Album in Depth Reviewaday Marathon Polka Your Eyes Out: Charmed Life by Billy Idol

Wow, huge title. Okay… hi, I’m JotaKa, and this will probably my last bet before retiring from music blogs. So, I’m blaming my lack of consistency on the blogs for the lack of feedback I’m getting. I decided reviewing the albums that contain the songs of any Weird Al polka, as I rolled a die (9 medleys, d10, I’m glad to be a nerd)… but here is the catch, it will be one review a day. So, what used to be a week long work, will be resumed to a day of work, since college resumes only on March. The die rolled a four, which means Polka Your Eyes Out was the chosen one. I really enjoy his medleys, because they really sum up a decade. He chooses almost always those songs with no staying power and, with his own version, does it better than the original, making his carefree version that more powerful.

The first time I heard him was a music video of his on MTV (would you believe that channel one day showed music videos? Thank god for VH1… even if it’s transforming itself into a probable MTV) called “The Saga Begins”. With one of my favorite songs of all time, American Pie told the story of Phantom Menace. And I can say with truth in my eyes: he makes the movie sound better than the movie really is. That movie sucked. A little curiosity: the song was released before the commercial release of the movie, as he wrote it based on internet spoilers. After he saw it in an advanced screening, he only did some alterations (one having to do with the chorus but unspecified). McLean loves the song so much that he sometimes on shows screws up and sings a bit of Weird Al’s version. Weird Al has the power.

So, Weird Al made Polka Your Eyes Out for the album Off The Deep End in the distant year of 1992. It contains only songs from 1989 to 1991, and to be honest, was in my opinion one of his more tame medleys, with not exactly a good selection (you can see him doing well on Polka Power, Angry White Boy Polka, Polkarama and Polka Face, but then again, maybe it’s because I am familiar with those tunes and wasn’t exactly musically aware till the year 1998), but it’s still a good medley. If you want to see exactly what songs there are in this medley, you will have to search for it. But here’s the vid:

Not mine, amateur made it, but it’s still pretty fun to watch. From what I could gather, there are some official videos where Weird Al (whose name is Alfred, by the way) plays the vid, mostly always sped up, in synch with the music, for humorous effect, but I don’t think I ever seen one, being stuck with the amateurish ones I can find on Youtube. Well, I already wrote four paragraphs without even going into details to what I’m reviewing, and there is a real strong reason for that:

I don’t know shit of Billy Idol. I know he exists, but to be honest, I know nothing about the guy. And I hate to post only stuff I could find on the internet: I like having my own stuff to say. Let’s see: he was from a punk rock band Generation X! Never heard of it! And he achieved worldwide success with his second LP, Rebel Yell, which has the song Eyes Without a Face… how come some one of a punk rock band can write something so garbage pop as Eyes Without a Face is beyond me. Some tracks of that album were part of the soundtrack to Big, but if you are human like me, the only music you remember is the giant piano part and I can bet by retirement fund that Billy Idol has nothing to do with that. He was also considered to be T-1000 on T2… well… I have nightmares from T-1000 on T2… Wouldn’t have if he was Billy Idol. The album in question, heck, the song that features on the Weird Al medley that was from this album, Cradle of Love (doesn’t the name transpires punk rock?) was present in the movie The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, which should make a difference to you, but to me, nada. I think he drew a parallel with my life and followed it. How come a guy that is so present in the music scenario spent so much time out of my radar? My opinion on him is that I really don’t care for Billy Idol. To be fair, any one with the name Idol should be in front of a firing squad. It’s like having a band called The Police, it’s so… not “rock and roll”ish.

The cover art of the album is so pretentious it makes my belly hurt. It’s the “future” with his giant head. All horribly drawn. Credits given where credits due: the billboard is more creative than just printing the name of the album in the cover, but if you think this cover is good and draws your attention to it, you need something. Pills, booze, glasses, a brain, I don’t know, but you need something. The album clocks miserable 54:20, with the longest song being License to Thrill (Prog Lessons: if the last song is the longest, it’s almost always the worst of the bunch) with 6:02 and the shortest song being Endless Sleep, with 3:13. The album got Platinum on the US and Gold on the UK. Critiques were mixed: not extraordinarily great, not incredibly bad also. Let’s dive right into it: this is Charmed Life by Billy Idol.

1st Track: “The Loveless” – This took me entirely by surprise. Considering that this album was released by an ex-punk guitarist after Eyes Without a Face, I was thinking I would get a more pop oriented album. And at first glance… it is pop oriented. Definitely, it is. But it has a lot out of the rock genre, with a singing that sounds like Mark Knopfler at times (trust me, it isn’t at any time). Now that I said that… it rang a bell. This song is kind of like Money for Nothing, without the cool guitars. Dead fucking serious. The song gives a good feel and it has a kick ass keyboard solo… the lyrics are okay, I guess. And this is coming from a song that I wasn’t expecting much, this comes from a surprise song. It’s easily a good song, but it’s good at best, and I can think of better adjectives.

