Sound: Now, I'm not claiming to be very much into the punk scene of the late 70s/early 80s, but I can easily see why Billy Idol is considered to be perhaps the biggest sellout to come out of it. However, listening to his breakthrough album from 1983, "Rebel Yell", it's hard to see why that would be such a bad thing after all. On this album, Idol brings the attitude and some of the crucial vocal attributes from punk rock, and blends them with what was (at the time!) modern, state-of-the-art pop rock. Synths are used quite extensively, even to enhance the excellent guitar work of Steve Stevens. Stevens is actually just as crucial to this music as Idol himself; his riffs are razor-sharp, and his solos are the kind of shredding that had yet to become a clich in 1983. // 8
Lyrics: Billy Idol received lots of flak for writing excessively dumb, sexist lyrics back in the 80s. And that's a perfectly valid point; he really doesn't have much to offer in terms of deep philosophical truths. Almost every song deals with themes that just seem redundant in their lack of depth if you've ever seen a picture of the guy: Check out "Flesh For Fantasy" to hear about Billy's "sex attack" (although I'm not sure you'd really want to do that...). "Eyes Without A Face" provides a welcome change, though, as Billy sings about a lover who has been mutilated, the only traces of beauty remaining in her eyes.
As a vocalist, some people can't really stand Billy's snarls and other vocal tics. Me, I don't have that problem at all, in fact I quite like Billy's vocals, and consider his voice to be quite a good one in fact. // 5
Overall Impression: This is one of those 80s albums, along with such works as Def Leppard's "Hysteria" and Duran Duran's "Rio", that just seem so dated hardly any critics can take them seriously (that the 80s sucked is part of conventional wisdom for music critics). Personally, I don't think that's a valid criteria at all; good music is good music. And "Rebel Yell" is certainly not a bad album. Not a terrific one either; "Daytime Drama" and "Crank Call" seem quite pointless and plodding. Album closer "The Dead Next Door" sounds all atmospheric and brooding, until you realize that it's not going anywhere.
That being said, this album features enough good songs to be worthwhile: "Blue Highway" and "(Do Not) Stand In The Shadows" are fast rockers driven by a particularly energetic interplay between Idol and Stevens. And the singles are great, with no exceptions: The title track is the obvious classic everybody knows, but the mid-paced "Flesh For Fantasy" has a chorus which is just as anthemic. "Eyes Without A Face" and "Catch My Fall" are the best songs, the former being a beautiful semi-ballad with a terrific riff near the middle, and the latter just being notable for its great melodies and saxophone.
I will admit that this album is not so strong it will convert any haters of the 80s, but if you're not one of them, then give this a chance. Put it in your car stereo where it belongs, and see if you can stay within the speed limits! // 7