chris holmes

REVIEW: Jim Crean – The London Fog (2019)

JIM CREAN – The London Fog (2019 Visionary Noise)

Vocalist extraordinaire Jim Crean is back with two new solo albums.  Not only is there a 16 track covers album called Gotcha Covered, but also The London Fog, a new original CD.  As usual, Crean boasts a killer hitlist of special guests, including Carmine & Vinny Appice, Mike Tramp, Rudy Sarzo, Chris Holmes, Steph Honde and plenty more.  Buckle up — it’s a heavy duty trip.

The London Fog goes wide open from the start, with the two new songs Crean released on last year’s Greatest Hits:  the excellent “Scream Taker” (tribute to Ronnie James Dio) and the riffy “Conflicted”.  “Scream Taker” features Dio alumni Vinny Appice and Rudy Sarzo.  These tracks follow the traditional blueprints of classic 80s metal, particularly “Conflicted”.  (The dexterous bassist that I initially mistook for Billy Sheehan is actually A.D. Zimmer.)

Want more riffs?  Then get “Broken”!  There’s a great chorus here: Melody and power, with some tasty licks from Steph Honde.  “Aphrodisiac” takes things to a more nocturnal place, but more menacing.  Still, there’s always room for some dirty rock, and that would be “Lady Beware”.  If Dokken’s classic lineup released another song today, it would probably sound a lot like “Lady Beware”.  This is the kind of rock we all miss, and have a hard time finding today.

Jim Crean is equally at home on rockers and ballads.  “Let It Go” (with Honde on piano and keyboards) has an epic quality for a ballad.  It might be a bit Scorpions, Whitesnake (circa 1987) or Guns N’ Roses…the comparisons are up to the listener.  The keyboard solo is a cool touch.  Then heavy sounds circulate on “Loaded” (more Zimmer on bass), but yet Crean maintains a knack for melody.

A familiar voice welcomes you on “Candle”, a Mike Tramp (Freaks of Nature) cover featuring Tramp in a duet.  The song is new to these ears, and I like how the parts shift and change moods.  A riff for the ages follows, on an original track called “1981”.  Again I’m reminded of Dokken, the classic era.  It’s hard to recapture a time period with such clarity, but Jim Crean has a talent for writing that way.  Some of his originals could very well be from another time.  (Drummer Colleen Mastrocovo gives “1981” a serious kick.)

Another obscure cover:  Robin Zander’s 1993 solo track “Time Will Let You Know”, a classy ballad from an underrated album.  Jim doesn’t try to sound like Robin Zander, but does it justice.  Then it’s Rod Stewart’s dance classic “Passion”.  Very few singers have the right rasp to do Rod Stewart justice, but Jim Crean is one of them.  That’s the always slick Tony Franklin on bass.  And get this!  Franklin’s Blue Murder bandmate Carmine Appice, the same guy who played on the the original “Passion”, also plays on this cover.  He approaches both versions very differently.  Rod’s version is slick dance rock, and this is more like metal that you can dance to.  Same song; familiar but a completely different arrangement.  If John Sykes ever played with Rod Stewart, maybe this is what they could have sounded like.

“Passion” could have closed the album and you’d be completely satisfied, but there’s more.  A funky “Fool” sounds like Aerosmith, and who’s that on guitar?  Ray Tabano, the original Aerosmith guitarist before Brad Whitford joined the band!  This song is more Aerosmith than anything that band has recorded since 1993!  Then it’s another lesser-known cover and duet:  Angel’s “Don’t Take Your Love” featuring original Angel singer Frank DiMino.  Great melodic rock songs are always welcome, and this one is truly great.

Finally comes the metallic closer “Tears” featuring Chris Holmes (W.A.S.P.).  The contrast between the heavy riffs and Jim’s melodic vocals is what makes this style work so well for him.  The riff has a W.A.S.P. vibe, but Crean takes it in a totally different direction.

