My thoughts on “NOT IDOL”, the latest album from BILLIE IDLE.
Release Date: November 7th 2018
4. Cinderella Anthem
5. Tanchouna Elegy
6. under the sun
7. Bye Bye Loneliness
Well, to the surprise of no one (that’s totally a lie, I kinda bought it) it would appear that BILLIE IDLE haven’t hung up their bomber jackets and Doc Marten boots following the release of their rather worryingly titled album “LAST ALBUM” (review here). Nah, it was just another ruse to get some headlines it would seem, though depending on who you believe there were talks at one point of calling time on the project. As someone who quite likes BILLIE IDLE, I’m glad they chose not to do so and instead to carry things on with a new album…and a new member.
I am of course talking about Pour Lui, formerly of BiS and now proudly flying the flag of BILLIE IDLE. A shocking development, though it was hinted quite heavily at beforehand and it took a while for people to catch on. She has already featured on the Best-of album “BILLIed IDLE 2.0” but today’s review of the rather appropriately titled “NOT IDOL” is going to be our first chance to hear her take a shot at some totally new material. This album is also the first BILLIE IDLE album since WACK producer Junnosuke Watanabe publicly distanced himself from the project. Whether he actually did or not of course remains to be seen.
So there’s quite a lot of elements in play with this release. Pour Lui being a new, permanent addition to the line-up is sure to be interesting to everyone who skipped on buying “BILLIE IDLE 2.0” and haven’t heard her yet. Watanabe’s supposed lack of influence will I’m sure also be cause for celebration for some. The album’s theme is also a point of interest as BILLIE IDLE do tend to pick an older musical style and spend an entire album writing love letters to it. Let’s see what this album’s modest, but completely new tracklist of 8 songs has to offer.
Album opener “Run³” gets things underway but probably not in the fashion that many, myself included, were expecting. Acoustic guitar backs some relatively unpolished vocals to create a rather melancholic tone to open an album that you would think might have gone with something a bit more energetic. Take all of that out of it though and this is a really beautiful performance, perhaps it is too bad that it only last for about 50 seconds before things really get going. Come on, you didn’t think BILLIE IDLE were going to open an album on such a sombre note did you? After a rather abrupt tempo change we’re treated to some Lo-fi Garage Rock, something that BILLIE IDLE are known to have an affinity for. I really like the warmth that the fuzzy guitars created and the drumming was catchy though perhaps a bit understated. BILLIE IDLE songs are full of personality on the vocal front and that’s still the case with this one too. I really do enjoy how each member has a really distinct tone to their voice. The delivery might not have been quite as fiery as usual but it’s still a really good song and is a great way to kick things off, despite the admittedly slow burn of the opening section.
Second track “Everydays” is being used (or was since the album came out a while ago now) as the promotional song for “NOT IDOL”, so by that token you’d expect it to be a pretty decent representation of what’s on offer from the album. Well, the harmonica is certainly a new development and a very prominent feature of the song. I think it’s a pretty logical and perhaps more importantly cool addition to the BILLIE IDLE sound and Uika even plays it live (it looked like she did when I saw them anyway) so it’s a neat on-stage gimmick too. We’re keeping the fuzzy guitar theme going on this one too, and the drumming is much more pronounced which I thought cut through the wall of warmth that the instrumental is otherwise emanating. Speaking of warmth, the vocals also contain quite a bit of it. The verses flow smoothly along, at times almost drifting by but still with enough pep and variety of tone to keep the mind from wandering too far. The energy gets turned up significantly for the song’s chorus, a catchy one at that, that is more than happily belted out with the powerful delivery that we’ve come to expect from the likes of Uika. This is a feel-good song that will hopefully bring some warmth to you all during these colder months that we currently find ourselves in.
I don’t know about anyone else, but the opening guitar riff on the album’s third track “DOKI²” had me thinking that BILLIE IDLE were about to take a sharp turn off of the beaten path and into Country territory. I also thought it was really catchy so I don’t think I would have minded if that was actually where this song decided to go. It eventually settles into something a bit more resembling of a Punk song in structure, which is something that I’m also more than fine with. The cool guitar riff never really goes away either so depending on your stance on it that will either be a good or a bad thing. The guitar solo in the bridge is just filthy too, as if I couldn’t love the instrumental any more than I already do. Given the blistering pace of the instrumental, it should come as no surprise that the vocals on this song are delivered in a similar fashion. Rapid fire, high energy and super repetitive are what you should expect from a song like this and it is exactly what we get here. There’s a bunch of little hooks that are designed to get stuck in your head and that is certainly what they do. Maybe you won’t be a fan of how rough around the edges certain elements of this song might sound but for me it ticks all of the boxes. This might be my favorite BILLIE IDLE song that’s come out in the last album or two they’ve done.
“Cinderella Anthem” brings us to the midway point of our journey through this album’s tracklist. Kinda hard to believe that we’re already half way through but I suppose when you’re only offering up 8 songs then these things will tend to breeze by. Unlike the rest of the songs that we’ve heard up until now this one actually draws from a completely different set of influences. There’s a very heavy 80s Synth Pop feel to the instrumental, that if I’m being totally honest I thought they’d borrowed straight from early 00s Hello! Project’s playbook when I first heard it. I’m quite partial to this era and style of music so I’m definitely liking what BILLIE IDLE have got going on here, thought it did feel like the instrumental got a bit too muddy as the song picked up. Not the end of the world, just a nitpick. The vocals also feel like they pull a lot from that early 00s Hello! Project style, with a bunch of “fuwa fuwa” moments that will definitely bring the crowd into the song when it’s performed live. I’m usually kinda iffy on having stuff like that be an actual part of the song as opposed to something the fans come up with but it’s fitting of the style and time period we’re aiming for. The actual singing is also pretty good too, with Uika and Pour Lui especially having some really nice performances. If you’re into the “be-bop tu-tu” era BILLIE IDLE material then definitely check this one out.
