Devil's Playground Billy Idol
by Scott "Dr. Music" Itter

Track listing:
1. Super Overdrive 2. World Comin' Down 3. Rat Race 4. Sherri 5. Plastic Jesus
6. Scream 7. Yellin' at the Xmas Tree 8. Romeo's Waiting 9. Body Snatcher
10. Evil Eye 11. Lady Do or Die 12. Cherie 13. Summer Running

Label: Sanctuary Records / Release Date: March 22, 2005 / Overall rating: 8

Comeback. It's a strange word that we use every chance we get. I think we get an extra large kick out of someone who fails when attempting to stage one too. It's been over 10 years since Billy Idol has released a full album of original material. 1993's pathetic "Cyberpunk" disc was the last offering before he released a Greatest Hits package in 2001, which featured a new cover of Simple Minds' hit "Don't You (Forget About Me)." This new disc is, at the very least, a comeback. Heck, most people need hypnosis to recollect any memories whatsoever. And don't lie . . . you want this to be an outdated, lame attempt from an aging overweight "has been." Well, prepare yourself, because this may very well be Billy Idol's best record.

Many of you may be asking why the long absence from the music scene in which he has previously garnered five platinum-plus albums. As he put it, "I had a couple of kids (teenage son Willem Wolfe and young daughter Bonnie Blue) and laid back during all the grunge stuff. I thought, 'God, how can I compete with that?' " Idol joins forces with his longtime guitarist and writing partner Steve Stevens to put out a classic sounding Billy Idol album. He gets every element that makes the distinctive Billy Idol sound working here. Bassist Stephen McGrath plays his parts in an even tempo with that perfect Billy Idol tone/drone. Drummer Brian Tichy adds his crisp, rock solid rumbling to round out the critical rhythm section chemistry. But I don't think it ends there. Sure you have an excellent rhythm section that captures that trademark Idol sound perfectly, and you have Stevens on guitar, but most importantly you get Keith Forsey producing this one. Forsey is the essential element needed to make a Billy Idol record sound like a Billy Idol record. Forsey gets that exquisite echo effect going for Billy's vocal tracks, and pumps up that deep pulsing bass to create a beautiful rebirth for a lost rock hero.

Nobody has really taken the punk, metal and pop genres and mixed them as brilliantly as Billy Idol. He is the master, and he displays the unique sound throughout this record. We find a supercharged Idol on the leadoff track, "Super Overdrive." It is evident from the first second of this record that Idol has not lost a thing on the vocal end. As he growls "In the Devil's Playground with an Idol mind" a capella to start the track, the band waits in the wings for about three seconds before they explode into the mix. Strap yourself in, put the fist out there, and get the right side of your lip to touch your nose because we're ready to light it up. As the frenetic pace is maintained into the second track, "World Comin' Down", you get the feeling of the teacher learning from the student. Billy Idol gave birth to bands like The Offspring and Green Day, and this tune sounds like something from one of those bands. Not really the typical Billy Idol formula, but still remains honest, and true to his capabilities. As he cruises into "Rat Race" we get the classic Idol song the slow crooning that escalates to a controlled scream for the animalistic chorus. "Scream" and "Body Snatcher" are also songs that incorporate all of those same vintage Idol elements. It's a beautiful thing. We get more than that though. We get Idol delivering the biggest hook of his career with "Sherri"; we get a comical Christmas pop song with "Yellin' At The Christmas Tree"; a classic eighties flashback with "Romeo's Waiting"; and, we get Idol's best Jim Morrison impression with "Evil Eye."

We also see the effect of what doing the VH1 Storytellers had on Billy here. He serves up an abundance of acoustic fringed songs here. The first being a dull cover of Ernie Mars' "Plastic Jesus", which is a song that is average at best. The last three tracks of the record devote themselves to the acoustic influence also, although these are much more appealing. "Lady Do Or Die" is a Johnny Cash "spaghetti western", complete with the mention of train whistles and tumbleweeds; "Cherie" is a lamenting Idol proclaiming his love with pure acoustic pop; and "Summer Running" starts as a tender ballad that later explodes with the full fury of some of your heaviest Idol tracks. These last three are decent songs, but the placement leaves something to be desired. The triple threat at the end of the record impedes the flow of the whole album really. I think the entire record would sound better if these songs were juggled a bit. We get a full plate of music with this one though, and any fan of Idol's previous material should eat most of this up.

Billy Idol shows no signs of slowing down not with his music, nor with his appearance. Still sporting the bleached spiky hair and the six pack abs, make no mistake . . . this guy is still vital.