Another fine album from Jim Crean and friends.  Fans of hard rock “the way they used to make it” will thoroughly enjoy.

4.5/5 stars

Check back for a look at Gotcha Covered, coming soon.

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REVIEW: W.A.S.P. – The Last Command (1985, 1997 reissue)

scan_20170110W.A.S.P. – The Last Command (1985, 1997 Snapper reissue)

With W.A.S.P.’s second album The Last Command, Blackie & cohorts made a slight move closer to the mainstream.  Blackie Lawless gave the producer’s chair to Spencer Proffer who worked magic with Quiet Riot in 1983.  There was also a new drummer.  W.A.S.P. said sayonara to Tony Richards and hit Japan with new guy Steve Riley, who today is best known for L.A. Guns.  Riley’s pasty-white demeanor fit right in with W.A.S.P.’s horror rock fantasy.  This foursome (also featuring guitarists Chris Holmes and Randy Piper) became what many refer to as the “classic” lineup.

Each side of the original LP was top-loaded:  “Wild Child” led off side one while “Blind in Texas” was used to ignite side two.  This was a calculated move, as none of the rest of the songs are as memorable as the two singles.  The strategy worked as this album doubled the sales of W.A.S.P.’s first, and those two singles had a lot to do with it.  “Wild Child” in particular was proof that W.A.S.P. could write songs and not just iron riffs.  With a bright incandescence, “Wild Child” found its way onto radio.  It’s an early example of what Blackie Lawless can do when he gets everything right.

As for “Blind in Texas”?  It was always more of a novelty, a chance for the crowd to yell along with Blackie (just listen to the live B-side version on the Headless Children CD).  A cute ZZ Top cameo in the music video didn’t hurt their chances on the Power Hour, and even the staunchest critic must admit this is a blast of pure fun.

Delving into the deeper cuts, “Ballcrusher” is…a quaint love song, let’s say, with a metal chug and a cutting W.A.S.P. riff.  Throw on one of those shouty W.A.S.P. choruses and you pretty much know how “Ballcrusher” goes!  Wealth is celebrated on “Fistful of Diamonds” which is the blueprint for all the generic W.A.S.P. rockers to follow. Steve Riley made his songwriting debut on “Jack Action”, a cool but forgettable nocturnal chug. On side one, however you will discover one real diamond which is the slow and ominous “Widowmaker”. This one too is a blueprint, for classic W.A.S.P. prowls like “The Headless Children”.

Side two has its own pits and valleys. As a sequel to the first album’s ballad “Sleeping (In the Fire)”, “Cries in the Night” is less successful. However it does have a strangely futuristic Iron Maiden-circa-1992 vibe, as if Steve Harris nicked this song for some of his own on Fear of the Dark.  “The Last Command” is junk; limp and hookless.  Blackie plagiarized himself and not for the last time.  When Blackie goes “Running Wild in the Streets” it sounds as if he’s stealing from Quiet Riot.  Ask Spencer Proffer, but surely the similarity between the “all the way!” section and the “I want more!” part of “Scream and Shout” is not coincidence.  The point is moot as neither song is particularly amazing.  Closing The Last Command is “Sex Drive”, a “good enough” song but only just.

W.A.S.P. have been generous with their reissues and included virtually all their related B-sides on the CDs.  “Mississippi Queen” (Mountain) is actually a decent B-side cover.   You have to wonder if, in 1985, W.A.S.P. could have had a hit with “Mississippi Queen” just as Motley Crue did with “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room”.  Then “Savage” is better than 90% of the actual album.  Why are songs like “Savage” left off albums?  Who makes the decision to release it as an obscure B-side?  The rest of the bonus tracks are all live B-sides, and all W.A.S.P. classics:  “Fuck Like a Beast”, “I Wanna Be Somebody”, “Sleeping (In the Fire)”, “Hellion” and “On Your Knees”.  Some suffer from excessive crowd noise, but it sounds like W.A.S.P. were formidable live.  Blackie should consider selling a live album made up of single B-sides like these, all in one place.

