The Crimson Idol, by W.A.S.P.
Suggested by Dan Jenkins
I rather liked W.A.S.P. When it was appropriate to do so.
That time was in the late Eighties. Anything later than that, or, god forbid, today, and you’re entering the realm of Bad Life Choices.
For those who’ve never heard of LA’s finest Shock Rockers, W.A.S.P. are a heavy metal band formed in 1982 who specialised in provocative themes, performances and lyrics in a cynical grab for attention. It worked a charm, and the band were constantly in hot water with the self-appointed and delusional mid-Eighties arbiters of moral decency, the Parents Music Resource Center, or PMRC. This beaut of an organisation campaigned for warning labels on recorded music, which was quite the issue of the day.
Fronted by the gurning wild man Blackie Lawless, with his back-combed shock of obsidian hair and circular saw for a codpiece, early W.A.S.P. was an energetic and playful delight. The songs weren’t technically ambitious, but they captured the excessive Eighties hair rock sound. I Wanna Be Somebody, Wild Child, L.O.V.E Machine, Blind in Texas… all great tunes, reminiscent of Alice Cooper at his angriest and most theatrical. And who can forget the stone-cold classic, Animal (Duck Like a Feast)…? (The actual title has been processed through an autocorrect filter for this review.)
I stopped listening to W.A.S.P. after 1989’s The Headless Children, which was nothing special. It had a fine cover of the Who’s The Real Me, but little else of note. I’d noped out of this niche well before 1992’s The Crimson Idol. After listening to it, I’m very glad I did.
The Crimson Idol is an hour-long Rock Opera centred on the antics of a fictional rock star called Jonathan Steel. I mean, that alone is enough to make me double up in laughter and hoon the CD into the sea. Over ten appallingly indulgent tracks, it vapes and spasms through ridiculous trope after ridiculous trope, excreting something that’s best described as laughable. From the overblown opening of Titanic Overture to the pompous endgame of The Great Misconception of Me, this album feels like a litany of missteps dressed up in denim.
The first issue is that the concept is far too grandiose for the band’s honest but limited skillset. Blackie Lawless was never a singer of note, and this is painfully clear on the reflective numbers such as Hold On To My Heart or The Gypsy Meets The Boy. Musically, it’s unexciting and rote, constrained by the story being told.
The second issue is more pervasive and personal. W.A.S.P. were, to me, about the brash and bolshy sound, the shock rock and the flash bang. Why on earth would I want to hear a Rock Opera by these guys? I mean, kudos for trying, but stay in your lane. Consequently, I got a little more pleasure from the balls-out songs such as Doctor Rocktor and my standout Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue).
Blackie Lawless has not aged well. He now looks more like Roseanne than the Rock God he has always pertained to be. Similarly, the passage of time hasn’t been kind to the 3/10 Crimson Idol either. Critics suggested that W.A.S.P. stood for We Are Sexual Perverts, but on the strength of this I’d plump for Won’t Appear on Spotify Playlist.