A science-fiction trip with Billy Idol? Get real. The guy’s saving grace has always been an over-the-top cartoon looniness, coupled with at least one sure-shot single per album. Sadly, outing No. 6 comes up short — on both sly winks and Top 40-bound hooks. On Cyberpunk this strutting video-age stud plugs into the computer-nirvana circuit and gets fried.
“A fantasy scene in my machine gave me the secret of life,” Idol declares on “Wasteland.” Synthesizers burble and squeak; a sampled voice intones, “No religion at all.” It’s all very high-tech and foreboding. Soon enough, the inevitable heavy-metal guitars appear on the horizon; long before that, Billy lapses into his trademark rebel yells and party barks. Without a clever chorus to back him up, Idol’s mannered chutzpah turns into a deadly self-parody. And the ambitious nature of Cyberpunk doesn’t help. “Shock to the System,” the closest thing to catchy on the album, turns out to be an unfortunate evocation of last year’s Los Angeles riots. “What a night it really was,” the wild one exults. “Oh, yeah/All right.” Just another fantasy scene on the screen, I guess — talk about virtual reality.
The bulk of Cyberpunk is far more mundane. Sometimes the keyboards recall bad ’70s art rock; at other times the computer-driven rhythms echo the disco rock that first made Idol’s name. “Heroin” continues the campy tradition Idol started with “L.A. Woman” on Charmed Life (1990): It’s a clueless techno-destruction of the Velvet Underground dirge with a few bars of Patti Smith’s “Gloria” thrown in for good measure.
Still, if this brave-new-world thing doesn’t wash, he can always change his name to Billy Ray Idol and kick off a brand new dance craze.