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Author Topic: Cyberpunk: The best album you never heard  (Read 174 times)

Spike

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Cyberpunk: The best album you never heard
« on: November 14, 2020, 07:23:18 pm »
In celebration of the release of Cyberpunk: Red today(?), I thought I'd give you the low down and dirty on William Broad's 1993 album, Cyberpunk.

In context, this album is one of the most important of the decade it was released, and it definitively established Broad, popularly known as Billy Idol, as the first real life (perhaps only!) Cyberpunk in the world. It also destroyed his career, and it would be 13 years before he released his next and and penultimate album before disappearing into the hellscape of Gieco Commericals.   In order to understand how this musically mediocre album is among the most important of its time, we have to delve into the backstory.

In 1976 Broad was a 21 year old member of the Bromley Contingent, a crowd of fans that also produced musical act Siouxsie Sioux. He joined the band Chelsea, which later became Generation X, and it was one of his band members that crafted Idol's famous image.  Despite the punk background and stylings, Broad it seems was never particularly punk, and in fact is probably best described as a bit of a poser, an Actor playing a Rock Star with a Punk Look. Honestly, one look at the original Album Art for 1981's Billy Idol album and you get the impression he'd be happier performing with Wham. 

During the Generation X period, however, Broad began developing a bit of an ego and the typical rock star habits of overindulgence, and he created friction within the band by locking himself away to write songs on his own, without imput.  Shortly after Gen X splits, and Broad takes with him the last hit written and recorded for Generation X, a little ditty called Dancing With Myself, which he re-releases as a solo act virtually unchanged from its original form. In fact, of the three singles on Billy Idol's debut album, only one, White Wedding, was written by Idol for Idol. Mony Mony was a cover of the Shondels song of the same name.

It it worth revisiting that first album, also Billy's first with Guitarist Steve Stevens, as it channels the pure sound of Broad's musical sensibilities, unaltered by others, including I believe Stevens, who had a massive influence on the Idol sound, most notably in this case in White Wedding and Mony Mony.

In short, Broad, as Idol, appears very much to be a product. In somewhat exotic parlance, here we have the classic example of someone who 'took the ticket' to be a success.  Along the way he lost his artistic vision, his sense of identity, with Broad being entirely replaced by Idol, with his bleached hair, stupid tattoo and contacts instead of nerdy glasses.  Having taken that ticket, becoming a wholly owned and operated 'Product' for the masses was very, very good to Broad, however, as you cannot argue that Idol dominated the entire decade of the 1980, ending on a strong note with "Cradle of Love" in 1991.

Cradle of Love is a remarkable turning point, the apex of Broad's career as Idol.  The song itself was recorded for the Andrew Dice Clay movie, Ford Fairlaine, in which Idol was to appear as an actor, but reportedly a near death motorcycle accident saw him replaced by Robert Englund, and Ford Fairlaine largely disappeared from the pop culture landscape with barely a whisper, though it remains something of an underground cult classic to this day.

In short, in 1991 Broad was a the very peak, poised to dominate a new decade with new music, a prospective acting career (and recall too that Idol himself is nothing but a long running act).  After missing Ford Fairlaine, however, no new acting gigs appeared.  In fact, in his forty five year career, Broad has only netted three acting credits that are not 'Billy Idol':  Cat, in The Doors (1991), Lee Turner in Mad Dog Time (1996), and Mad Man Mulligan in Horrible Histories (2002).

What happened, of course, is the Album Cyberpunk, released in 1993.  At least.... publickly.  There is no obvious reason why Broad didn't continue pursuing acting between 1991 and 1993.   Cyberpunk was an album doomed to failure from the start, so its bombing shouldn't have ended a  very successful career. Broad was opposed at every turn by the record companies, Steve Stevens, who is at least as responsible for the Idol sound as Broad, didn't work on it. It wasn't even properly released through the usual channels. In short, Broad made this album against every single obstacle the studios threw at him, and against all odds, he succeeded. Unfortunately for him.

Or not.

As noted earlier, Billy Idol is an act, a product. William Broad's contributions behind the scenes are not negligible, but neither are they primary. Broad, as noted earlier, took the ticket, trading away his creative freedom for success at the very least.   Sometime around 1991 Broad... changed his mind.  He ripped up his ticket, spat in the face of his corporate overlords and said 'fuck you, I'm doing it Street'.  And with the ticket gone, so too were all the future acting gigs, the  other hallmarks of success.  In 1994 Broad suffered a Drug Overdose (GHB).   From this point on, Broad was relegated to minor appearances, and plagued with mysterious failures.

