It doesn't seem like four years since Idol's last album of new material, Whiplash Smile. Maybe that's because his image—peroxide hair, lip twisted in a parabolic sneer, bare torso, crucifix and spike accessorized look—made him such an MTV icon that it seems he's always with us.
This album—gentler musically and lyrically—may displace that graven Idol. Imagine the hellhound of "White Wedding" singing, as he does on "Prodigal Blues": "Remember when I lied/Just when you needed me/Now I sit alone and cry/' Cause now I believe in mercy."
These tracks rock but they're rarely as dense or combustible as Idol's past work. That's partly due to producer Keith Forsey's cushioned oven mitt touch, but another factor is the loss of a longtime Idol sideman. flame-throwing guitarist Steve Stevens. (He's been replaced by Mark Younger-Smith.)
One other problem: On such songs as "Pumping on Steel" and "Prodigal Blues," Idol drops his usual MO of shouting to actually try to sing—not a particularly wise decision given his skimpy vocal chops. The only tracks with the sting one associates with the maker of "Rebel Yell" are "Trouble with the Sweet Stuff," parts of "The Right Way" and a bang-up cover of the Doors' "L.A. Woman." (Idol has a role in the upcoming Oliver Stone film about the Doors' Jim Morrison, a role that was reduced after his recent motorcycle accident.)
If anyone else had released this record, its flinty attitude and prodigious energy would create a furor. For Idol, it's a rather tepid outing. If this lesser work manages to restore him to his former prominence in the rock pantheon, then Billy boy really does lead a charmed life. (Chrysalis)