After Billy’s last greatest hits album “Idolize Yourself”, things went quiet. From 2010 – 2014, Billy worked on the next project. Along that same timeframe, he was also working on a book that chronicle his life called “Dancing with MySelf”. The album and book were both released in October 2014 and I guess you could say the album was a soundtrack to that new book.
For me, the album, called ‘King & Queens of the Underground’, should have been called ‘Postcards from the Past’ as the songs seem to have that retrospective feel and were snapshots of his life and career. There is a lot of soul-searching going and it feels like a cathartic exercise in releasing his demons. It was the perfect companion piece for the book.
For the recording of the album, Billy worked mostly with Trevor Horn of the famed band, The Buggles. Keith Forsey, who produced most of Billy’s album was not back for this one. I don’t think there were any issues, I believe Billy was wanting to explore new ground. Trevor brought Billy back to 80’s sound more so than the ‘Devil’s Playground’ did. There were a little more synthesizers/keyboards than in the past and it was utilized perfectly.
After most of the tracks were done, Billy felt it wasn’t quite complete and he reached out to Greg Kurstin to write a couple songs. Those two songs turned out to be the singles from the album. Greg produced them as well and then the album was complete.
The album is one of Billy’s finest achievements mainly because it was an album I never expected. It went above and beyond all expectations that this late in his career (almost 40 years at this point), that he could put out something that captured the essence of Billy Idol. He sounded fresh, reinvigorated and passionate. Yes, the lyrics can be a little cliche’d but for whatever reason, Billy nailed it!
The album is a beautiful 2LP set with a wonderful gatefold (pictures of the inside are above). The LP was only 3 sides though with only 11 songs, no need for a fourth side. So, what to do with that 4th Side? You do an etching of Billy of course…
There was an insert in the set with the song lyrics and song credits. But there was something weird about it. There are 11 songs on the album, however, the sheet only gives us lyrics for 9. Where did the other 2 songs go? They are Billy’s songs so why not have lyrics? Very confusing. The other side was blank. I wonder if there was a printing error as that would be cool.
Okay, I think it is time we get to the music since that is what we are really here for anyway. Like all reviews, we will start with Side A…
The opening track, “Bitter Pill” is a perfect driving song. It talks about going through life using the open road and driving lyrics to paint the picture. It is classic Billy only with a little more modern sound. It is catchy, fast paced and a blast. You get Steve’s signature guitar playing thrown in for good measure.
The first single was “Can’t Break Me Down” and really a stand-out track. It comes out with blazing speed and a fast-pounding drum beat. Billy sounds so young on this song. I am amazed at how high he gets with the notes as he normally tends to sing a little lower as he ages. It is full on dance, pop song that harkens back to Billy in the 80’s and would have fit nicely in that timeline.
Now, the second single, “Save Me Now”, and what has become one of my all time favorite Billy tracks. I know, that is a big statement, but I truly feel it is one of his best…if not his best!! The song is a longing for a love to return and save him from his struggles in life. He spills out his heart in telling her he needs her and can’t wait. She needs to come right now and help save me because he can’t do it all by himself. It is Billy singing with such passion and heart (especially on that chorus) that it draws you in and I connected with the song instantly.
“One Breath Away” is the first of numerous song written with band mates Steve Stevens and Billy Morrison. They monopolize the rest of the album. This is pure 80’s sounding bliss. There are colors in there that remind of “Eyes Without a Face” and you can never have too much of that one. Steve’s guitar solo on this one is so innovative and it almost sounds like it is made with a keyboard, but it is Steve bringing the heat.
Now, what would you get if you “Rebel Yell” with “White Wedding” got together and had a baby? I think you would probably get this song, “Postcards From the Past”. For me, this should have been the title of the album as it is a representation of what this whole album is all about. It is a rock song that makes you want to dance, isn’t that what you want with Billy’s songs. This is another standout track and is pure fun and excitement with great dance beats, Steve’s blistering guitar and Billy’s attitude!! Perfect!!
The title track is next, “Kings & Queens of the Underground”. It is a ballad full of acoustic guitars and flutes! Yes, flutes! It is full of references to Billy’s career, his songs, is lyrics. It is cheesy and cliched and yet, I still like it. It is not the best song for all those reasons, but there is something about the flutes (and the song) that is hypnotic and you can’t help but get sucked in to the song.
