- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005

Billy Idol

Devil’s Playground

Sanctuary Records

In his heyday, Billy Idol was about as punk as Avril Lavigne. His run of radio-friendly hits, from “Dancing With Myself” to “Cradle of Love,” made that anti-social snarl a mere distraction from his reliable pop instincts.

So let’s not take the tough talk scattered around “Devil’s Playground” literally. The disc, Mr. Idol’s first set of originals in 11 years, sounds like a nearly 50-year-old man squealing for respect.

“Does he still have the magic, yes he does,” he cries in a roar — sounding suspiciously like he doth protest a bit too much.

A few tracks later, the spiky-haired singer doesn’t sound so desperate.

In fact, the album packs enough electric hits to propel him back to the top of the charts — that is, if he can re-scale his past heights without MTV or an unlined face to boost his ascent.

The opening track, “Super Overdrive,” merely warms Mr. Idol’s engines, re-establishing those limited but convincing pipes while shaking the rust off. It’s a treat to hear him singing about more than just carnal conquests with “Race,” yet Mr. Idol swings hardest when there’s a girl or two in the mix. Take “Sherri,” for instance, a rugged rocker with the kind of tasty hooks that would have made for an automatic hit back in his prime.

Despite a few time wasters such as “Body Snatcher,” Mr. Idol seems not only able to summon his past glory, but willing to try on a few new genres for size. He gets his Johnny Cash groove on in “Lady Do or Die” and then bursts out with a Neil Diamond tribute on “Cherie.”

Each could have proved clunky, if not downright embarrassing. Instead, they stand as album highlights. Even “Playground’s” Christmas song turns out to be affectionate and edgy at the same time.

Mr. Idol’s cover of “Plastic Jesus” seems the oddest choice of all, but for those unfamiliar with its cheeky lyrics, the exposure couldn’t hurt.

Comebacks rely far more on catching the cultural wave than on sheer talent. Motley Crue is selling out arenas again, yet a Cure-led Lollapalooza withered last summer. It’s impossible to know how many teens will give “Devil’s Playground” a chance. If they look past the crow’s feet and the fact that Mr. Idol’s career peaked a generation ago, the Idolatry could start all over again.

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