Albums round up: Kings & Queens of the Underground by Billy Idol; Queen Forever by Queen; Big Music by Simple Minds; Gracias Por La Musica by Abba

King & Queens of the Underground by Billy idol

King & Queens of the Underground by Billy idol

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Former punk rocker Billy Idol is nothing if not candid about his hell-raising past in the the title track of his first album in eight years. “Sold all my vinyl/It went up my arm/And I thought rock and roll/Couldn’t do no me no harm,” he reflects over strings and longtime associate Steve Stevens’ acoustic guitar.

The song’s setting – complete with pastoral flute – may be reminiscent of producer Trevor Horn’s work with Seal on Kiss From a Rose but one-time Generation X singer Idol is no honeyed crooner. As tub thumpers such as Can’t Break Me Down and Whiskey and Pills make clear, there’s still some of the Rebel Yell spirit left in him yet.

Even in his quieter moments, such as Ghost in My Guitar, he suggests he’d still like to be out there rocking away in his leather jacket and skinny jeans. “When I think of you/There’s a voice in my head/That says without fire/We’re better off dead.”

Guitarist Brian May described Queen’s new compilation as “things that we have collected together that are representative of our growth rather than the big hits”.

Featuring 20 tracks – or 36 on the double-CD set – its primary points of interest to diehard fans are three previously unreleased songs. There Must Be More to Life Than This, discarded from sessions for the 1982 album Hot Space, has been given 21st century ballast by producer William Orbit. Admittedly Jackson’s fragile, mellifluous vocal does sound slightly out of place amid the soaring guitars and powerful drums yet its simple sentiment – “I live in hope for a world filled with love” – is affecting. And the song does have a pretty, Beatles-like coda.

Elsewhere the Freddie Mercury solo hit Love Kills is stripped down to a ballad and the pomp rocker Let Me in Your Heart Again would not have been out of place on the band’s 1984 album The Works.

Las Palabras de Amor – with its glistening keyboards – stands out amongst their minor hits and May devotees will enjoy his guitar playing on the poignant Bijou, from the band’s final studio album, Innuendo.

A period of taking stock – during which they revisited their albums from the late 70s and early 80s then embarked on a greatest hits tour of intimate venues – seems to have done Simple Minds mainstays Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill the world of good.

Some of the bombast that made stadium rock albums such as Real Life and Good News From the Next World a chore has been skimmed away, leaving Kerr and Burchilll the freedom to explore their art rock-meets-synthpop roots in songs such Blindfolded, Midnight Walking and Honest Town (with its conscious echo of their classic New Gold Dream).

Previous singles Blood Diamonds and Broken Glass Park are also spirited affairs; the rest is admittedly take it or leave it. Nonetheless it’s nice to have Simple Minds back in better form.

Abba’s reissue campaign to commemorate their 40th anniversary includes a heavyweight vinyl box set, a steel book edition of Abba Gold and the complete collection of their albums on iTunes.

But it’s an album of hits such as Thank You For the Music, Dancing Queen and Gime! Gimme! Gimme! translated into Spanish that might catch the eye of aficionados.

Originally released in 1980, it’s presented here in a deluxe edition that adds Ring, Ring, Andante, Andante, Felicidad (Happy New Year), No Hay a Quien Culpar (When All is Said and Done) and Se Me Esta Escapando (Slipping Through My Fingers) to the original 10 tracks.

For those that always longed to hear I Have a Dream (Estoy Sonando), Mamma Mia and Chiquitita sweetly sung by Agnetha and Frida for a Latin audience this is definitely for you. As ever with Abba, the performances are uniformly immaculate.

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