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Billy Idol - Devil's Playground 
By David E. Demarest

Billy’s Back.  

Since the height of his 1980’s fame, Billy Idol has almost died twice, three times if you count the 1993 release of the album “Cyber Punk.” And when you consider that his bad boy rock and roll contemporary Ozzy Osbourne has become more famous for his stumbling and mumbling reality show than for his rock performances, is it really even fair to expect much from Billy’s latest release “Devil’s Playground?”  I have to admit that I had my doubts, but they vanished within the first few notes of the album’s opener, ‘Super Overdrive.’  

The remarkable thing about “Devil’s Playground” is that it isn’t just an album for long time Billy Idol fans- tracks on this record will recruit an entirely new generation of Billy Idol fans to the alter.  In a time when many music listeners don’t know what they are thirsty for, Billy Idol has shot back with the antidote for stale music.  At 49 years old, Idol is both literally and musically a man among boys.  His newest album is composed not of the whiney, plaintive, mews of rebellion we’ve come to expect from mainstream punk rock, but of the voice of a man: Strong and authoritative; a man who’s rebel yell can be heard clear and true, rising with and above some really rippin guitar work by bandmate Steve Stevens.

‘Super Overdrive’ gets “Devil’s Playground” in gear with powerful, fast driving guitar work and the question “Does he still have the magic?”  Even before he answers “Yes he does!” the listener will know that it’s true from Billy’s voice, ringing clear and strong, with much of his trademark gravel, but perhaps even more power than in his earlier years.  If anything, ‘World Coming Down’ picks up the pace, and is nothing but a classic punk rock hit.  Continuing into ‘Rat Race,’ Billy drops the tempo for a beat before picking it back up and emphasizing both the power and the finesse that this band can deliver.  By this time, any Idol fan should already be sold.  The sound is both new and familiar, mature and unexpectedly brilliant.  

Although track 6, ‘Scream,’ is not my favorite song on the album, it is expected to be released as the album’s first single.  It should be an easy pill to swallow for Idol fans, hard rocking and driven as it is, with plenty of Billy’s unique scream and twice that amount of attitude.  The truth is, with only one or two exceptions, every song on the album is solid, and in a few, such as ‘Lady Do or Die,’ which could have been a Johnny Cash tune, Billy reveals a new side of himself musically.

The exceptions to this overall very good album should be noted of course.  Track 5 is ‘Plastic Jesus,’ which most people will recognize having heard before sung as a folk tune.  Let’s face it, the only thing that ever made that song work is the clever juxtaposition of folk music and religious sacrilege.  On it’s own, or as a rocker, it’s just not much of a song. (I know you’re thinking “You can’t talk to Billy like that!” but it’s not even an Idol song, so I’m sticking to my guns.)  Another eyebrow raiser is the holiday song ‘Yellin at the Xmas Tree.’  Don’t get me wrong, I like the song, but a February release is just weird timing for a December hit.  Finally, and again, not a bad song by any means, but ‘Cherie’ comes off sounding weirdly like a Neil Diamond song.  Perhaps because of the tambourine and possible clap track serving as much of the rhythm.  In any case, it just sounds too pop to be Billy Idol.

None of these distractions manage to take away from the main thrust of the album though, and by the time ‘Summer Running’ wraps things up perfectly, you’ll be wondering why the hell Billy ever went away.  

ps- GREAT as a driving album.

CD Info 

Billy Idol - Devil's Playground
Label: Sanctuary
Release Date: March 22, 2005
Super Overdrive
World Comin' Down
Rat Race
Plastic Jesus
Yellin' At The Xmas Tree
Romeo's Waiting
Body Snatcher
Evil Eye
Lady Do Or Die
Summer Running
Listen to samples and Purchase this CD online

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