Billy Idol’s world was different now after ‘Whiplash Smile’ and ‘Vital Idol’. Steve Stevens was gone, his manager Bill Aucoin was gone and he needed a fresh start. After reconciling with his girlfriend, Perri Lister, they moved from New York City to Los Angeles to give things a go.
Billy and Perri had a baby boy, Billy bought himself a motorcycle, Billy got the acting bug and Billy couldn’t stay faithful to Perri. A lot was going on. Oh yeah, and he continued to use drugs. So, where to begin. I will give a Cliff Notes version as it would be a rather long synopsis if I didn’t.
I guess we will go with the fact that he had a baby and was now a dad, but it didn’t seem to stop his infidelity. He continually cheated on Perri and even fell for a girl 13 years younger than him. Well, he knocked her up and she gave Billy a beautiful baby girl. This of course was the end of Billy & Perri when she found out.
Billy also met a lot of people in the movie business and actually got a big role in the Oliver Stone movie ‘The Doors’ about Jim Morrison and the band. But before he could do that role, Billy went and had himself a little motorcycle accident which nearly cost him one of his legs. As a result, he couldn’t do the role and had to settle for a much lesser role in the movie. In fact, it was so bad he wasn’t able to promote his new album he had been working on called ‘Charmed Life’. He did appear in the video for the first single (more on that later), but not much else.
Enough of his personal life, let’s get to what really matters here and that is the music. It has been 4 years since his last studio album as we are now in 1990. The only constant in his musical world was his record producer. Although Steve Stevens was long gong, his producer, Keith Forsey, was still at the helm. The new album was critical for him as he had to prove that he could do this without Steve Stevens on guitar and was Billy still Billy without Steve.
Well, the short answer is yes. Now that Steve was gone and it was a new Billy, the Album Side numbers stopped that was done on the first 3 studio albums. It was now back to normal Side A and Side B. The album titled ‘Charmed Life’ came from all this going on this life. After the accident, Billy really spiraled down for awhile and when he came out the other side, he felt ‘Charmed Life’ was an appropriate title.
“The Loveless” is the opening track. The song was inspired by the 1982 movie of the same name starring Willem Dafoe (which is where he came up with the name for his son, William). Billy felt it was a fitting title for the song as it described his feelings of loneliness and being disconnected from everything. It is not a strong, rock track for the opening song, but it had a good groove and beat and Billy sounded great.
The next song, “Pumping on Steel” would have been a better opening track with the slow build and the climactic drum fill that blasts the song into another level. With Mark Younger-Smith on guitar, Billy showed the music could still have some great guitar work on it. The song is about a simple thing…screwing on a motorcycle. See, getting himself a motorcycle helped let Billy write a great song!!
“Prodigal Blues” has a haunting quality as if someone had past and this was an elegy to said person. There is definitely a sadness to the song. And yet, the song is fantastic. It’s slower tempo does pick up a little and Billy delivers a great ballad.
Producer/Director, Michael Mann was filming a TV movie called L.A. Takedown and he needed a song for the movie. Billy agreed to record a cover of the Doors song, “L.A. Woman”. Here is what Billy says of the song…
“We did a very up-tempo, cocaine-driven version that sped along a little differently than the original Doors version, which was a slightly slower barroom honky-tonk piano boogie.” (from Dancing With Myself Autobiography)
The final song on Side A is “Trouble with the Sweet Stuff”. A 6 minute epic torch song with some serious bass work and great guitar work. A little slower paced rocker with some female backing vocals and an overall fantastic tune. Billy is admitting his love for…well…the sweet stuff and his addiction to sex I believe. And after reading that book, I would say he has a problem!!
Side B opens with one of Billy’s biggest hits, “Cradle of Love”. The song was for the Andrew Dice Clay movie, ‘The Adventures of Ford Fairlane’. The song is about a whole slew of cradle-robbing rockers like Jerry Lee Lewis. It is a classic Billy Idol song and has everything you know and love about his sound. It showed he could do it without Steve Stevens, Hell, the song went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The video for the song was spectacular. It won an MTV award for best video for a film. It was directed by David Fincher and poor Billy didn’t appear a whole lot and could only be viewed from the waist up due to his injury from the motorcycle accident. The video is about a young teenager seducing a business man and it was quite entertaining to say the least.
“Mark of Caine” is up next and an unusual tune and quite different than everything else. The vocals are almost spoken at times. It doesn’t ever really get going as it seems to build up to something, but never delivers. It isn’t bad, but not my favorite on the album.
“Endless Sleep” is another cover song and this time it is a Death Song from the 50’s. The song was originally by Jody Reynolds in 1958. The song was about a teenager who after a go with his girlfriend, she winds up missing and gone forever. Billy modernizes the sound, but keeps an eeriness to it that is both beautiful and disturbing. It is a really cool song.
Billy picks up the tempo with “Love Unchained”. The song is a great deep cut with a good beat, danceable track. A guitar solo thrown in and a lot of Billy’s growl and attitude.
“The Right Way” is another great cut. From the opening snare machine gun at the beginning to the guitar riff and Billy’s great vocal delivery, the song chugs along and keeps the train rolling with a good time. I am sorry…Steven who!!!
And finally we get to the last track, “License to Thrill”. The album ends with another uptempo rocker which had all guns a blazing with the best guitar work on the album, killer keyboards and pure Billy screaming on the vocals. A helluva way to end the album. Non-stop action and it did thrill.
- The Loveless – Keeper
- Pumping on Steel – Keeper
- Prodigal Blues – Keeper
- L.A. Woman – Keeper
- Trouble With the Sweet Stuff – Keeper
- Cradle of Love – Keeper
- Mark of Caine – Delete
- Endless Sleep – Keeper
- Love Unchained – Keeper
- The Right Way – Keeper
- License to Thrill – Keeper
The track score is 10 out of 11 or 91%. There was only one misstep and it only missed by the skin of its teeth. As far as quality of the songs on the album, it easily gets a 4.4 out 5.0 Stars. Production was fantastic, the songs were top notch and the guitar sound was way more than I expected. After the disappointing, ‘Whiplash Smile’…well disappointing to me, this album came out with a bang and stayed in heavy rotation for a long time when I originally picked this up back in the day. And I spun it a ton for this review. Billy proved that he could do this without Steve Stevens on guitar. But for how long before it falls apart.
If you want to check out the other reviews I have done so far for the Billy Idol Series, click the links below:
Up next will be Billy Idol’s ‘Cyberpunk’.