Billy Idol is eligible for Medicare and is a grandfather, but he still has some burrs under his saddle and ghosts in the machine to deal with in his golden years. The artist formerly known as William Broad makes all that clear on The Cage EP, a four-song record that follows last year’s The Roadside and now appears to be Idol’s preferred form of releasing new music. The truncated format certainly works to his advantage, as well as the listener’s, as this bite-size 14-minute dose of Idol blazes by in a blink and leaves us wanting more, more, more.
The sneer, angst and “hopeless rage” of Idol’s iconic ’80s hits are evident throughout The Cage, with longtime guitarist and co-writer Steve Stevens still alongside and firing off meaty riffs as if he has them stockpiled and just waiting their turn to be taken into the studio. And while the raging Idol persona may seem ripe for caricature, on The Cage – released in tandem with the George Harrison-established Dark Horse Records label (now run by his son Dhani) – he presents himself as subtly matured, wiser but not necessarily tamed after 45 years of releasing music.
Idol kicks things off by “screaming in isolation” from a “Cage,” ready to break out after “living on the edge” and “fighting with my demons” while Stevens and the other players steer the song from its tense verses into an explosive bridge and chorus. You could drop this on any of Idol’s multiplatinum efforts of the ’80s, or even on a Rick Springfield album and it would sound as valid then as it does now.
Idol digs even deeper on “Running From the Ghost,” staring out by singing alone with a piano before the track again ratchets up, this time into the kind of galloping, goth-y metallic opus that Evanescence or Ghost would be proud to have on their albums. Stevens aptly channels a sizzling twin-guitar attack, while Idol’s examination of “the Jekyll to my Hyde” clues us into some dark internal struggles that feed his muse.
The Cage‘s other two songs are character studies. “Rebel Like You” is a glammy, guitar-drenched rocker in which Idol eyeballs a fan in the crowd “in your leather boots and black waistcoat, looking just like me” – and loving it. The closing “Miss Nobody” is the change-up, meanwhile, produced by hitmaker Butch Walker and co-written by fellow pop hitmaker Sam Hollander; its sonic polish and slinky rhythm slink are decidedly contemporary, but the women in the story – down and out but not defeated, and still defiant – is not a far cry from where Idol has positioned himself on the EP. There are likely some Idol fans frustrated by the EP format and craving something full-length. But the short-form approach is keeping Idol vital and in as fine fettle as he’s ever been, so let’s not rock this cradle any time soon.
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A stage name like Billy Idol isn’t chosen just because it sounds cool.