After ‘Charmed Life’, Billy wanted to do something different. He didn’t want to keep repeating his previous work over and over again. Let me tell you he completely succeeded. The album is nothing like his previous work and I think was way ahead of its time. ‘Cyberpunk’ delivered Billy’s most experimental and most controversial album.
Billy became fascinated with technology and the cyberpunk movement of the early 90’s. He saw how the advancement could be used to make music and in fact, this was one of the first albums to use ProTools for almost the entire recording of the album. He felt the use of the computers allowed him to do things faster and he felt it gave the whole feel of a garage band. I don’t know about that last part, but it was the very early stages of how albums and music would be recorded down the road.
When he released the single for “Shock to the System” he released it with a 3 1/2″ Floppy Disc. MP’s eat your heart out. The disc housed pictures, bios and all the things you now see issued in todays electronic press kits (EPK). He was also was one of the first albums to actually have an email address in the booklet that came with the album (don’t try it, it no longer works).
Now, of course with being ahead of your time, you get a lot of haters. The whole Cyberpunk scene attacked Billy (not literally) and declared him a poser who was only using the Cyber Culture movement as a way to make money. They emailed him relentlessly and bashed the album and everything about it.
The critics and the buying public must have agreed as reviews and sales of this album were some of his worse. The change from the heavy rock guitar to the electronica sound turned a lot of people off from the music. Hell, even I didn’t give it much chance back in the day. But now…I see Billy saw what the future held with this one and it is truly an incredible and an experimental piece of work that is way better than people gave it credit for.
The whole concept album idea doesn’t really work with the futuristic themes, but the songs do when you just focus on the music. You hear hints of the old Billy and that sound, but you also get a more adventurous Billy who is willing to take risks and chances with his music. It might not always be a hit, but for me there are more hits than misses. I don’t care about the whole concept of the album, you have to ignore that and just enjoy the songs for what they are.
The opening intro is based on Gareth Branwyn’s “Is There a Cyberpunk Movement (1992)” and is a manifesto of what is to come. Gareth was also used as a consulted to learn more of the cyber movement. The opening track is “Wasteland” which is a techno-wonder of grooves and beats mixed with Billy’s trademark vocals and growls plus some killer guitar work by Mark Younger-Smith (and there will be a lot of that).
The next song up is Track 4 which is the song and sole hit from the album “Shock to the System”. This is the only song Billy ever plays and the only one to ever show up on Greatest Hits compilations which is a shame. “Shock” was inspired by the 1992 Riots in L.A. with the excessive forced used on Rodney King and the four officers being acquitted. This song is more like old Billy and probably why it was a hit. It is the most recognizable song probably to the average fan. The song is upbeat, fast-driving and hard hitting. Everything you want form an Idol song.
“Tomorrow People” is up next and even includes a very brief little Billy Rap right after a blistering guitar solo from Mark. And let me tell you, I love the little rap. Billy belts out the lyrics with a little effect on the vocals along side a nice synthesized groove with all sorts of sound effects going off in the background as well as nice little guitar parts mixed in. It is fantastic blend of sounds and styles. One of my favorites on the album.
“Adam in Chains” is a beast with two halves. The first half is about a 3 minute hypnosis technique that is cheesy and painful to make it through. I wish they would have made it its own track so I could just have the other half which is the song and a good one at that, but it is hard making it through that first part. When the song comes, it keeps that same hypnotic feel which is now musical. Billy’s vocals are slow and also hypnotic. It is an interesting song.
The next track, “Neuromancer” was inspired by the book of the same name written by William Gibson which is a science fiction novel and part of the cyberpunk movement. It follows a computer hacker and his adventures. This is another techno-filled song and full of dance beats and electronic sound effects along with another cool guitar riff by Mark towards the end. I like the beats and the pacing of the song as it keeps you moving even if it has some cheesy aspects to it such as the computerized vocals chanting “Age of Destruction” multiple times.
The keyboard heavy, dance beat song “Power Junkie” is really cool as Billy goes full-on beast mode with the vocals. The punk attitude, the growl and I am sure the bend of that lip is in full force with this one. I love the energy and feel and another favorite of mine on this album.
