Kings & Queens Of The Overproduced

Review

I kind of wish i was Billy Idol.
The rebel yell & the lip curl, the looks, the attitude. And you know what, he’s pretty smart. Even sensitive. Regardless of the fact i like his music, i would really like to know him.billyidolfist

Someone i really do not enjoy listening to is Trevor Horn. Most of the time i don’t have to, the radio isn’t my thing and i don’t own any LPs by The Art of Noise and Frankie Goes To Hollywood was never my thing.
The odds are you do own a record he produced, though — I have Flowers In The Dirt by McCartney. Here is a list of albums he has produced…quite a tally there!

Horn produced Billy Idol’s recently released Kings & Queens of the Underground LP, Billy’s first since 2005’s Keith Forsey-produced Devil’s Playground. Forsey was producer of Idol’s milestone work.

Not that i don’t love Ringo, but the first 2 or 3 songs on the album sound like they come from one of Ringo Starr’s recent opuses. Steve Stevens is an ace guitarist, it would be amazing to have him play on any of my songs — he is creative, technically perfect, and must be amongst the 5 best guitarists of all time, along with Brian May, Django Reinhardt, and possibly George Harrison. But he might not be the best songwriter. With his connections, surely Billy can find a slightly higher tier tunesmith to collaborate with. Don’t get me wrong, i love many of the Idol-Stevens songs, just not this batch [see my update below]. And, just my opinion, production didn’t help when it actually should, or was it that production actually fitted the “character” of the songs ?

Kings And Queens Of The Underground - Billy Idol

billy_idol5Billy Idol’s albums haven’t all been up to Rebel Yell standards nor have the songs all been White Weddings. Charmed Life was remotely charming 2 songs of the way, and Whiplash Smile improved on that only by 1. When you think about it, even Rebel Yell and Billy’s eponymous debut album didn’t have a huge amount of rock-solid songs on them but some of them have withstood the test of 30+ years. White Wedding is still cool in my book, then again i’m no spring chicken.
The latest offering, however, doesn’t really strike me as something that will withstand the test of time, for two reasons : there are no gem songs on it, and production is trying so hard to be radio-friendly. I can understand why you’d want the ‘cinematic theatrical 1080 pixels high def wide screen soundtrack cinemascope’ sound Billy seems to idolize here, but does it work with Billy Idol ? There is no doubt Trevor Horn gave the client what he wanted, and i suppose that is a large part of his job. To me, however, this is too shiny & polished, too compressed even (hardly surprising these days), it lacks the grit & growl of Devil’s Playground and just sounds too radio-ready. What Idol calls intimate songs have lost all intimacy as production — read cheap thrills — stands in the way. Billy’s voice doesn’t even sound like Billy Idol anymore, it’s just too clean & polished. Had Scream been produced this way it would have been a complete contradiction in terms. What epitomizes Billy Idol better than Shock To The System, Scream or Speed ?

BILLY IDOL.JPG AI, as an occasional recorder of others, would really love to record Billy Idol. I am hoping to start the construction of my recording studio here in Mexico in a few months and although there is no chance in the world Billy would consider recording there, i cannot help delving into how it might feel to make a really intimate record with him. Even if it were just a record of demos, i would love to record him, and mostly him. Steve Stevens is awesome, so are his other band-mates, but i would like to hear Billy play & sing alone, i’d like to hear his voice cracking up from emotion, and maybe this will surprise you : i’d like to try adding a cello or two, and even doing versions of his best songs with local Mexican musicians. Nothing corny or cheesy, just some influenced atmosphere. No gimmicks, no million dollar production, no stereo chorus whammy effects on guitars, just an honest record of pure William Idol Broad in a sense.
We have churches, mines even, for reverb. We have a beautiful fortified gothic mine as our setting outside. We are far away from London or L.A. When you come here, you’re really leaving everything behind. Maybe Pure Idol could use some of that.

Update

A few weeks in, I’ll admit the songs are growing on me. Maybe what stands between Postcards From The Past and a gem song such as Speed is just Trevor Horn. Postcards & Speed are made of the same cloth but one is all stitched up while the other is raw and Idol. Apart from the Whammy effect on Stevens’ solos, you could probably just grab the same takes and simply mix the track again, as far as possible from whoever mixed this version. Rock’n’roll does not need more than an amp for a guitar, anything applied on top of that should be really well considered before committing it to record. Unless you’re into Frankie Goes to Hollywood, that is.

What bugs me most with this record are the cheap synths, totally out of place on a track such as the opening Bitter Pill — and indeed it opened well : the first few bars impose an enticing rhythm and almost immediately a nicely distorted guitar solo does the rest to set the mood. And then those nasty synths, the sickeningly sweet prod and the cheezy background vocals all come in, while the great guitars remain way too far in the background. This really isn’t a Rock’n’roll production at all.
It really is easy to fall into clichés when you’re making pop. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that that is what Horn is all about, i personally think he is a very apt producer, and probably a great bass player, simply Idol’s choice was not exactly fitting this time around. Production often spoils records, and when you’re in the eye of the hurricane you won’t realize. Paul McCartney’s Memory Almost Full comes to mind, then again the songs on that LP were pretty weak too, in fact the song Gratitude makes me grateful no one is forcing me to listen to it…that must be his worst song since Helen Wheels in the early 70s. How Helen Wheels made it to be a single is beyond me, how 30 years later it still makes it onto the exquisite Band On The Run as a “bonus” track is utterly stunning.

If i had shitloads of money i’d get someone to steal the tapes and have them mixed in a more Idol-fitting manner. The songs aren’t bad, i’ve just been paying too much attention to the cheezy production. I just hope that Billy’s next album comes soon and is done with someone who likes raw guitars upfront, so i can rinse the sugar out of my ears.

Give me some raw Idol !

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