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CD Reviews:  Billy Idol: VH-1 Storytellers

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Having last seen Billy Idol play live over a decade ago on the Charmed Life tour (1990), knowing he essentially took the next 10 years off and disappeared into what most thought was rock'n'roll retirement, nobody was more shocked than I was to see him break out as raucously as he did last Fall on the MTV 20th Birthday Bash in New York. Apparently he felt frisky enough after that night to book an intimate little get-together for a couple hundred friends and lucky fans while the VH-1 cameras rolled. With legendary sidekick guitarist Steve Stevens on a bar stool next to him, Idol tore through a near perfect set of his very best material spanning his entire solo career, as well as a pair of Generation X throwbacks. The recorded result is the new VH-1 Storytellers collection.

With the coarse, stripped-down feeling of a smoky barroom set, Idol feeds off Stevens' bluesy acoustic guitar as a classic backdrop for a stroll through probably his 14 most recognizable songs. First, 1990's "Cradle Of Love" gets the night started on a suitable note, and even offers a tongue-in-cheek swipe at himself (and the 1980s genre) when Idol flirts with an amended lyric, "You can't stop, I hear you moan, it's so cheesy…this song is so cheesy!" When "Flesh For Fantasy" gives way to "White Wedding," one begins to realize that you probably know more of these old tunes than you (care to) remember. Even the lesser-known material from 1986's Whiplash Smile, like "Don't Need A Gun" and "Sweet Sixteen," manage to hold their own along side the MTV video classics. At age 46, Billy Idol has not lost an ounce of vocal ability or range and this set only reaffirms that. But if not for the backbone of Steve Stevens' fantastic six-string work, this performance might very well be forgotten. He's that good.

This collection peaks mid-way through the record when a blistering version of "Rebel Yell" is followed by the Gen X classic "Kiss Me Deadly," as fresh and inspired as it ever was during the Brit punk heyday of the late 1970s. The mysterious intro to "Eyes Without a Face" soon turns familiar, as Idol begins the home stretch to Hitsville. Not until the rollicking "Dancing With Myself" does Stevens deem it necessary to plug in his guitar and go electric. But once plugged, he never turns back! "Ready Steady Go," then a disposable run through "Mony Mony," and finally The Doors staple "L.A. Woman" close this night at a sweltering, feverish pitch. Impossible to say whether Idol and Stevens have any plans for the future, new music, touring, etc. But following a one-hour trip down memory lane with VH-1 Storytellers, once lost expectations are understandably recalled.

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