By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
BILLY IDOL – CHARMED LIFE (1990)
Here’s the thing for me about Billy Idol. I love his big hit singles from the 1980’s and very early 90’s. But I’ve never been so in love with them that I went out and bought any of the albums those songs appeared on. Then last year, I bought his new EP The Roadside and was blown away by how good each of those four songs were.
In my head, I wanted to get around to investigating the Billy Idol back catalog but still never got around to it. Then a guy who is part of the same music message forum that I am started listing some of his collection that he’s putting up for sale. And there were three Idol albums of interest to me so I’m making plans to purchase them.
But I wasn’t content with just doing that. Just this past weekend, I was visiting my friend’s record shop and saw that he had the Charmed Life album on cassette. It seemed perfect timing for me to pick it up and take a listen to it (for the first time ever) so that I could write an article about it. And that’s how we got to where you are now reading these words.
In looking at the album’s track listing before playing the album, I realized that there is only one real hit single on the album. The song “Cradle Of Love” was just a monster hit for Idol when it came out as a single and you can definitely understand why. It is the opening song on the 2nd side of the album and it has an incredibly infectious feel to the music.
But while that was a great track, let’s go back and focus on the first side of the album for the moment.
The album opens with the song “The Loveless” and it is an intriguing song. At first, while the song’s delivery is still a bit uptempo, it feels like the first verse of the track is a bit restrained or even slightly hushed in tone. But as the song progresses, the song gets a bit more amped up so you get a more pronounced rock and roll vibe. And Idol’s vocals are what you might expect if you have any kind of passing familiarity with him. There’s always this kind of sneering attitude in his delivery that helps give a slightly more edgy feel to his overall performance.
With the song “Pumping On Steel”, there’s once more a kind of slower introductory delivery that gives way to a more full throated rock delivery for the song’s chorus. The slower pace returns when the chorus ends but towards the end of the song, it goes full bore rock and gets right up in your face. I’m not sure I’m all that crazy about the song as a whole, but I do like the music when it is more uptempo in nature.
Other than the relatively brief guitar solo, the song “Prodigal Blues” maintained a steady midtempo pacing from start to finish. The song was the third and final single released from Charmed Life and while it didn’t get any real kind of traction as a single, I found that I actually really enjoyed the kind of sedate delivery of the song. I thought Billy Idol playing this one about as straightforward as you could gave the song a kind of depth that really hit home for me. I definitely really got into this a lot more than I expected to.
I’m not going to fool anyone into thinking I’m some kind of major fan of The Doors. I’m pretty much just the hits kind of fan when it comes to them. I do love that “Riders On The Storm” song but otherwise, I’m good with any of the hits that play on the radio station in my car. So while I do like the “L.A. Woman” song, I’m not all that invested in judging the original versus a cover version. That said, this is a far faster version of the song and I would say that given Idol’s delivery can at least momentarily let you imagine what Jim Morrison might’ve been like if he’d been an 80’s rocker. There’s a lot of energy running through the song so you surely get pumped up by it, even if you aren’t totally sold on the need for the cover to be done in the first place.
The closing track on Side One of Charmed Life, “Trouble With The Sweet Stuff”, didn’t do a whole lot for me. Instead, it just felt like the song droned on and on without really doing much to distinguish itself as all that memorable.
As I said above, “Cradle Of Love” opens up Side Two of the album. The song was also featured in the movie The Adventures Of Ford Fairlane. I actually own the soundtrack for the movie on cassette and it is a case of the soundtrack being far better than the trash movie it came from. I’d honestly forgotten that the song was on the soundtrack. I’d bought it because Queensryche had a song on it and then quickly forgot about the entire album anyway. But as I listened to the song here and now, “Cradle Of Love” still manages to hold up quite nicely. It’s got a quick moving pace, a nice melodic hook and a solid rock groove that is as infectious as I described it before.
As for the rest of Side Two, the song “Mark Of Caine” left me a little confused while “Endless Sleep” had a drawn out feeling to it. While the latter song (which is a cover of a 1957 song by Jody Reynolds) had slower paced delivery, I was left trying to get into it by any means necessary and I just couldn’t do it. So each of these two songs just left me a bit cold.
But you know what song was damn good? It’s the “Love Unchained” track that got the album back on track. It’s got a lively feel with a great rocking sound and I think Billy Idol really delivers the goods vocally on this one. I also loved “The Right Way”. Idol’s vocals are pushed a up a bit in the mix during the main lyrical verses. And when the song’s chorus kicks in, the music blows up into a much harder edge rock style that had me really sitting up and taking notice. It’s a killer track for me!
The album closes with “License To Thrill”, which was a bit hit and miss for me. In the early going, the song’s slower pace didn’t really lend itself well to me. But towards the end of the song, there is a section where the music gets all riled up and goes for the throat. It’s there where I really enjoyed what was going on. It might not be a complete winning number for me but that particular section of “License To Thrill” did at least make me willing to listen to it again.
It has been 32 years since the original release of Charmed Life and it took all those years before I got around to listening to the album for the first time. But while there are definitely tracks that didn’t quite make the grade for me, there are any number of songs that ended up surprising me with how much I did end up enjoying them. And anytime I can find a new appreciation for an album I’m only just now getting around to, that’s going to be considered a good thing.
NOTES OF INTEREST: The Charmed Life album peaked at #11 on the charts. Billy Idol is credited with designing the album’s cover. The album has been certified platinum.
The “Cradle Of Love” song was Idol’s last big hit in the US, peaking at #2 on the singles chart. The video for the song won a MTV Video Music Award. It was directed by David Fincher who would go on to direct a number of feature films including Seven, Alien 3, Fight Club, Panic Room and The Social Network.
Idol’s longtime collaborator, guitarist Steve Stevens, does not appear on Charmed Life. The album does feature guest appearances from bassist Phil Soussan (Ozzy Osbourne) and drummer Mike Baird (Hall & Oates, The Pointer Sisters, Richard Marx).