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To many, BILLY IDOL hasn’t been credible since his 1981 split from guitarist BOB ANDREWS, bassist TONY JAMES and the rest of GENERATION X. To me, Idol’s influence did not lessen, but merely morphed from punk rock to heavy dance rock with the start of his solo career. Billy’s post-modern ELVIS persona matched with enticing electro beats, cheeky lyrics, and STEVE STEVENS’s metallic cybernetic squealings may strike some as a bit cheezy or heavy-handed at times, but his place in the pop pantheon can’t be denied. After the recent release of Happy Holidays: A Very Special Christmas Album, however, I have come to realize that the Billy Idol I once knew and loved is dead.
Sure, 1993’s Cyberpunk and 2005’s Devil’s Playground are riddled with duds and laughable numbers, but I always believed that at the core of even the worst of Idol’s work was a self-reflexive awareness. All too visible in that ironic, signature snarl, Idol let those paying attention know that he was a purposeful pop construct, created just for our liking. While his solo career could be viewed as antithetical to the scene that spawned Generation X, there were still parts of the punk spirit that survived in him. At a rare one-off show at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. in 2001, the proof that proves the point was spelled out all too clearly. While singing his MTV smash “Cradle of Love,” Idol changed the lyrics in the chorus to “It’s so easy, this song is so cheezy, yeah!” with a knowing smile. Would MADONNA mock “Like a Virgin” like that today? I think not.
But, as I said, it’s all over now. Although the press release for Happy Holidays tries to twist listeners away from the obvious conclusion (which is that Christmas albums absolutely blow no matter who does them), the clever publicist falls short. “A Billy Idol Christmas album is one of those ideas that’s so profoundly wrong it’s right. So deeply uncool that in the end, it’s cool,” it reads. Sorry guys, but I’m not falling for it. Now that Billy has joined the ranks of CRASH TEST DUMMIES, JETHRO TULL, and BRIAN SETZER, some of the other fine acts who have produced holiday albums in the past years, how can he continue to write songs about masturbation, heroin addiction, and bondage? Will he just become another one-man cover band like ROD STEWART? Can a guy purported to enjoy vegetables during foreplay really pull off “Silent Night”? Only time will tell, I suppose. I just know that the magic’s gone, and that “Flesh for Fantasy” will never sound the same to me again.