One might suggest a conspiracy theory of sorts, that somewhere between recording Charmed Life and its release, Broad began fighting over the terms of his corporate slavery, that the accident that utterly derailed his acting career (he was also slated to appear in Terminator 2 as the Terminator...), was either a cover to explain his sudden career downturn, or alternatively a deliberate 'message' from his bosses.  However, this is mere speculation.

Now that we've utterly set the stage, lets talk about the album itself, and how this makes Billy Idol in truth the worlds first, perhaps only, Cyberpunk.

Idol, one of the biggest pop-rock acts in the world recorded it at home on a Mac with Pro-Tools, prefiguring all those wannabe you-tube acts by at least twenty fucking years.  Street as fuck.  He ditched every influence, bringing on like minded individuals to produce the first 'William Broad' album since 1981. Honestly, that is one of the problems with it... Broad is a decent enough songwriter, but his sensibilities aren't really all that mainstream.  Most (not all...) of the rock seems to have come from Steve Stevens, notably absent on this album.  Honestly, if you play a mixed playlist of 1981's Billy Idol with 1993's Cyberpunk, other than the themes in the lyrics, many of the songs could belong on either album, only Cyberpunk really lacks any solid hits to compete with White Wedding or Mony, Mony... Shock to the System is alright, but nobody ever goes... man, i could really dig on Shock to the System right about now, right?

But other than being way too indulgent with intermissions and intros and outros (seriously: 12 minutes of the album is 'not-music'.... swear!), Cyberpunk is a perfectly servicable album, and even lacking the proper Idol sound, Broad was able to make a modest success of it in his native land. Hardly the thing that lays waste to careers.

But Spike... what makes him Cyberpunk?

You mean aside from the in-your-face attack on the corporate suits, and prefiguring the internet of You-tube by AT LEAST twenty motherfucking years?  How about this: It was the first album that was released digitally, well before Napster was a thing. It was the first album with the artist's email address in it.  Motherfucker: it was the first commercial album to be made on a goddamn computer rather than a proper studio.  Sometime between 1991 and 1993 William Motherfucking Broad travelled to the future, took one look at the landscape, and came back and said "You know? I may not have neural plugs, but fuck it, we're doing this shit Tomorrow!"  And so he did.  Alone, with nothing but the Street and his own Edge to carry him through.  At some point, Broad lived Idol so long it seems to have become Real, and the line between person and persona has been crossed. 

You may not know it, but you've been living in his world ever since. 











Disclaimer:  I am a fan.

Disclaimer Two: This probably needs a second draft, maybe one or two more fact checks, and a bit stronger finish... its all there, but frankly I'm pressed for time.  Happydaze reported earlier that Cyberpunk Red was released on DTRPG today, so I gotta get this out stat.  Frankly, I'm a bit disappointed in it, so feel free to stroke my ego and tell me how wonderful I really am... I won't mind.  8)
For you the day you found a minor error in a Post by Spike and forced him to admit it, it was the greatest day of your internet life.  For me it was... Tuesday.

For the curious: Apparently, in person, I sound exactly like the Youtube Character The Nostalgia Critic.   I have no words.

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hedgehobbit

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Re: Cyberpunk: The best album you never heard
« Reply #1 on: November 19, 2020, 12:51:05 pm »
Tying your rock career to the fad of punk rock ... Good
Tying your rock career to the fad of cyberpunk ... Not Good

Lurkndog

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Re: Cyberpunk: The best album you never heard
« Reply #2 on: November 19, 2020, 07:55:05 pm »
I'd say part of the problem was that Cyberpunk as a literary movement had already crested with the publication of Mona Lisa Overdrive in 1988, five years previously.

Cyberpunk would still be published after that, notably Snow Crash in 1992, and The Matrix in 1999, but they would be written to a codified formula whose ink was already dry.

He was way too late to be on the cutting edge, but too soon to be retro.
« Last Edit: November 19, 2020, 07:57:25 pm by Lurkndog »

thedungeondelver

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Re: Cyberpunk: The best album you never heard
« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2020, 08:36:45 pm »
I'd say part of the problem was that Cyberpunk as a literary movement had already crested with the publication of Mona Lisa Overdrive in 1988, five years previously.

Cyberpunk would still be published after that, notably Snow Crash in 1992, and The Matrix in 1999, but they would be written to a codified formula whose ink was already dry.

He was way too late to be on the cutting edge, but too soon to be retro.

There was also his ridiculous insistence that any critics or press must have read William Gibson's novel Neuromancer before reviewing his album or talking to him about it...but when he was asked if he'd read it himself, he eventually admitted that he hadn't.

Front 242's catalog, Hack by Information Society, and the two studio releases from Sigue Sigue Sputnik (which included ex-members of Idol's prior band, Gen X) were superior Cyberpunk works, released well prior to Idol's ridiculous, McDonald's version of it.
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Mcbobbo sums it up nicely.

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