Whiplash Smile

Billy Idol

Chrysalis, 1986


REVIEW BY: Mark Millan


By the mid 1980s, Billy Idol had become one of the most popular pop stars on the planet thanks to the string of hit singles that he enjoyed. Each of his videos was placed on heavy rotation on the MTV network. It was a role that he seemed born to play and he played it to perfection, complete with bleached platinum blonde hair, leather wardrobe, the permanent snarl/pout (albeit with tongue firmly in cheek) and an array of pretty women that seemingly accompanied him wherever he traveled. Idol was also an enthusiastic party animal who lapped up all of the ‘80s excesses with an insatiable appetite. 

If at times it seemed that Idol was all style over substance, that was a shame and probably due to his own behavior and the fact that he wouldn’t have cared anyway. I say a shame because anyone who has seen Idol perform live, myself included, will have witnessed a fantastic live performer who is surprisingly charismatic and engaging and also happens to be a bloody good singer. In the three years between the release of his second and third albums, Idol toured solidly and cemented his place among his peers as a stayer in a decade that was looking like the good times would never end.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

When the time came to write and record his third album, Idol again came up with the goods and supplied his label with a trio of hit records and MTV some more colorful videos with seemingly ridiculous ease. Musically, though, it appeared as the well was a little dry due to the fact that Idol was content with mid-tempo, highly stylized, synth-laden danceable tracks that again belied the fiery rock singer that took to the stage whenever he performed live. 

Whiplash Smile was again produced by Keith Forsey, and if Rebel Yell was patchy and uneven, then this record is just down-right boring. Too many of these tracks all sound the same as each other and Idol mostly just sounds like he was phoning it in. 

Of the hits, “To Be A Lover” is the most inspired, and if ever there was doubt that Idol was influenced by Elvis Presley, he removed all of it with his vocal performance here. “Don’t Need A Gun” isn’t a bad song but it should have been so much better and it never fulfills its obvious potential. “Sweet Sixteen” is the most radio-friendly and instantly accessible song that Idol has ever recorded and remains a nice sweet spot on what is a very disappointing album. 

“Worlds Forgotten Boy” and “Beyond Belief” are both beyond bad in my book and the incoherent “All Summer Single” is no better. I remember “Fatal Charm” from one of the A Nightmare On Elm Street movies that I loved so much as a kid, but that in no way implies that its anything but a standard filler track, one of thousands throughout the decade that labels threw to the Hollywood studios in the vain attempt of scoring cheap hits. 

Whiplash Smile delivered the goods but that is just a testament to Idol’s star power of the time. More than any other record of his, it was made for FM radio and MTV.

Rating: C-

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