Ah Rebel Yell, what an album! I consider Billy Idol’s career a little uneven although every effort he put out from ’82 to ’90 contains at least one classic but his second solo album definitely is a special record. Let’s see here: “Rebel Yell,” “Flesh for Fantasy,” “Eye Without a Face” as the obvious singles, backed by some guitar fueled killers such as “Daytime Drama,” “Crank Call” or “Do Not Stand In The Shadow.” While 1982’s eponymous record showed promises with “White Wedding” or “Hot In The City,” its follow-up is an absolute classic.
A huge success upon release in the fall of ’83, Rebel Yell took its creators a bit by surprise as they started touring behind the record in small theatres and ended up playing in front of packed arenas by the end of its run. Thanks in no small part to MTV, who put the videos for its singles in heavy rotation, the album took off to reach double platinum status shipping more than 2 millions units in the US alone. What an achievement for William Broad, who only 4 years prior was struggling to achieve recognition as part of the underground London punk music scene.
While Billy’s vocals are fueled with rage and anger and he gives an honorable performance, it is clear is was never the most skilled vocalist and his secret weapon resides in his writing partner. The gifted Steve Stevens displays here such an ease to produce incredible musical parts, it is almost unbelievable. Listen to the beautiful guitar layers on the sexually charged “Flesh For Fantasy” or the brilliant arpeggios on “Eye Without A Face”; what an incredible demonstration of virtuosity! While possessing the traits of the authentic guitar hero, Stevens strength also resides in the fact that he is able to coat the songs with an undeniable sense of finesse. Paired with Idol’s low tone and almost spoken style of singing, it produces the perfect combination for mainstream hit, mid-way trough hard rock and new wave.
Apart from its obvious singles, Rebel Yell also offers a collection of immediate rockers such as one of my personal favorite “Daytime Drama.” A template for Steve Stevens’ future repertoire, it sets the basis for the rest of the album: screaming yet subtle guitars with just a touch of keyboards and pounding bass and drums. Also, don’t forget to trow an ear at the hidden germ “Blue Highway,” that will take you on a ride of speed and adrenaline. Finally, the almost poppy production of Keith Forsey achieves to give the songs the appeal that made them so popular to the masses.
Rebel Yell allowed Idol to access superstardom in America, a status he will maintain pretty much throughout the decade. Unfortunately, a series of set back such as the depart of his main writing partner will result in less inspired although still enjoyable records. A product of its era, Rebel Yell nevertheless remains a classic today and one of my all time favorite. If you don’t know the work of the spiked-haired British rocker, this is a good point to start!