Another favorite track of mine is “Eyes Wide Shut”. Another retrospective song, but this one is about finding out about a lovers infidelity on social media…Yikes!! A modern song full of heartache and pain. He paints a truly dramatic picture with the lyrics and the music is so sad and adds to that drama. Truly beautiful.
He keeps it slow with more acoustic guitar on “Ghosts in My Guitar” which finds Billy looking back at his past and remembering friends throughout his life. It isn’t all sadness as the beat is a little cheerful and shows it isn’t all doom and gloom. Steve does plug in for the solo and lifts the song up. It isn’t the best song on the album, but it is enjoyable enough for repeat listens.
“Nothing to Fear” kicks off the last side of the album. Billy has a lot of effects put on his vocals and the whole song sounds more modern and nothing like the Billy of old. It doesn’t feel out of place either. This sounds like a heavy influenced Trevor Horn song, not a “Video Killed the Radio Star” sound, but there are a lot of keyboards and synth sounds and gives it a little darker almost melancholy vibe.
With “Love and Glory”, I could have sworn it was going to be a Bad Company song. I thought it was “Feels Like Making Love” with how it began. That feeling didn’t last long as he got further in to the song, but I was fooled for a second. It isn’t one of my favorites, yet it is saved by Steve’s guitar playing and some of the energy that the song gets towards the end.
The album ended on a extremely high note with “Whiskey And Pills”. An explosive song that races through and destroys everything that hears it. It is one of the heaviest tracks and is a straight-up rock and roll blast!! If I am not mistaken it is a leftover track from ‘Devil’s Playground’ and wouldn’t have fit on that album, but it sends this album out with a bang!!!
- Bitter Pill – Keeper
- Can’t Break Me Down – Keeper
- Save Me Now – Keeper
- One Breath Away – Keeper
- Postcards From the Past – Keeper
- Kings & Queens of the Underground – Keeper
- Eyes Wide Shut – Keeper
- Ghosts in My Guitar – Keeper (barely – 1/2 point)
- Nothing to Fear – Keeper
- Love and Glory – Keeper (barely – 1/2 point)
- Whiskey And Pills – Keeper
The track score for this one will end up being 10 out of 11 or 91%. If it wasn’t for the somewhat enjoyable songs of “Ghosts on My Guitar” and “Love and Glory”, it would have gotten a 100%, but wasn’t meant to be.
Now overall score for the album is going to be high, but how high. How do I rate among all his others is a tough call. I found this to be one of his best albums and at this late in his career it is amazing. I love the retrospective feel to the album, I loved the sonics, I loved almost everything about it. It is a modern album, that feels like classic Billy Idol. For that I am going to give it a 4.5 out of 5.0 Stars. I think this is the third album I have done with that score and so we will see it where winds up on the Ranking at the end of the series.
If you want to check out the other reviews I have done so far for the Billy Idol Series, click the links below:
- Generation X – ‘Generation X’
- Generation X – ‘Valley of the Dolls’
- Gen X – ‘Kiss Me Deadly’
- Generation X – ‘The BBC Transcription Disc Series No. 126 1978’
- Billy Idol – Don’t Stop E.P.
- Billy Idol – Billy Idol
- Billy Idol – Rebel Yell
- Billy Idol – Whiplash Smile
- Billy Idol – Vital Idol
- Billy Idol – Charmed Life
- Billy Idol – Cyberpunk
- Billy Idol – “Speed” (song from the Speed Soundtrack)
- Generation X – K.M.D. Sweet Revenge
- Billy Idol – VH1 Storytellers (Live)
- Billy Idol – Devil’s Playground
- Billy Idol – Happy Holidays
- Billy Idol – The Very Best of Billy Idol: Idolize Yourself
- Billy Idol – Kings & Queens of the Underground
- Billy Idol – BFI Live (#RSD 2019)
- Billy Idol – Revitalized
- Generation X – Your Generation (7″ Record Store Day Release)
- Billy Idol – The Albums Ranked From Worst to First
Up next will be Billy Idol’s ‘BFI Live’.