johnny rod

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: King Kobra – Ready to Strike (1984)


IMG_20150607_142430KING KOBRA – Ready to Strike (1984 Capitol)

What happened to the good ship King Kobra? Hilarious misspelled name, silly coordinated hair colours (all but veteran drummer Carmine Appice, who complimented their red and blonde with his red and black), and production by the guy who brought you Quiet Riot — what could possibly go wrong? They even had their own “kobra” signature hand gesture, and weird complementary stage moves in an expensive music video.

When you have lyrics like, “I’m ready to strike, I’m cocked and loaded tonight,” but you’re not David Lee Roth or Gene Simmons, you’re already fighting an uphill battle.  Carmine saw the sudden success of bands like Quiet Riot, and decided “why the hell not”?  He picked up some great players for this project.  Bassist Johnny Rod ended up in W.A.S.P. later on.  David Michael-Phillips played with Lizzy Borden after Kobra.  Mick Sweda formed BulletBoys.  Mark Free formed Unruly Child, and ultimately became Marcie Free.  She still fronts Unruly Child today. Meanwhile Carmine Appice reformed this lineup of King Kobra, substituting in Paul Shortino for Free, and getting good reviews for it.

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So talent aside, there’s no worries there.  There are two major issues with this record.  One: the muddy Spencer Proffer production which lays a muffly blanket over the band.  All but Appice of course, who bears a very Frankie Banali-like sound on this album. The guitars are empty transistor radio renditions of what guitars should sound like. Two: filler material kept Ready To Strike from fulfilling its potential.

It’s not all filler of course — much of it is damn good.  The first three tracks in a row (“Ready to Strike”, “Hunger”, and “Shadow Rider”) are all really good, actually.  Famously, “Hunger” became a minor hit, although it was actually written by Canada’s Kick Axe, and recorded by them under the name Spectre General, for Transformers: The Movie in 1986!  I prefer the King Kobra version, because Mark Free really nailed that vocal.

Other decent tunes include “Shake Up”…I mean, it’s OK.  It has a good pre-chorus, “And the beat goes on and on and on…”, but the lines about home work and yard work were pretty goofy even back then. Like that one, “Tough Guys” is also a good tune (mid-tempo mellow rocker) sunk by a bad lyric. “The world’s greatest lie, is that all of us tough guys don’t cry.” No thanks, not cranking that one with the windows down.

Crummy tunes: “Attention”, “Piece of the Rock”, “Breakin’ Out” and “Dancing With Desire”. Stinky. I can’t decide how I feel about the overwrought “Second Thoughts”.

Overall: Middle of the road album that neither astounds nor repulses. It has enough good tunes to warrant a place in my collection. How about you?

3/5 stars

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. – “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