Appearing on the London punk scene shortly after the Sex Pistols, Generation X was an extraordinary but ill-fated outfit that issued five tremendous singles, one classic album and some real dross. It also launched the mega-career of Billy Idol and the ditzy Sigue Sigue Sputnik, developments one must weigh when considering the band’s historical significance.
With Idol as the band’s voice and image and guitarist Bob “Derwood” Andrews providing its rock power, Generation X broke a lot of punk conventions, and were ultimately ostracized by their peers for refusing to be (or even feign being, as many others did) anti-commercial. Their breakup can be viewed as a parallel to the dispersal of the original punk spirit, although Billy Idol’s phoenix-like ascent to world chart domination is equally indicative of the subsequent salability of that ethos.
Following a string of tremendous 45s (“Your Generation,” “Wild Youth,” “Ready Steady Go” — all included on the US version of the first LP) that crossbred punk insolence with kitschy ’60s pop culture to produce catchy, roaring anthems for disaffected youth, Generation X’s debut album bore out their promise — not a bum track in the bunch. A commercial streak didn’t preclude a punky outlook or closeness to their audience; while the songs don’t threaten the established order, they do retain a cocky irreverence that made Generation X more than a latter-day Mott the Hoople. Generation X, regardless of the reputational damage Billy Idol may have subsequently caused, is a classic record. The superior US version deletes “Listen,” “The Invisible Man” and “Too Personal” — all fairly unessential — and adds the two single sides (“Wild Youth” and “Your Generation”) omitted from the UK album, a definitive John Lennon cover (“Gimme Some Truth”) and the amazing pioneering reggae-mix of “Wild Dub.”
Valley of the Dolls, produced by Ian Hunter, pales in comparison. Two or three numbers (e.g., “Running with the Boss Sound,” “King Rocker”) recall the sonic magnificence of the early singles, but the surrounding tracks leave much to be desired. A typical sophomore-record material shortage.
Kiss Me Deadly, recorded after Idol and bassist Tony James (co-writer with Idol of the band’s songs) had sacked Andrews and drummer Mark Laff, is a shoddy affair, containing only the wonderful “Dancing with Myself” (the same recording was later issued under Idol’s name) to recommend it. Their moniker truncated to Gen X, Idol and James employed once and future Clash drummer Terry Chimes and a trio of guitar stars — Steve Jones, John McGeoch and Chelsea’s James Stevenson — but the spirit was gone from the music, and the LP is merely a pale shadow of the band’s early glories. Indeed, by the time of its release, Idol — under the tutelage of ex-Kiss manager Bill Aucoin — had already declared himself a solo act.
In recapitulating all three records, The Best Of catches just about everything worth saving off the second and third albums (“Valley of the Dolls,” “Running with the Boss Sound,” “King Rocker,” “Dancing with Myself”) but omits a couple of early masterpieces. For the best of Generation X, you could still do worse than the American Generation X.
During their tenure in Generation X, Andrews and Laff were accused of being heavy metal musicians in disguise. On their own in Empire, they do indeed play with a metallic lack of subtlety, but the results aren’t nearly as explosive as you might expect. In their version of pop music, Andrews and Laff slow down the tempo to a pace that renders Empire labored and drab.