“Love Labours On” ends the first half of the album. A slower paced song where Mark’s guitar work is key for me. Yes, it has all the techno effects like everything else, but when Mark’s guitar kicks in, it brings it back to the rock side. A nice change of pace from the previous songs and as the song goes along, Billy gets more into the song and a couple of screams from him really get you into it as well.
The second half of the albums kicks off with a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” written by Lou Reed. Billy took the song and turned it on its ass and danced it up in full on techno style. It is almost unrecognizable from the original. This was the first single off the album and I can see why it didn’t do all that great as it is a complete left turn from his previous work. I can’t say I dug this at all is it goes on for almost 7 minutes (like the original), however, the intent and real meaning of the song are lost.
Then we get to “Shangrila” with its Indian musical influences and I am completely lost left feeling like what the hell am I listening to here. For me, the song doesn’t fit in the context of everything else. It is too experimental and misses the boat for me.
Luckily, “Concrete Kingdom” comes in and saves the day for me. The uptempo dance beats and sounds get me moving again. I think Billy sounds good on this one and I like the chorus along with the rhythmic beats of the drum machine. It is different enough, but not too different and then you even get a little of Mark’s guitar back on this one.
Continuing with the weaker back half, we get “Venus” and is another song I couldn’t connect with. It felt like filler and I am not sure if I know what was going on with it. It is too slow and the pacing is just not something I could find enjoyable. Too dull.
Now we are back with more of a Billy sound with “Then the Night Comes” and thankfully as the back half was losing me. Yes, you still have the techno stuff, but it feels like Billy. I don’t know it is as good as “Shock”, but it is up there even if it is a little generic. It is still danceable and fun which is what I like about Billy’s songs.
And the last track is “Mother Dawn”. “Mother Dawn” is an interesting song that opens with a lady singing and she probably represents “Mother Dawn”. The song then kicks into heavy dance mode full of all sorts of effects and Billy and the lady sing together. It is kind of cheesy and I am not sure I like the song that much.
And there you have it. I didn’t focus on the interludes as the whole concept album thing doesn’t work for me. I just focused on the songs and that was when I found how much I liked the album as whole.
- Intro (Manifesto)
- Wasteland – Keeper
- Interlude 1 (Pre-Shock)
- Shock to the System – Keeper
- Tomorrow People – Keeper
- Adam in Chains – Delete 1st half / Keeper 2nd half
- Neuromancer – Keeper
- Power Junkie – Keeper
- Interlude 2 (That Which Beareth Thorns)
- Love Labours On – Keeper
- Heroin – Delete
- Interlude 3 (Injection)
- Shangrila – Delete
- Concrete Kingdom – Keeper
- Interlude 4 (Galaxy Within)
- Venus – Delete
- Then the Night Comes – Keeper
- Interlude 5 (Before Dawn)
- Mother Dawn – Delete
Alright, let’s go through the track list score. I am only counting the songs and none of the interludes and that leaves 13 tracks. So, I score the tracks as 8 1/2 out of 13 tracks or 65%. Now that is passing, but I really like the songs that are on here. I do think the back half is pretty weak and the whole concept album part of it stinks, but there were a ton a great songs and some still some great guitar work. Billy’s does get an A for effort as I liked the fact he stepped out of the box a lot with this on even if it didn’t always work.
I think the album is way better than I gave it credit for back in the day. It was ahead of its time I guess. I would score the overall album 3.5 out of 5.0 Stars as it definitely isn’t his worst album and there a ton of enjoyable moments. I wish he played more of these songs and it is too bad so many people missed out on some great stuff. This was a time when 80’s acts had to do something different in the 90’s thanks to the changing landscape and Billy took a swing for the fence and I think did really great. Hell, Def Leppard did it a year or two later with ‘Slang’ and that is one of my favorite albums by them.
After this album, Billy had major issues with his record label and we wouldn’t see another Billy studio album for 12 years. it wasn’t until 2005 before we would get new music. But when we do, we will get Steve Stevens back in the fold. Before that though, we have some other stuff to discuss. Until then….
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 song “Speed” from the movie Speed’s Soundtrack