2010: Year of the W.A.S.P.

19/06/2010 § Leave a comment

This is more of a personal journal than anything else. Few – if any – comments are expected. Its inception comes on the back of Charlie’s comment about the domination of W.A.S.P. songs in my Last FM. I myself am surprised not only at their domination but almost complete takeover of my listening. This is especially unusual coming from someone who prides themselves on variety and listening to much progressive and experimental music [whilst simultaneously trying not to appear pretentious – and in this case, failing]. WASP is neither progressive nor experimental, in fact, the formula has hardly differed from album to album in over 25 years. So why the dominance?

For me, WASP spells out and proves the tenet of “it’s not the song, it’s the singer”. I hold Lawless in no particular high esteem as a person, but his ability to carry a tune and to deliver it with meaning and conviction is astounding. Covering a WASP song and outdoing it would be a hard task indeed – almost an impossible one – as proven by Marco in Nightwish. Not only this, but each song, each stave and each bar has been crafted with such incredible care. There’s no doubting the amount of effort and feeling that Lawless has about the band, he really is each songs he’s creating.

I won’t be concentrating on many albums in this journal save those which take the crowning top three places as far as I am concerned – Inside The Electric Circus, The Headless Children and The Crimson Idol. I personally consider these a trilogy and the point where WASP became a far more serious, mature band. These albums are armoured, intact and unconquerable in WASP’s catalogue. At this point I don’t consider their first two – or anything after 1992 – to be particularly great in comparison.

Lawless had set the bar so high with Crimson Idol that is was impossible to move it any further. His conviction to his cause has remained as strong musically, but I think nearly each WASP fan would agree that post-1992 things went downhill. By how much one thinks so is relative. There have been high points, e.g. 2007’s Dominator being possibly the best release since Crimson, but it’s not quite up to the same standard.

I’ll give a very brief run-down of these three albums. These are not reviews, just personal outlines. I won’t pull these albums apart or dissect their respective elements.

Inside The Electric Circus [1986]

Let’s get the cover art out the way first, it’s pretty awful. As far as 80s album covers goes this almost excels the naffness category. It’s hard to know whether this was supposed to be more serious than tongue-in-cheek or visa versa, but either way, it’s not great by any means. Flicking around Rate Your Music, it was the cover art to Lion’s Breed’s “Damn The Night” that got me to check out similar and better music from the 80s and I came across this, though the Damn The Night cover makes even less sense.

Electric Circus carries a different tone to WASP’s self-titled and The Last Command inasmuch as the sex and sleaze has all but been removed [save for in a couple of numbers]. The songs here are starting to get more serious as Lawless questioned the future direction of the band and was at the receiving end of a lot of criticism and backlash for the group’s shock tactics. Seeing as this was the first album of theirs which really caught my attention, it’s most likely my favourite and epitomises the very best of how 80s traditional metal should be.

The Headless Children [1989]

Having released three albums in three years, Lawless took three more out to write and record The Headless Children. The result is a far more serious album with improved lyrics and more variety in the songwriting. Though most people see Electric Circus as the bridge between The Last Command and The Headless Children, I see The Headless Children as a bridge between Electric Circus and The Crimson Idol. By now it was clear that Lawless knew he wanted to take things in a more mature and serious direction, and The Headless Children seems a great stepping-stone between the two albums.

The Crimson Idol [1992]

As much as I rate All Music’s reviews 90% of the time, their idea that The Headless Children is “the best constructed WASP album” appears ludicrous. And not just ludicrous, but wrong. In all my years of listening to metal, I’m hard-pushed to think of an album as well thought-out and put together as The Crimson Idol. Not only is the whole work shamelessly and honestly autobiographical but the way in which its themes – musically and lyrically – repeat and recur throughout in relation to the story is masterful. They always tell you to write what you know, after all.

If anything, the main theme of the album is love and how – cliché upon cliché – it’s more important than anything. This is something which I would have rolled my eyes at years ago and vomited at in disgust, but now, approaching my 31st year, it’s becoming increasingly true. “Jonathan” starts to realise as early as track 3, just as his dreams of being a rock star are becoming true, that there’s a ghost of emptiness following him in the back of his mind. It’s the sense that all this pomp and success means little in comparison to the affections of his parents who he eventually tries to reconcile with. In the end it doesn’t matter if his music has affected thousands of people: if he himself is depressed, the whole exercise feels selfish and futile.

The Crimson Idol becomes slower and more though-provoked/provoking as it progresses and I imagine Lawless found the trade-off of grinding metal and melodic poignancy difficult to work with in the writing stages, but it’s more or less carried off perfectly. The system-shock which is Hold on to My Heart is doubtless intentional: a complete all-stop before the final number and rousing finale. I have a love/hate relationship with this song for various reasons – but I’d rather feel this way about it than indifferent.

For me, WASP is a group who do nothing but just put out very good music indeed. Having quite an analytical nature, it’s tempting for me to go into more depth and run away with a prolix review, but that wouldn’t do the band any favours. This is not music to be inspected and turned over. It’s there to be enjoyed to the fullest of its degrees. It’s the uncomplicated nature, confidence, honesty and self-belief which makes it work. Nothing has been forced together or included purely for the sake of it. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, and particularly The Headless Children and The Crimson Idol seem testament to this idea. More than anything, WASP’s music feels thoroughly natural, cared for and genuine. And there’s little else I could ask for in a metal album.

I’ll finish this journal by saying that if anyone can recommend me any books on the band, I’d be greatly appreciative.


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