Running From The Ghost (EP)
(Dark Horse Records)
Los Angeles is an infection. It takes ordinary English lads and mainlines cocaine cocktails into their veins until they bloat like car showroom balloons. Then, when the inevitable toll on skin and spirit follows, that bitter non-city replaces the cocaine with silicone and Gore-Tex and a set of diet and hygiene rules created by one of the thousands of gurus who buzz around the decaying flesh of ‘stars’ like horse flies around horse’s asses. That’s the theory.
Much has been said about Billy Idol’s youthful beauty. Less said about his intelligence, smart irony and instinctive self-positioning. As his ex-bandmates from Generation X ratcheted up the sarcastic commentary on pop life with Sigue Sigue Sputnik in the mid-late 80s, Billy Idol was already counting the dollars from his far more successful dive into machine-driven hard rock. With killer hooks and a pitch perfect Jim Morrison via Iggy croon Idol became the Hollywood punk archetype. Minimal energy lifting one side of his top lip into an Elvis parody sneer. Hair perennially platinum. Chains and clean leather, hanging out with hairy LA musos.
Like Steve Jones, Johnny Rotten and others over the years, Idol seemed to fall in love with the cleanliness that exists in LA for those with a bit of cash and connections. Villas caressed by Pacific breezes, the windows open, the opposite of London’s squats and damp terraced rents. Reinvention.
Here we are, now, decades later and here he is, again, voice somewhat enfeebled, that tinge of English accent still discernible. The video for Running From The Ghost shows him wearing one of his own T shirts and comfortable trousers, looking more like a metal roady than the razor’s edge hipster I watched make shapes and smiles in front of twenty people at The Vortex in 1977’s London. My guess is that he really doesn’t need the money, so this latest outing is probably more to do with feeding the band and crew, or a pension, who knows?
The music? It’s an old Billy Idol singing over pastiches of his own songs, swamped by that peculiar tidy fuzz guitar and neat drumming of LA heavy metal. It’s inconsequential. But his story is a good one. He needs, before he retires for good, a Rick Rubin, to coax something personal and meaningful and not embarrassing, a neat final statement. He’s probably still got those suburban London smarts in there, somewhere. It wouldn’t sell as well, probably, but it would confirm at least my suspicions that he is more than the sum total of an extended, punky shaggy dog story.
There's a vinyl version of the Cage EP available on Record Store Day
Billy Idol is touring the UK with Television and Toyah throughout October '22