So good are the bonus tracks for The Last Command that they even alter its final score:

3/5 stars (original LP)

to

3.5/5 stars (CD reissue)

REVIEW: W.A.S.P. – First Blood…Last Cuts (1993)

scan_20161125W.A.S.P. – First Blood…Last Cuts (1993 Capitol)

When grunge took over the airwaves in 1991-1992, a lot of older guard bands found themselves without a record contract.  W.A.S.P.’s 1992 concept album The Crimson Idol failed to generate enough interest for Capitol Records to continue investing in the band.  A greatest hits contractual obligation album was a typical move for bands in this situation, and that is how First Blood…Last Cuts came to be.  With that in mind, the 16 track album is great bang for the buck.  Rarities and new songs add value, and the photo-loaded booklet is tons of fun.

A rarity right off the bat, “Animal” was a non-album single and W.A.S.P.’s first.  It’s better known as “Fuck Like a Beast”, and that might explain why it wasn’t on the W.A.S.P. album.  A good but not exceptional track, it does boast a nice metal chug, but it’s otherwise just there for shock value.  It is primitive metal akin to the first LP, with Blackie in full screech.  You either like W.A.S.P. or you don’t.

“L.O.V.E. Machine” from the first LP is remixed with the first verse re-recorded, for some reason.  Presumably Blackie must have been dissatisfied with the original.  There are several remixes on this CD, including singles “I Wanna Be Somebody”, “I Don’t Need No Doctor” (a metalized Ray Charles cover via Humble Pie), “Blind In Texas” and “Wild Child”.  The remixes generally have a sharper drum sound, particular the tracks originally from the muddy first album.  The remixing leads to an uneven listen.  Rather than sounding fresh, the remixes feel off-kilter and slightly unfamiliar, especially when butted up against non-remixed tracks.  The muddy “On Your Knees” follows the remixed “I Wanna Be Somebody”.  The transition between the two songs, both originally from the same album, could be better.

Thankfully the strong songs outnumber the middling by a hefty margin.  “Headless Children” and “The Real Me” (a Who cover from Quadrophenia) remain two highlights of the W.A.S.P. canon.  The chugging heavy epic “Chainsaw Charlie” has never been topped by Blackie.

The final incentives are the two new songs, although one (“Rock and Roll to Death”) was recycled on 1995’s Still Not Black Enough.  “Sunset and Babylon” is special as it features Lita Ford on guest lead guitar.  The nimble-fingered Ford adds some character to the tune, a pretty standard rock n’ roller from Blackie and cohorts.

At 75 minutes, First Blood…Last Cuts is a long running album providing great value.   Perhaps it runs a song or two too long, but nit picking aside it is a solidly hot listen through.  The drunken cowboy blasts of “Blind in Texas” are as fondly remembered as the gentle strumming on ballads like “Hold On to My Heart”.  Indeed, as the album runs on to its second half, ballads begin to outshine the rockers.  “Forever Free” remains one of W.A.S.P.’s brightest stars, as likeable as it was in 1989.  “The Idol” is a darkly beautiful ballad demonstrating that Blackie Lawless is indeed deeper than just his assless chaps.  Although the album dialogue should have been chopped for this greatest hits CD, it just breaks up the flow.

Most people do not need all the W.A.S.P. albums.  In fact, scientific studies have shown that one or two W.A.S.P.’s is all the average homo sapiens will ever need.  First Blood…Last Cuts would be solidly recommended CD for your first or only W.A.S.P. purchase.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: W.A.S.P. – K.F.D. (1997, domestic and Japanese versions)

FLAMING TURDS

“Flaming Turds” artwork courtesy of SARCA at CAUGHT ME GAMING.  Thanks Sarca!

