Monday, November 14, 2011

Try to categorize "Whiplash Smile"

In a previous post, I implicitly stated that Billy Idol both was a rocker and was not a rocker.

Allow me to explain.

Billy Idol was, in several ways, a punk. He emerged from the punk scene, a former Sex Pistols fan and former leader of the band Generation X. He was noted for castigating old stalwarts Led Zeppelin in a recording studio (the incident is recorded in at least one Led Zeppelin biography). And, of course, Idol had the spiky hair, the leather, and the punky pseudonym.

But when you start actually listening to his third album, Whiplash Smile, there's nothing punk about it.

For starters, punks usually don't align themselves with guitar heroes. But for a good chunk of his solo career, Billy Idol sought active collaboration from ace guitarist Steve Stevens.

Did that mean that Idol was going to rock out? Hardly. Take a listen to the songs on "Side Five" of Whiplash Smile. The punker and the rocker start with "Worlds Forgotten Boy," filled with drum machine beats and synths overlaid by Steven's solos. Then they move on to dance music with their remake of "To Be a Lover." The live/synth overlay formula continues on "Soul Standing By," except that this time the result is much more metallic. Then Idol and Stevens take a grand detour into my favorite Idol song of all time, "Sweet Sixteen," in which Idol sneers over a type of electro-folk. By the time the somewhat more traditional "Man for All Seasons" comes along, you've reached the conclusion that Idol/Stevens is the antithesis of punk. Move on to "Side Six," and just imagine Idol playing "Don't Need a Gun" or "All Summer Single" sandwiched between some Ramones and Pistols songs - he'd be booed off the stage.

However, it seems that "Whiplash Smile" is kind of like "Total Devo" - I seem to be the only person who actually likes the album. Allmusic's Johnny Loftus:

There's plenty to listen for on Whiplash Smile, and Idol's attempt to expand his palette is admirable. Unfortunately, there's nary a memorable hook here outside of the single and whatever mileage can be gained from his trademark sneer. In that sense, Whiplash Smile is similar to so much music of the decade, which got by with rayon flash and giddy video posturing but little in the way of reality.

Yes, I am at war with the professional reviewers. Some things never change.
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