hit, "American Idiot," and the skeptic in me began to wonder whether or not this album would be one of those unfortunate cases of a veteran artist desperately trying to appear current by copying the very bands that he himself influenced.

My fears were quickly confirmed -- the entirety of Devil's Playgroundmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 is a sad, embarrassing portrait of a once-decent artist pathetically trying to fit in with current musical trends and failing miserably at every single aspect.

At his peak, Billy Idol's songs were catchy, well-constructed pop-rock songs with a moody, seductive edge topped by his distinctive vocal style and personality. None of these new songs possess the qualities that Idol is known for. In fact, it's been quite some time since I've heard an album so soullessly conniving and cynical in intent, as opposed to serving an artistic need.

Just picture a band like Green Day or Blink-182 at their most obnoxious and multiply that factor by a thousand at the very least and you'll get an accurate idea of what this disc sounds like. A frat party couldn't handle the sheer amount of ridiculous macho posturing put forth in truckloads by the now 50-year-old Idol, who is clearly trying to over-compensate and winds up producing quite possibly the most annoying, juvenile vocal performance I've ever heard.

To make matters worse, his old pal Steve Stevens, who played guitar on and co-wrote many of Idol's '80s albums, is once again in tow yet makes an impression no less awful than the singer himself. Like Idol, Stevens over-compensates throughout Devil's Playground for advancing age and wasted years by playing far too aggressively. This is also a product of overcompression, a disease that has infested popular music in the production process in the past decade wherein volume levels are maxed to make an album sound as loud and powerful as possible, burying whatever interesting subtle details lie in the music's composition to virtually inaudible levels.

In this case, though, that hardly matters because the songwriting is as safe and generic as possible. Every last guitar riff and vocal melody found on this disc is something you've heard a million times before, and usually done far better. The endless parade of predictable chord sequences gave me the impression that Idol and Stevens memorized a "how to write a pop song" book before embarking on the writing and recording process, and enduring the fruit of their labour is a torturous task to say the least. The only song that even remotely evokes vintage Billy Idol is "Scream," which unfortunately winds up falling prey to the same phony, gratingly over-the-top posing that infests all the other tracks. And the album ends with a couple of acoustic ballads that reach saccharine levels so jarringly obscene that Diane Warren sounds like Diamanda Galas in comparison.

Poor Billy. Cyberpunk is a masterpiece compared to Devil's Playground. This is likely the worst possible comeback by a once-decent veteran artist. Anyone expecting the addictive Billy Idol personality of old will not find it here, and until he wakes up and acts like himself, it's never coming back. This is the work of an old man who has turned his back on dignity and doesn't realize that the joke is on him as a result. I feel sorry for the blowhard.

Rating: F

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2005 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sanctuary Records, and is used for informational purposes only.