Billy Idol, Rebel Yell

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

Rebel Yell

Billy Idol

At the height of his popularity in the '80s, Billy Idol was the most successful punk rocker of his generation — arguably bigger in the U.S. than the Clash, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones put together. With his movie-star looks and edgy but mainstream-friendly sound, the former Generation X frontman became an MTV superstar, and this was the album that cinched the deal. Released in late 1983 and generating hit singles well into '85, Idol's second solo album plays like one of his many best-ofs, and nearly beats them in both tunes and new-wave flashbacks.

A sleek distillation of punk, hard rock and Eurodisco

With its sleek distillation of punk, hard rock and Eurodisco, Rebel Yell is — like similar records by Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Duran Duran and other '80s icons — a milestone in crossover maneuvers. Idol's accent and Rotten-gone-glam looks position him as a Brit, but his subject matter — hedonism, Hollywood, the highway and the porntastic sex all three offer — is distinctly American. The power chords and screeching solos from Brooklyn-born guitar hero Steve Stevens play out a similar balancing game with the electronically assisted drums and production gloss of Keith Forsey, the Brit whose steady four-to-the-floor pulse can be heard on countless Giorgio Moroder confections for Donna Summer, Sparks, Roberta Kelly and other Munich-recorded disco acts. The transatlantic results on such Rock of the Eighties classics as "Eyes Without a Face," "Flesh for Fantasy" and the ridiculously anthemic title track have aged incredibly well not because they're timeless, but because they're absolutely of the time. You don't have to watch a single Idol video to sense the leather and sneer — they're here in the music for you, babe.