2nd track: “Pumping on Steel” – Okay, bipolar song. At one side, we have pop crap in its finest. The synth new wave bugs the crap out of me, the electronic is boring, the tempo makes you count the seconds, the skip button looks like a giant red button shouting “please, press me now, you’re not getting anything from this one, it’s going to be 5 minutes of the same crap, don’t waste your time” but then, of course, on the 1 minute and a half mark, the song gets all hard rock, for the chorus, goes Flock of Seagulls and then… right back again. His singing saves it, because he sounds like something I don’t expect from… well, Eyes Without a Face. I guess in the end, this song sums up synth new waves songs from the late eighties, because… well, it is one. After the boring ass bridge, we have an epic drum riff and a cool ass guitar solo. If this was a more rock oriented song, it would’ve been a saver.

3rd track: “Prodigal Blues” – Spoiler alert: it’s not a blues. It’s kind of a downer, but definitely not a blue, and I use the term “downer” leniently, because it’s not even that much of a downer. The song follows the U2 composition checklist and it feels like a U2 song, and I don’t get Billy Idol’s voice: it changes as a kid going through puberty. The instrumentation is boring, the song, overall, is boring. At the four minute mark, the song gets really good, but it goes back at the four minute and twenty mark, so, really, who cares? There are some really cool female vocals after the great moment, but it really goes back to the bland of it all. I must say, this is one of the songs I was looking forward, because of the whole blues aspect, to see it fall short aches me.

4th track: “L.A. Woman” – The Doors is one of those bands I never gave any attention, mostly because most of their work I found… pretty stone boring. And I kind of get that that was the message of the time, I really do… but as a sort of square listener of hard rock, I find them to be mostly tame and their inventions to the music were so innovative that they didn’t work as well, although they were indispensable to the music industry. I didn’t previously heard the original version of L.A Woman, and as I hear it now, it isn’t as stoned slow as most of their songs… I enjoy the piano and the harmony… with the drum being something I found repetitive. The bridge is also reprehensible and… well, I dislike that kind of “careful with that axe Eugene” sort of music… but I get it, don’t think I don’t get it. Let’s check Billy Idol’s version. Off the battle, the shortest version of L.A. Woman was 8 minutes long and this one has 5:30, so the song was obviously shorted down. It has definitely a more happier feel to it, which for me is welcome, but unfortunately, in everything else, or it is same shit done the same or same shit done worse. Billy Idol has a baritone voice, as shown in the intro track… why didn’t he sing like Morrison? Granted, it would make the song even more similar, but the song asks for it. I don’t know, in fact… I didn’t exactly enjoy greatly either one of the versions, and I’m really thanked that he didn’t turn L.A. Woman into… Eyes without a Face. Or any synthy new wave fuck he could. Because if he wanted, he could’ve, and probably didn’t for respect to Jim’s grave.

5th track: “Trouble with the Sweet Stuff” – You probably already found out that I fucking loathe eyes without a face. It was one of the few songs I’ve heard in my life that I can say I have absolutely no respect for, hate it for all it means, hate for the success it made, hate for the fact that a fuck load of people around here use it a cellphone ringer, his voice in the song is unbearable, the whole atmosphere the song presents is dreadful, the pure amazement I get from how it stood the test of time… and this song starts out as Eyes Without a Face part 2, making me pretty pissed off. However, with an addition of a pick bass, the song gets a change of pace, and becomes a pretty average hard rock song. Even with that being said… don’t get me wrong, the pick bass is awesome… the song is broken. It never sounds as if it’s complete, more like diverse parts merged as he’s able to and, outside of the alliteration on the lyrics (I really enjoy alliteration), it only has the pick bass. If he thought “man, maybe we should use the pick bass as a basis for something” instead of “yey, pick bass”, I would love this song.

6th track: “Cradle of Love” – Finally, we reach the song that started the whole review: this one is the one on the medley. The intro of the medley is the intro of this song and… you already know this sort of song. It’s the chorus song. What does that means? It has the chorus. That’s it. The bridge makes the song a bit more interesting, and maybe the song has something working for it, but it’s not an album pusher, it’s not amusing enough to stand tall between its peers, it has a cool rock part and definitely… Weird Al did it better. I will be saying this a lot in these reviews. Weird Al did it better. Funny how the song I said the less is the song that started it all.