Remember when GANG PARADE did that one song, yeah that one. Then EMPIRE also did one that was kinda similar a few months later? Well it looks like BILLIE IDLE are (for better or worse) getting in on the action as well with “NOT IDOL”‘s fifth track “Tanchouna Elegy”. Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way, those vocals in the opening section of the song are sung with a…rather thick accent shall we say. It definitely grabs your attention is what I will say, and it does pretty much go away for the rest of the song so it’s not like we’ve gone full GANG PARADE here. Hopefully the opening segment doesn’t put people off because there’s some really nice vocal structuring and flow to this song along with some hooks and runs that you definitely don’t hear every day in Idol music. Very distinct and memorable, which is never a bad thing. The instrumental is also really interesting and fun to listen to, especially if you like your guitar playing to be a bit more intricate than what you’d normally get from an Idol song. Some of those riffs were just great and I found myself picking more and more out of the instrumental with each listen. There is a bit of an…ethnic feel to the composition but I’m not sure if it’s because there actually is one or if the opening vocals just burned the idea of it into my brain. What I do know is that this song is very good and I would definitely recommend it if you’re a person who is looking for something with a bit of a different sound than normal.
Okay, hands up if anyone thought that we were going to get a song that even vaguely resembled Metal from this or any other BILLIE IDLE album that may or may not be released in the future. Nobody? Good, I didn’t think so. Well, that’s what track 6 “under the sun” is I guess although let’s be real here it’s not like they’ve gone 150% s00per br00tal tvu kvlt Metal song here. There’s definitely a pretty heavy influence though, an influence that can be heard quite clearly in the Motörhead style guitar riffs that are a feature throughout the song. They could have kept them a bit more prominent in my opinion but we’re trying to sell a group of Idol singers here and not a Metal band so fair enough. While we didn’t quite get vintage Lemmy on the vocal side of things, what we did get was still to the usual high standard we’ve come to expect from BILLIE IDLE. Uika really seems like she’s in her element on this song, delivering the powerful vocals she’s famous for with all of the passion and flair that’s befitting of a song like this. I wouldn’t have minded a slightly more catchy hook but I guess we couldn’t make it too Poppy now could we? I’m sure a few people out there will roll their eyes at this one but I kinda got a kick out of the apparent homage. It was also cool to hear BILLIE IDLE do a very different style to what is usually in their wheelhouse too.
Things mellow out considerably in the album’s penultimate track “Bye Bye Loneliness”. I suppose if you were wondering where the softer, more Ballad style song was then you may wonder no longer. The opening synthesizer meets piano instrumental is super smooth and kind of gives me City Pop vibes which is awesome because I’m all about that genre. It does feel rather melancholic and lonely though so at least initially I’m not seeing how it ties into the title. The vocals here are similarly smooth and practically melt in the ears as they flow through your speakers/headphones/etc. The song slowly builds over the course of about a minute and a half before soaring and becoming much brighter though still with a very melancholic feel. A lot of this is down to the vocals, which have their fits of passion but for the most part maintain a very even keel. This is matched by the constant, almost reassuring hand on the back that the instrumental provides. Opting for simple but fairly catchy loops it all marries very well together. At times this feels more like an aural experience than a song but I think that, at least for me, the production choices made what might have otherwise been a song I’d wave my hand at into something I definitely will continue to revisit. Good stuff.
Album closer “MESSAGE” wraps things up with the kind of vigor and intensity that you’d expect out of BILLIE IDLE. The energetic Rock instrumental that opens the song features a guitar riff that is instantly catchy and makes you want to move around. It remains a feature of much of the song which is pretty awesome in my book, although they do change it up a bit for the chorus because of course you want to highlight the vocals there instead of some guy’s guitar playing. There is something to be said of having too much of a good thing after all. The overall theme of the song is a rough and tumble Rock number, with the appropriate amount of distortion on the guitars to throw a bit of mud on it and I love it. Vocally we get the BILLIE IDLE personalities turned up to 11 and all of the usual over pronunciation and attitude that makes their song so distinctly theirs. Big personalities and a couple decades of combined performing experience between all of the members really does make a world of difference when compared to acts with less experience. This is a really fun song and its bottom billing could either be seen as undeserved or absolutely perfect as a way of closing out what has been my favorite BILLIE IDLE album since perhaps “IDLE GOSSIP”.
BILLIE IDLE have produced yet another fun album in “NOT IDOL”, with plenty of throwback influences that pull from a range of familiar genres. Pour Lui’s inclusion is noticeable but her role sees her playing supporting character to Uika and Momo more often than not. It must be difficult to balance out so many strong vocals in one group but BILLIE IDLE appear to be pulling it off rather well. The results as they say, speak for themselves.
As a group BILLIE IDLE are coming into 2019 with a lot of momentum behind them. A well received new album, sold out tours and a line-up with decades of industry experience and great vocal talent must make them the envy of their peers. A new single is on the horizon too, releasing at the start of February. It certainly is a good time to be a BILLIE IDLE fan folks, who would have thought we’d be here a year ago?