We continue with the WEEK OF FLAMING TURDS!  We’re looking at a collection of malodorous music.  Strike a match, you’ll need it for these stinkers!  This one smells like something went bad in that fridge….

W.A.S.P. – Kill.Fuck.Die (1997 Castle, 1997 Victor Japanese import)

W.A.S.P. sure started to suck in the 1990’s. 1995’s Still Not Black Enough was alright: It got the job done in putting new W.A.S.P. music on the shelves, though it was hard to find in stores.  Then Marilyn Manson came along, the new king of shock rock, and Blackie Lawless said “Hey!  I did that first!  I need to take back my throne.”  Caking on the makeup, he reconnected with erstwhile lead guitarist Chris Holmes.  Rather than playing to their collective strengths, the pair instead wrote and recorded an album of industrial rock that came off as a desperate attempt to be relevant.   The oh-so edgy album title Kill.Fuck.Die. had to be abbreviated to K.F.D.  The album packaging was clever in concept but crap in delivery.  A blurry picture of a fridge opens to reveal another blurry picture body parts and meat.  On the inside, yet another blurry picture of a pig carcass.  Go, 90’s!

Because this writer is a fucking OCD idiot, he owns both the domestic and Japanese versions of K.F.D.  This means I have all the different bonus tracks.  You get to read a one-stop review including all the tracks.  Good for you!

“K.F.D” sounds as if the band were playing in a shoe box full of stuffing.  W.A.S.P. are muffled, robbing them of the guitar excitement we’re used to.  Blackie’s voice is distant because…90’s.  As usual Stet Howland’s drumming is way too busy.  Fortunately the song has hooks, but who wants to run around singing “Kill!  Fuck!  Die!”?  Not this guy.  Sorry Blackie, but even as an angry young man I thought this was lame.

Skip the boring and monotonous “Take the Addiction”.  Do the same for “My Tortured Eyes”, a slow distorted drag of a song.  These tunes are necessary listening only for diehard Blackie fans who need to buy everything he burps and farts.  There are a couple good songs next, though the titles are pretty doltish:  “Killahead” and “Kill Your Pretty Face”.   The first is fast metal, but of course still with this annoying “industrial” production.  (I use the quotation marks because it’s really not industrial music per se…there are no interesting samples or loops to keep things moving.)  The second is a slow burn, that drags for a while before we finally get to the chorus, which is a good one at least.  Good enough to consider it a decent song.  “Fetus” is a waste of time, just a minute of screaming and noise.  It blends into “Little Death”, just noise trying to sound like Trent Reznor.  Wisely, the Japanese edited these two off, and included their own bonus track “Tokyo’s On Fire” in this spot.  Maybe “Little Death” could have been a good song if it wasn’t compressed and distorted into nonsense.  Thankfully they stuck to a rock production with “Tokyo’s On Fire”.  That does make it sound odd sitting in the middle of the album.  Suddenly, the music sounds alive, not strangled!  “Tokyo’s On Fire” sounds like W.A.S.P., not Marilyn-Trent Lawless!

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Another dumb title, “U”, masks an OK song.  The lyrics are pretty are pretty half-baked.  “U fuckin’ suck!” sings Blackie.  No wonder they didn’t include a lyric sheet in this baby.  Anger is a great emotion to express in rock music.  Get it out!  But “Kill yourself for me,” doesn’t cut it for lyrics.  Shock without purpose.  A molotov cocktail without a revolution.  It’s just shrapnel, nothing more.  “Wicked Love” is better, thankfully, with a good chorus and melody, but again the compressed guitars just underwhelm.  It would have been nice if Blackie had let the guitars sound like, you know, guitars.  The album closes out on “The Horror” which is way too long, and takes forever to go anywhere.  A good solid five minutes could have been trimmed from this coma-inducer.  It ends powerfully, but it’s basically just a reprise of “K.F.D.”.  So, if you consider “K.F.D.” and “The Horror” to be one song in two parts, and do the same for “Fetus” and “Little Death”, then…holy shit, Blackie only came up with nine new songs for this album, including the Japanese bonus track!