7th track: “Mark of Caine” – The name attracts from a distance. Why? Well, for some, it attracts because Caine is a biblical thing, and was the guy that killed his brother, those include me, I’m all for religious symbolism, because I like discussing religion, I just dislike religions. For some, it attracts because of Vampire the Mask, and the curse that started it all, Storyteller for the win, and those include me, as well. But definitely, the reason why this title attracts me the most is that Cain is written wrong. Really, Billy Idol? Open a fucking bible! Well, unless we are talking about Michael Caine or Horation Caine, or let’s take this to satirical status, maybe it was about William Caine, governor general of Hong Kong, or maybe it’s about Rebecca Caine, a Canadian opera singer. Well, actually… all of the above are wrong. Caine can also mean “bitch”, and the song is a forever alone love gone bad song. Sincerely, the song is bad. It’s a ballad done by the book, made to make Michael Bolton sad and shoot Billy Idol’s kneecaps for stealing his market. It doesn’t have a good rhythm, it is a bad new wave song, and should be commended for the lack of anything the song presents. He really oscillates between singing and… well, speaking, through the song and it gets annoying quickly.

8th track: “Endless Sleep” – A Blues? What the hell? This is safely one of the best songs from the bunch: coincidentally, it’s also short. It’s downplayed, discrete, may I say it, sexy, it has charm, a snare controlling the beat, a simple guitar with few to no effects, and Idol’s voice, shitty as hell, doesn’t bug me this time around. I hate doing this, but short description, great song: you should listen to this one. It’s greater than the entire album, but it’s short, it’s calm, it’s restrained although somewhat ballsy… it works all that in its favor.

9th track: “Love Unchained” – And back to synth rock new wave… kind of. It’s pretty much unclassifiable, but definitely, good isn’t exactly the word I’m looking from… kind of. The song has its moments, and he could’ve invested more in this song: it has all it takes to become a stadium song, you know, a song he carries everywhere, and everyone expects. However, well, since my common sense is activated… it has Unchained Melody inside it. It has an average nineties guitar solo and then, Unchained Melody. I don’t know if it was intentionally hidden… kind of, since the name has unchained. Really, everybody did Unchained Melody. Seriously, Everybody. If the guy has any success in the ballad world, he probably has recorded Unchained Melody. So, I can see two paths: or try to do a Unchained Melody, but totally different from Unchained Melody, or… fucking record Unchained Melody. He chose the middle ground: do his own shtick over Unchained Melody, and… hide it? I don’t get it, I really don’t get it. And you know when that song is almost like that other song, and that’s bugs the fuck out of it? Really, for the intro, this song had potential. But as soon as it is a sort of plagiarism… he shouldn’t have done this.

10th track: “The Right Way” – The song reminds me of the good early seventies hard rock songs… in other words, it’s a good song. It has charm, it is quick paced, and maybe the album would’ve been worlds better if he just focused more on this side of him: the hard rock side. Forget the new wave movement; you were in a punk rock band, for crying out loud. I have some issues with the lyrics, because it’s a reformed guy tired of being bad to his woman, and, well… sorry to say this, but “the right way” is so not rock and roll. But the rest of the song is cool and it should’ve been more present in my rock life. However, we get… his other stuff… like Eyes Without a Face, I can’t get that song out of my head.

11th track: “License to Thrill” – If you have a fucking license to thrill, why don’t you try doing that? I know, we shouldn’t judge music for his title, but License to Thrill sounds like an Ac/Dc song, you know? “We have a license to thrill and we will fucking rock your socks out!! GET FUCKING PREPARED!” and the song resemble a lot… That song, even though it’s miles best, and the new wave this time works on his favor, having an atmosphere that sounds like Eurythmics and Pink Floyd mixed together. The longer song of the album drags for 6 minutes, but isn’t exactly painful to listen, really. It even has, may I say it, a keyboard solo that would make Richard Wright jealous. Dead serious, Richard Wright (My plan was to say Rick Wakeman, but the solo is a little quick for his taste, so he would probably think “meh, it’s not based on any book, so I really don’t care)… but maybe it’s a little much alike Echoes… kind of the similarity between Echoes and The Phantom of The Opera, you know? It has several moments, really remembering the prog of the seventies, but overall, it may be a good song, but definitely not a great songs, as most songs out of this album.

So, how does it all hold up? Well, first of all, it didn’t work as a gateway work to Billy Idol, but the problem I probably encountered is that there may be some bad songs on this album, but none of them are worse than Eyes Without a Face. The good parts are existent: there is Cradle of Love, should be listened to get a glimpse into the nineties, there is Love Unchained, average, there is Endless Sleep, probably the best song in this album. However, there were bad moments, way more than the good parts. So, what I can say? If you enjoy synth new wave, be my guest, get some kicks. If you love any other genre, this is not what will make you get hooked on Billy Idol, that’s for sure.

This is JotaKa, signing off.

Tomorrow, tune in for a little something about Tom’s Diner and B-52’s Cosmic Thing! Stay tuned!

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