STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
“This ain’t no ‘White Wedding;’ This ain’t no ‘Rebel Yell’ …,” sneered the liner notes of Billy Idol’s 1986 album “Whiplash Smile.”
However, a battle-scarred-but-physically-fit, older-and-wiser Idol, who is in concert at 8 p.m. Jan. 24 at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, does a convincing job of recapturing the swagger, snarl and fist pumping of those records on “Kings & Queens of the Underground,” his first album of new music in a decade. The presence of Idol’s long-time guitarist and songwriting partner Steve Stevens plays a key role in making it happen.
The time off has done him much good. Idol sounds particularly rejuvenated and energized on the tracks “Can’t Break Me Down” and “Save Me Now.”
He entrusted fellow Brit Trevor Horn — a member of The Buggles, Yes, and Art of Noise in the ‘80s — with producing “Kings & Queens of the Underground.” Considering Horn’s track record, which includes a producer Grammy Award for “Kiss from a Rose” by Seal in 1996, it was a smart choice. Smart choices were something Idol had been sorely lacking since the ‘90s — his delightful appearance in the movie “The Wedding Singer” notwithstanding.
Buggles/Yes/Asia keyboardist Geoff Downes joins the party on eight of the album’s 11 tracks. Another all-star in the lineup is Philly songwriter extraordinaire Eric Bazilian, who co-wrote the release’s driving, hooky leadoff track, “Bitter Pill.”
Back in the day, the “no future” refrain from The Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” summed up the Billy Idol credo. But somehow managing to out-punk punk rock philosophy, here Idol is in 2015, staring down his 60th birthday (this November), and living to tell the tale in the autobiography “Dancing with Myself,” which hit the shelves back in October.
Not known for employing cathartic lyrics in his dance-punk signature sound, when Billy Idol sings “I trusted a priest/I fell to his feet; and he raised me up there/then cut me off at the knees” on “Save Me Now,” it gets your attention.
“I never thought I was gonna die/until I stared into God’s eyes; He said to me, “Well come on, son/better shape up, boy, your days are done,” he sings on “Whiskey and Pills,” which hints that he may not have entirely shaken the clutches of his old vices.
The song “Kings & Queens of the Underground” is like the Cliff’s Notes version of Idol’s book, referencing his old band Generation X, MTV, and his hits “Eyes Without a Face” and “Hot in the City.” Sonically the ballad setting of the title track stands out, with atypical-for-Idol classical guitar, flutes and orchestral strings. In a similar vein is the acoustic-guitar-driven “Ghosts in My Guitar.” He pulls another rabbit out of the hat by copy-and-pasting from the U2 songwriting manual with “Love and Glory.”
Or how about the verse from “Eyes Wide Shut” that goes: “The social network betrayed my dreams; You met with another guy/my mind starts to scream”? By the way, Idol is on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.
Like the confessional nature of an autobiographical book, the recurring theme of the album is reconciling one’s past. It presents the William Michael Albert Broad survivor story in a way that makes you wonder how he made it out of the hedonistic ‘80s. “I’ve played every game/and yes, I walked into hell,” he sings on “Ghosts in My Guitar.”
A verse from “Kings & Queens of the Underground” goes: “Sold all my vinyl/it went up my arm; and I thought rock ‘n’ roll couldn’t do me no harm.”
Note that the iTunes version of the album comes with the bonus track “Hollywood Promises,” and the videos on the content-rich www.billyidol.net are recommended viewing.
Tickets for the concert range from $35-$69.50. Call (215) 922-1011.