The aforementioned domestic CD packaging has two significant flaws.  One is that the cardboard fridge is hinged on a perforation, which usually tears after opening it too many times.   The other is that it is unfortunately not worth opening.  Keep the fridge closed, fans.

2/5 stars

#394: Between the Buttons

BUTTONSRECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#394: Between the Buttons

Kitchener, early 1985.  A 12 year old little Mike is at Stanley Park Mall with friends Bob and George, and a little bit of allowance money.  There was a crappy little rock shop in the mall that sold T-shirts, posters and buttons.  It was on a corner of one of the corridors, right down the hall where I would later work at the Record Store myself.  For a little while back then, my favourite band was W.A.S.P.  They were soon usurped by Iron Maiden and ultimately Kiss.  At the time of this particular visit, it was still W.A.S.P., and my favourite W.A.S.P. was Chris Holmes.

CHRISI had enough money for one rock button – my first.  The one of Chris caught my eye.  He looked cool and theatening in the picture holding his blood-streaked guitar.  Bob approved.  “If you get that one,” he reasoned, “you’d be the only guy in Kitchener to have that button on his jacket.”  I don’t know how he knew so precisely that I would be the only person in Kitchener to have it, but it made sense.  The shelves were full of other bands: Motley Crue, Van Halen, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Rush, and Black Sabbath.  You didn’t see as many W.A.S.P., and you didn’t see any with just Chris Holmes.

“I’ll take this one,” I shyly said as I made my purchase, but I was happy.  Which button would be next?

VICESOver the months, I added more to my collection.  Two more W.A.S.P. buttons, an Iron Maiden, and a Kick Axe Vices were next.  The funny thing about that one is, of all the buttons here, the only band I don’t own an album from is Kick Axe.  I love their song “On the Road to Rock” but to this day, I still do not own Vices!  I still don’t have any Kick Axe!

My sister got into the action and bought one of David Lee Roth (she liked “California Girls” and “Just A Gigolo”) and one of Maiden’s Steve Harris.  (When Roth left Van Halen I believe we covered his face with a ZZ Top Eliminator sticker!)

ACES HIGHBob and I focused on Iron Maiden from there in, although I seem to remember also having a Judas Priest button that is now lost.  We would trade them until we had all the Eddies we could find.  Eddies were the best, much better than buttons with just the band on them.  We were specifically looking for the Eddies.  The most common seemed to be the mummy Powerslave Eddie.  They were everywhere.  The best one, to us, was the “Aces High” Eddie.  We each had one.

Once in highschool, Bob did something I wish he didn’t.  He ripped all the pins out of the back of his buttons, so that he could better tape them up in his locker for display.  Every last one, wrecked.  Bob had a habit of modifying things, only to destroy them.  He hacked a piece of out his guitar to make it look more jagged, but it weakened the tone.  The paint job he gave it wasn’t much better!  He also wrecked his amplifier by sewing a huge Iron Maiden Powerslave patch onto the front.

I on the other hand am glad I hung onto this stuff and kept them intact.  They bring back so many memories.  I can remember that conversation about the Chris Holmes button at that store.  I remember being with those guys at that exact spot and buying that button for those reasons.  I think that location might be vacant now.  I don’t know because I haven’t been to Stanley Park Mall in a long time.  The place has almost completely died, except for a bank and a grocery store.

When we kept items like these buttons as kids, I probably said something ridiculous like “One day this will be worth something, so I’d better keep it.”  What I didn’t appreciate is that these buttons are worth something now.  They trigger memories, and that is something money can’t buy.

 

R.I.P. George.

