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By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

During the 1980s, the face of Billy Idol, with his bad-boy good looks and peroxide blonde hair, was instantly recognizable from MTV.  Likewise his music, including the smash hits “White Wedding” and “Rebel Yell,” which combined punk rock swagger with dance beats.  Now, after a lengthy absence from the music scene, he’s back with “Devil’s Playground,” his first studio album in 12 years.  His face may be a little craggier these days, but his Elvis sneer is still firmly in place and his energy and ability to rock out have not diminished one iota.  On Monday evening you can hear his new material alongside his greatest hits at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz.

Billy Idol’s career began as the lead singer of Generation X, one of the original British punk bands in the late 1970s.  The band  recorded three albums, and scored major UK hits with singles such as “King Rocker” and “Valley of the Dolls.” When Generation X disbanded, Idol decided to move to New York, where his family had lived for a time during his youth.

In New York, Idol met Bill Aucoin, the manager of KISS.  Under Aucoin’s direction, he released a solo EP containing a cover of the 60s hit “Mony Mony.”  The EP was successful enough to secure him a new deal with Generation X’s old label Chrysalis Records.  A self-titled debut album was released in 1982, spawning two hit singles in “White Wedding” and “Dancing with Myself.”  Idol’s image suited the newly-emerging MTV perfectly, and the videos for the two songs received major MTV airplay. 

Idol’s 1984 follow-up, “Rebel Yell,” firmly established Billy Idol as a stadium rock act, and became a double-platinum seller.  The singles from the album, including the title track, became MTV and FM rock radio staples.  Idol released several singles and albums over the next few years, as well as appearing as Cousin Kevin in an all-star presentation of the Who’s “Tommy,” and taking a small part in the movie “The Doors.”

By the early 1990s, however, things were not going so well for Billy Idol.  He was involved in a motorcycle accident in which he almost lost his leg, and subsequently began to have problems with drug addiction.  “I had an overdose in 1994 when my son and daughter were quite young,” he said.  “A friend of mine said to me, ‘They would never have forgiven you.  They would have spent the rest of their lives thinking that you didn’t care about them enough to stay alive.’  I was in a nihilistic place, and I’m still reflecting on how I pulled myself out.”

But pull himself out he did, and set about rebuilding his life and his career.  After sitting in with a couple of other bands at their shows, he reunited with his guitarist and songwriting partner Steve Stevens, who had left Idol’s band at the end of the 80s.  The pair assembled a new band and began to play shows at smaller clubs, gradually moving from being an 80s-nostalgia act to a genuine draw once more.  In 2003, the band began recording “Devil’s Playground,” which was released earlier this year to great critical acclaim. 

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, September 8, 2005

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