It’s 1990, and Billy Idol is living a semi-charmed life. Ready to release his fourth album, Charmed Life, which would later go platinum, and lead single “Cradle of Love” reaching the number two spot on the charts, musically, Idol was impenetrable entering the ’90s, all while coming “back to life” following a near-death experience. Recovering from a motorcycle accident earlier that year, which left him with a fractured forearm and nearly cost him his right leg, the event continued to haunt Idol for decades and is one he comes to better terms with on new EP The Roadside (Dark Horse Records).
Recounting more life changes—both losing his mother and welcoming his new grandchild into the world in 2020—The Roadside crosses reflections of passing lives, new beginnings, and finally facing an event that changed his life.
“You should be able to look back on your life,” Idol tells American Songwriter. “I’m 65 and going to be 66, so I do feel that I’ve been alive a long time, and it does give you a sense of experience. You can approach things looking back from a distance, and think about your life, and quantify it in some ways. Maybe that’s what’s going on with these tracks.”
Produced by Butch Walker (Weezer, Green Day) and recorded nearly entirely during the pandemic and featuring longtime co-writer and guitarist Steve Stevens, along with writers Tommy English and Joe Janiak, Idol faces renewal and rebirth, and cheekier elements of love in four songs.
I’m gonna ride this bike to the edge of town / Roll to the bridge with my eyes shut / And spit at the stars / And scream in the dark. On the stripped back “Bitter Taste,” Idol exposes his wounds, regrets, and still visible scars—There’s a million ways to die / Should’ve left me way back / By the roadside—and sees his renaissance in the end.
“It was great to be able to write that song because it helped put it to bed,” shares Idol. “I was lucky that they could fix my leg. There was no permanent damage or anything, and in the end, it actually turned out all right, but it was touch and go at certain times. It still stays with me, and I don’t ride high. That was the idea of the motorcycle, it was a buzz unto itself, invincibility, but don’t do it. It’s not worth it.”
Unable to write about the accident for decades, Idol let the years roll by, so it was further in the rearview of his life. “I’ve never really written a song reflecting back on the motorcycle accident because I couldn’t wait for it to be 20 years later, and now it’s 31 years,” says Idol. “I don’t know about everybody else but for me personally, you have to let things marinate, and you never know how long that gestation period is going to last. The motorcycle accident is something I had 30 years to marinate and think about that.”
“Rita Hayworth,” co-written with Sam Hollander (Ringo Starr, Carole King), addresses the “Me Too” and “Times Up” movements, and sexual harassment and abuse women continue to face, something Idol was reflecting on more after the birth of his granddaughter Poppy Rebel (Rebel Yell) in 2020.
“It covers actresses in Hollywood being picked off by producers and sexually abused, and then my daughter gave birth to my granddaughter, so I was really thinking about her future, and the future for the girls in this world,” shares Idol. “I’m glad ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time’s Up’ happened because it means in the future, hopefully, my granddaughters won’t experience this sexual abuse that women have been going through for hundreds of years.”
Idol adds, “Knowing my daughter for all these years and how excited she was about having this child, it was such a positive thing during coronavirus. Watching my granddaughter go from lying in our arms, very fragile, to her personality kicking in, to helping her to walk, and then the first words… I think she said ‘dude’ first, that’s why I was thinking about their future.”
Closing the other half of The Roadside are tongue-in-cheek smashers like “U Don’t Have to Kiss Me Like That” and the sweeter croon of “Baby Put Your Clothes Back On.”
The first of three EPs Idol is planning on releasing over the next year and later compiling into one full album, The Roadside is the first new chapter of Billy Idol, now.
Looking back, nearly four decades since his solo debut Billy Idol in 2022 and the 40th anniversary of his late ’70s punk band Generation X’s third album Kiss Me Deadly, Idol is forever connected to the old souls of his past.
“They’re very much a part of me, those souls,” says Idol. “It’s still part of what me and Steve [Stevens] have always been doing together. The fact that we’re still playing together, we can visit those old souls and make them stick today.”