The rest of these buttons came much later and there’s not much to say about them.  The I Mother Earth Blue Green Orange and Yoda buttons were both store promos.  The Samuel Jackson Snakes on a Plane button was made by me, at a summer barbecue for Jen’s old work in Brampton.  That movie had just come out and I had an Entertainment Weekly magazine in the car.  We entertained some of the younger kids by giving them good pictures to make buttons with on their button maker, and I made Samuel for myself!  There were two Jamaican ladies there who loved it.  Those two really liked Samuel, if you know what I mean!

The Walter Sobchek (John Goodman) and “Geddy” buttons were made for me by friends.  The rest were gifts.

The Helix Power of Rock and Roll button was given to me by Brian Vollmer himself at the Power of Rock and Roll CD release party!  The cool thing about it is that it is dated specifically to that gig, August 19 2007.

REVIEW: W.A.S.P. – Helldorado (1999)

HELLDORADO_0002

W.A.S.P. – Helldorado (1999 BMG)

Here’s an album I haven’t rocked in a while.  Let’s see how it holds up 16 years after release.  In 1999, this was W.A.S.P.’s “return to form” album after the industrial-metal of K.F.D.  In the liner notes, Blackie says that the goal was not to make a record that sounded like their first album, but sounded like their first demos.  In other words, even more raw.  Those were the goalposts.  Topically, Blackie was done with the messages and concept albums for the moment.  You can tell by the song titles:  “Don’t Cry (Just Suck)” and “Dirty Balls”, for example.

The record opens with creepy carnival music, motorcycle engines, and a voice asking us if we wanna go now?  This goofy opener (called “Drive By”)  goes on way too long, but at least the first song up is the purely smoking “Hellodrado”.  It’s definitely in the mold of the legendary first W.A.S.P. album, and the production does recollect an earlier era.  This blazing fast ride to hell n’ back is plenty fun, even if Blackie is just playing a sped up and more distorted Chuck Berry riff.  Either way, I’m on board, but I’m definitely fastening my seatbelt.

“Don’t Cry (Just Suck)” is lyrically as offensive as you’d expect.  Blackie went too far on this one.  There’s something to be said for leaving things to the imagination.  There’s nothing wrong with the music (similar to the first track with an Angus Young riff) but the lyrics aren’t justified.  I’m sure everybody thought it was hilarious when they wrote it and recorded it, but all I hear are old tired cliches turned up to 11, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

A slower and more ominous mood, akin to “The Razors Edge” by AC/DC, inhabits “Damnation Angels”.  This is a cool song, fitting the slot that a track like “B.A.D.” held on the first album.  “Damnation Angels” is fittingly the only long song (over six minutes) on an album otherwise composed of shorties.  “Dirty Balls” is one such shorty, and it’s fucking awesome.  Too bad about the lame intro.  Again, Blackie would have been better off leaving something to the imagination.  “Dirty Balls” is otherwise hilarious and smokin’ hot at the same time.  Sometimes all W.A.S.P. really needs is a rock n’ roll riff and a screamy chorus.  “Dirty balls! Balls! Balls! Is all I need, hang ’em high, oh tonight, so the world can see!”  I’m easily amused — all it takes is someone saying “balls” and I’m concealing snickers.  (When I was a kid, my favourite song was “Big Balls”.)

HELLDORADO_0003“High on the Flames” kicks ass in a mid-tempo groove once again aping the AC/DC template.  The problem with Helldorado isn’t bad songs, but songs that sound too much alike.  “High on the Flames” kicks ass, but blink for a moment and you might think it’s “Damnation Angels” again.  “Cocaine Cowboys” compounds the issue.  It is a virtual carbon copy of “Dirty Balls” and “Helldorado”, and even the next song “Can’t Die Tonight”.  I have found this to be a problem on W.A.S.P. albums going all the way back to The Crimson Idol if not before.  There seems to be a W.A.S.P. template that you can mix and match parts from.  Take this riff, add this solo, use that bridge, add lyrics and stir.

