Equal parts hard rocker, glam rocker and punk rocker, Billy Idol has managed an estimable synthesis of the music of three decades on Rebel Yell, his second solo album. From the Sixties, he’s brought a fair measure of pop economy and a kaleidoscopic palette of sound effects. From the Seventies, he’s taken the larger-than-life sound of big guitars, thunderous drumming and industrial-strength singing. And from the Eighties, he’s adapted the sonic Bauhaus architecture of new music, with its straight, streamlined edges. In short, Rebel Yell is a ferocious record, sharp as a saber, hard as diamond, as beautiful and seductive as the darker side of life with which it flirts.
Idol must share some of the credit with guitarist Steve Stevens, with whom he’s established a partnership whose chemistry is not unlike that between Iggy Pop and James Williamson. Idol’s lyrics partake of our deepest subconscious, sexual and nocturnal drives; his saturnalian cravings find musical expression in the wide array of sounds Stevens is able to coax from his instrument, be it the unnerving metallic march of “Daytime Drama,” the lurching, out-of-focus psychedelia of “Flesh for Fantasy” or the skittering, arpeggiated runs that frame “(Do Not) Stand in the Shadows.”
Rebel Yell occasionally toys with decadence, taking fleeting glimpses behind doors that are better left unopened. But this is part and parcel of Idol’s lust for life, which seems almost indiscriminate in its thrill seeking yet full of boundless pleasure with each new world that rolls over the horizon — and this isn’t decadent at all. At a time when too much of what comes over the airwaves is all sweetness and light, or mere undifferentiated head-banging, Rebel Yell is an intelligent assault upon the senses, and a rallying cry to the reckless enthusiasm of youth. Worth a good, lusty holler for sure.