Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Billy Idol

  • Don't Stop [Chrysalis EP, 1981] B
  • Billy Idol [Chrysalis, 1982] B
  • Rebel Yell [Chrysalis, 1984] C
  • Whiplash Smile [Chrysalis, 1986] C+
  • Vital Idol [Chrysalis, 1987] B+
  • Charmed Life [Chrysalis, 1990] Dud
  • Cyberpunk [Chrysalis, 1993] C-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Don't Stop [Chrysalis EP, 1981]
Don't stop for "Don't Stop" or touch "The Untouchables," but "Dancing With Myself" is DOR's theme song, and "Mony Mony" works almost as well as it did for his great preceptor Tommy James. Would Billy were as principled, but these are cynical times, and they like Billy just the way he is. B

Billy Idol [Chrysalis, 1982]
Even in punk's heyday he obviously wanted to be a teen idol, but back then he couldn't very well admit that his hero was Elton John. Yet here he is with Kiss's manager and an album that rocks as hard as the first side of Caribou--for three cuts, including a hit single and "White Wedding," a call to innocence regained as desperate and persuasive as "Start Me Up." If he could keep it going I'd be happy to buy my pop from a phony, but neither Burundi beats nor overzealous voice practice do anything but accentuate the jaded professionalism that takes over. B

Rebel Yell [Chrysalis, 1984]
Videos have been the making of this born poser's career and the unmaking of his music. Not that they've changed how hard and hooky it is, much less turned off the unwitting many who find sexism sexy. But if you've got no taste for the sound of the sneer, the visuals definitely aren't fantasy enough. C

Whiplash Smile [Chrysalis, 1986]
A year and a half in the making, and don't think he didn't pour heart and soul into it. It's just that he's . . . well, I hate to put it this way, but the guy is cursed: emoting love poetry from under enough Keith Forsey echo to fill Carlsbad Caverns, he still can't sing without sneering. That he gets off the occasional good one even so only reveals his essence d'Elvis for the plastic pop franchise it is, and don't blame him for the bullwhip on the sleeve--the devil made him do it. C+

Vital Idol [Chrysalis, 1987]
In which the con artist who convinced the majors the EP was a profit-taker makes something of an even more useless and cost-effective marketing ploy, the remix. The more he pixilates his pseudosex with studio sensationalism--reverb, big beat, every synthesized redundancy know to applied science--the more closely he approaches his cartoon essence. Second side's just macho disco nevertheless, but the first side is macho disco at its . . . well, let's use a technical term here: hottest. B+

Charmed Life [Chrysalis, 1990] Dud

Cyberpunk [Chrysalis, 1993]
If Idol's interest in William Gibson's uncopyrightable neologism was originally piqued by the dollar signs that appear in front of his eyes whenever he encounters the magic rune p-u-n-k, well, the fate of any good idea is that sooner or later it touches people with no deep connection to it--like punk itself and the former William Broad, for instance. Not that Idol would think of offending this new generation he's read about. So "Adam in Chains," which after a long spoken intro devolves into what a vulgarian might take for his latest love-gone-bad rant, is in fact "a prayer for the tomorrow people and powerjunkies." And the deathless "Suck on my love meat" is intended as a critique, not a celebration. Sexist, our Billy? How cyber would that be? C-

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