“Saturday Night Cockfight” is a great song title, you have to admit.  This one sounds especially raw, and has a neat little riff that doesn’t sound like a duplicate of all the others.  I dig Holmes’ solo(s) on this one; he just kicks ass on it. “Saturday Night Cockfight” is the sleeper track, a real classic tucked away at the end of the album right when you think it’s going downhill.

Finally, the album careens to an end by crashing into the boards.  A 9-song album (don’t forget the first track is just an intro), already bogged down by carbon copy riffs, ends on “Hot Rods to Hell (Helldorado Reprise)”.  That’s right, Blackie ends the CD with a reprise of the opening track.  This amounts to a whole lotta solos and screaming, and that’s all well and good, but you feel like the album was perhaps padded out a bit where it could have used a little more time at the songwriter’s table.

I like Helldorado, and if you love the first W.A.S.P. album, you’ll like this too.  You won’t love it as much, and you won’t play it as much, but it’ll have its place in your collection.

3/5 stars

Pet peave: Four full pages of the eight page booklet are dedicated to Blackie hawking his W.A.S.P. merch.

REVIEW: W.A.S.P. – The Headless Children (Remastered)

WASP HEADLESS CHILDREN_0001W.A.S.P. – The Headless Children (1998 Sanctuary remaster, originally 1989)

When this album came out in ’89, my friends gave me a hard time for buying it. “You still listening to W.A.S.P.? Don’t they suck?” Then later on that summer, the ballad “Forever Free” was released as a single, and suddenly everybody wanted to tape my W.A.S.P. album! Funny how that worked out.

This is W.A.S.P.’s best. As far as the early stuff goes, It’s their meanest, heaviest, most aggressive and honest record. It’s the last before Chris Holmes split (for the first time anyway) and it has Frankie Banali (Quiet Riot) on drums. This is it. If you’re going to own one W.A.S.P. album, it has to be this one. The first single “The Real Me” (a Townshend-approved Who cover) was misleading, as the album is much heavier than that. The title track, “Thunderhead”, and especially “The Heretic” all kick some serious metallic ass. Double-bass, fast riffs, eerie Sabbathy organ, it’s all here.

Blackie outdid himself on this one, even his concept album opus The Crimson Idol couldn’t top it. Lyrically this is (mostly) more serious territory, tackling subjects such as hard drugs, Reagan, and the decline of western civilization. Occasionally they lapse back into joke material (“Mean Man”) but soon it’s back to serious rocking.

Blackie was inspired to get serious by his old song, “B.A.D.” from the first album. A fan had come up to Blackie and said that song had helped her kick drugs. It was the line, “It’s the bloody fix you do” that inspired her to quit. Blackie realized, “Here we did this thing without even trying. What could we do if we tried?”

Hence, songs like “Thunderhead”. Even the excellent ballad “Forever Free” has some serious spirit to it, an ode to someone who is no longer with us. Regardless of the lyrics, music is the most important thing, and The Headless Children is W.A.S.P.’s strongest collection of music to date. It was all there:  heavy metal with solid riffs and influences dating back to the roots. Mood wise, we are firmly in the blackest of Sabbath territory on many songs.

The bonus material is interesting on the remastered edition. “Locomotive Breath” is a W.A.S.P.-ified version of a Jethro Tull classic, much simpler but heavy as lead. Other tracks are outtakes, and some musical and lyrical bits would be re-used on Crimson Idol. See if you can spot them.  The closing track “Blind In Texas” (a live B-side) is unfortunately a useless version with some drunk dude being invited to sing the chorus. A waste of plastic.  Fortunately the rest of the album proper makes up for it.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: W.A.S.P. – W.A.S.P. (remaster)

WASP_0001W.A.S.P. – W.A.S.P. (1997 Snapper Classics, originally 1984)

I remember having this self-titled cassette back in the 80’s, and for whatever reason the word on the street was the album was actually called Winged Assassins. I’m still not sure how that started but strangely enough W.A.S.P. later did an album called Double Live Assassins, so there must have been something to it.

