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W.A.S.P.'s ReIdolized: A Bittersweet Reminder Of The Rise And Fall Of 80's Metal

Written by: Andrew Scuoler
Published: 20.02.2018

Intelligent, dark and utterly compelling, ReIdolized is the perfect way to celebrate the original release of arguably metal's finest concept album. This is the re-release of W.A.S.P.'s critically acclaimed 1992 album The Crimson Idol, entirely rerecorded and featuring four previously unreleased songs. Whilst it's difficult to imagine anyone but hardcore fans buying this release, it should bring some well-deserved attention to one of the most important metal releases of all time.

The deal here is slightly complicated. The original Crimson Idol project was intended to be a movie, and the album to be its soundtrack. The movie was recorded but never released until now. But it can only be described as a 50-minute-long series of music videos. They are nicely done but a movie it certainly is not.

Musically, ReIdolized is heavy, albeit without the grit and aggression of its predecessor, 1989's The Headless Children. There's an orchestral vibe, emotionally charged vocal delivery, and riffs galore. The arrangements are far more sophisticated than early W.A.S.P., with the haunting ballad "The Idol", the searing "Miss You", and the rampaging "Chainsaw Charlie" being the standout tracks.

The opening lines of the first track, "The Titanic Overture", set the tone for this introspective tour de force and listeners are treated to big riffs and strings (actually keyboards) and a story of a young man embarking on his journey into the world. Musically this is a departure from the earlier sound; it's cleaner and more intricate. There is, however, one throwback to earlier W.A.S.P. in the form of "Chainsaw Charlie", a stomping beast of a song that opens with gentle acoustic guitar before the sound of a chainsaw reassures listeners that this is, in fact, the piss-soaked, vitriolic rage of yore. This song is about Alex Rodman, Jonathan's manager (who Lawless has confirmed is based on a real person), who promises fame and glory but throws him into "the morgue where music comes to die".

The original recording describes Alex as a "motherfucker" and a "cock-sucking asshole" and fans of the original won't be happy to know that these references have been sanitized - somewhat pathetically, "cock-sucking asshole" is now "blood-sucking rats' hole" and "motherfucker" is now "monster". It is difficult to imagine how these words can be more offensive than they were in 1992, but I digress.

The absence of Chris Holmes is notable, with Bob Kulick (previously of KISS and Meat Loaf) providing passable but uninspiring solos, leaving the listener wishing Lawless had chosen a player with a more metal pedigree.

The four new songs are disappointing. More accurately, there are two new songs and two new interludes. "Michael's Song" is an instrumental piece overlaid with glorious lead guitar, and remarkably similar to "Euphoria" from 2001's Unholy Terror. It's wonderfully melancholic and deserves to be more than a two-minute afterthought. The second new addition is "Hey Mama", another acoustic interlude that deals with Jonathan's relationship with his mother. It launches into "The Lost Boy", the first of two new full-length songs. It's an upbeat track that, again, deals with the 'mother issue'. Musically the song is a little flat, and if there's one point where the record crosses the line from the introspective to the self-indulgent, it is this track.

From here, we move to the second new song, "The Peace", a synth-strewn ballad reminiscent of 1989's "Forever Free". Musically, fans will not be left wondering why it was excluded from the original release. But lyrically, it is an important part of the story, with Jonathan at the height his career and yet desperately searching for an escape from his inner demons.

The highlight of this new version remains the "The Idol", an emotionally charged, achingly bittersweet ballad (I highly recommend this live acoustic version). The lyrics speak to the crushing loneliness of a man who simultaneously has everything and nothing, and the tragic hero of the Rock Star is brought to life. It's evocative, sad, and haunting. This is Blackie Lawless pouring his heart out, desperately hoping somebody will understand. It is nothing short of magnificent.

As per the original, ReIdolized closes with "The Great Misconceptions Of Me", its haunting lyrics drawing on Lawless's own love/hate relationship with celebrity. Having achieved stardom, Jonathan Steele finds himself isolated and woefully lost in the exact world he strove to create for himself. A prologue at the very end sees Blackie Lawless adopt the voice of Jonathan, talking about his upbringing amid a background of rejection and violence, unloved by his parents and desperately seeking acceptance from his abusive father.

How close does this come to the reality of Blackie Lawless himself? We'll likely never know but given Lawless's tough upbringing (including being stabbed and getting expelled from military school for assaulting a sergeant major) it may not be too much of a stretch.

ReIdolized is story of the protagonist's hunger for success and desperate need for validation, whose ambition is matched only by the extent of his self-loathing. Jonathan seeks redemption through stardom but, inevitably, the trappings of success only bring more problems. The record is, at its core, an autobiography of a troubled, egotistical and remarkable man. For this reason, fans of W.A.S.P. lap it up, whilst casual observers balk at the egocentricity of it all.

Inevitably, perhaps, The Crimson Idol ends with Jonathan committing suicide by hanging himself from the strings of his guitar - the instrument that was meant to deliver redemption ultimately destroys him.

Despair, drug addiction, and death - Jonathan's story depicts the all-too-familiar fate of far too many musicians in the LA music scene, and that's what makes this tragic biopic so great, because it is so very much of its time. The whole aesthetic is so post-1980s. This narrative of meteoric rise and fall was released just as grunge was taking hold, making bands like W.A.S.P. not only irrelevant artistically, but downright ridiculous. Labels were dropping metal acts by the dozen, concert attendances plummeted, and only one thing was for sure: the big party was over. No more arenas, no more platinum albums. If you were a glam metal band that wasn't Mötley Crüe or Poison, it was if you had never existed at all. The hangover had finally started.

A corollary to the music scene at the time, The Crimson Idol was largely forgotten. Having come out in the US in 1993, it was too late for anyone but the hardcore fan base to care. W.A.S.P would find itself going from playing arenas to clubs, and as for the album itself, it was critically acclaimed, but sales have never been reported by Neilsen, which means they were low.

And yet, among hardcore W.A.S.P. fans, it is easily the most popular W.A.S.P. album, and widely considered one of the greatest hard rock/metal concept albums of all time. The album marks the point at which W.A.S.P. transitions from a sleazy shock rock outfit that 'crucified' nuns onstage and threw raw meat into the crowd into something else entirely. Fans would be treated to a whole new, more intelligent incarnation of the band.

But most of all, this album serves as reminder of the great paradox of the '80s metal scene, one that was so utterly carefree, self-asserting, and hedonistic, and yet ultimately doomed to implode. If there's one message of this album, it's that the music industry is where fame and tragedy, success and failure, and glory and despair sit side by side.

ReIdolized (The Soundtrack To The Crimson idol) is available now via Napalm Records.

Guest article disclaimer:
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.


Comments: 2   Visited by: 17 users
20.07.2019 - 22:49

Great article. It's a pity not many people seem to have read it.
26.01.2022 - 12:32
Article worthy reading
great stuff

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