Review: Billy Idol - Idolize Yourself: The Very Best of Billy Idol
Label: Capitol Records
Released: June 24, 2008
Billy Idol's early career in Generation X is of questionable importance, even in the UK where they had a handful of charting singles. If you like early British punk, Generation X put out a couple records worth hearing, but neither is a definitive album in any way. It was as a solo artist however, that Idol found his niche by melding his punk roots with two burgeoning sounds of the early 80s: guitar-driven hard rock and danceable synth pop.
The best material on Idolize Yourself is really in the first seven tracks, culled from his self-titled album and Rebel Yell. Whiplash Smile gives old rock n roll an 80s production treatment which in retrospect does it no favors. It's listenable, but also forgettable. Things things go downhill from there until Idol sinks to his lowest with his butchering of "LA Woman" and the title track to the Speed soundtrack. However, "World Comin' Down," from 2005's quickly forgotten Devil's Playground and two new tracks are pleasant surprises (at least relatively speaking) to close the album.
One thing that often gets lost in the overly commercial legacy of Billy Idol is that he had a pretty good guitarist with him through it all. Someone once said to me that Steve Stevens was doing for electronic effects what Hendrix did for distortion. That's an overstatement, but not an overly dramatic one. Stevens was more than just another flashy guitarist from a period that churned them out as fast as their ridiculous runs up and down the fretboard. He did a lot with effects to give himself a distinctive sound and his playing is perhaps the music's most valuable element.
To really put Idol's career into perspective, Idolize Yourself comes with a DVD collection of his music videos. From the low-budget charm of "Dancing with Myself" to the high-end production of "Cradle of Love" an "LA Woman," the DVD shows both why Idol was such a big hit in the early days of music videos as well as the quick progression of those videos from inexpensive promotional material to big-budget mini-movies. He simply wasn't timid about making silly videos with not just a straight face, but a believable commitment that prouder artists would have balked at. "White Wedding" for instance is pleasantly goofy now, but 25 years ago (when I was 12 mind you), it was cool and it remains a classic of the golden age of music video. Billy Idol was one of the first rock artists to fully embrace the video age and he's continued to reap the benefits of that early foresight. In fact, Idol's image was so ubiquitous at the time, that we all forgot he stole that sneering lip from Elvis. Without the DVD, this hits retrospective would only give a small, very limited picture of Billy Idol. With it, however, the package is really all the Billy Idol you need (and then some).
Whether Billy Idol was a commercial visionary or just a major label tool, he remains an icon of 80s rock. Not one of his albums is essential, but his continued presence in my generation's collective conscience makes a collection like this convenient and worthwhile, particularly with the DVD.
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