This album was well overdue for a remastering. The original CD sounds tinny and weak, not at all like the way I remember it sounding originally. This CD fixes that. It also adds the bonus track “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)” which fits right in. I guess Blackie wanted the track to open the album originally but cooler heads prevailed. Anyway, given the opportunity to do a remaster Blackie has restored that song to the beginning of the album as originally intended.  The hit single “I Wanna Be Somebody” is now the second track.

WASP_0003If you’re a W.A.S.P. fan, then you already know and love this album and you’re not going to disagree with anything I say about these classic meat n’ metal toons. If you’re not a W.A.S.P. fan yet…well, grab hold of something bolted to the ground when you push play. Blackie & his original cohorts had the pedal to the metal all the way through this disc, with the exception of “Sleeping (In The Fire)”.  That “ballad” had a powerful enough chorus to keep you going, even if the verses were too lightweight for us as kids.

But seriously though:  “L.O.V.E. Machine”… “The Flame”… “B.A.D.” (enough with the abbreviations!)… “School Days”… everything on this album kicks.  Hard, heavy, rated R and sometimes X.

But catchy!  That’s the thing, really, isn’t it?  Blackie has always said his prime influence was the Beatles.  I don’t hear it myself, but he obviously learned a lesson or two about the construction of a melody.  Blackie’s songs are memorable and melodic without once giving an inch, or sounding like anything less than heavy metal purity.  Unfortunately my feeling is that later on, Blackie’s songs all sounded the same.  On this first album, he was writing standouts and some would argue that he’s never reached these heights again.

Bonus material at the end includes the B-side “Show No Mercy” which I also have on a CD soundtrack for a movie called Dudes. Great song. Easily as good as the album. “Paint It, Black” is the only song that sucks. From the Tea Party, to Glen Tipton, Vanessa Carlton and Deep Purple, I’ve never heard a good cover of this song. W.A.S.P.’s is no different.

Packaging is awesome, loaded with cool pics, blood, and Blackie telling you how he sees things. If you’re a fan this remaster is a must. If you’re not yet, this is the logical place to start.  It’s one of the few W.A.S.P. studio albums that I would consider essential (the other being Headless Children).

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: W.A.S.P. – “Mean Man” (7″ single)

It’s a holiday weekend in Canada!  Happy Thanksgiving.  Because it’s a holiday weekend I thought I’d be lazy and just review two songs instead of an album!

W.A.S.P. – “Mean Man” (1989 7″ single)

I bought this at a record show in 1995.  For $8 it seemed like a great deal:   Non album track “Locomotive Breath”, purple vinyl, and a “means test”.  A what?

“Locomotive Breath” is one of my favourite Tull tunes anyway, so I was fine with Blackie and the gang pummeling their way through this cover.  The riff is perfect for a metal band like W.A.S.P. to utilize anyway.  They do it straightforward and it works.

The A side was from The Headless Children LP.  In my opinion, that’s the best W.A.S.P. album anyway, and has my favourite lineup:  Blackie, Chris Holmes, Johnny Rod, with Frankie Banali.  Not the best song from that album, though.  It’s catchy and has a solid riff with a tough-guy singalong chorus.  The lyrics are a pretty funny send-up on guitarist Chris Holmes, that’s why he’s on the cover!  I’m sure the song did nothing to ease the public’s image of Chris, after being seen drunk in a pool in The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. 

Blackie stated on MuchMusic in 1989 that Chris was not drunk, and that it was an act for the cameras.  It certainly does seem staged.  Either way I think this song and single was clearly an attempt to capitalize on that image!

The purple vinyl is cool, gotta love the cover image, and as for that “means tester”, it works like a mood ring.  Push your thumb on it and it changes colour due to your body heat.  The best I seem to do is somewhere between “hard” and “firm”!

3/5 stars