Few metal fans would disagree with the fact that Blackie Lawless is one of the best vocalists in metal history. But even fewer would disagree that W.A.S.P. could use some outside songwriting aid.
Blackie didn’t grow up as a metalhead. He’s older than that – he helped codify some of the genre’s conventions actually. But he did it in the heyday of the 80s mainstream metal – which was, let’s face it, as mainstream as any other mainstream: it was all pop music at heart. It was a logical result of the mainstream 50s, 60s and 70s, same as Blackie’s songwriting.
Originally he was influenced by rock’n’roll stuff, think Elvis, Little Richard and the like. And The Beatles. Then The Ramones and maybe other punk bands, too. The Ramones were what he mentioned in one of the interviews.
And even in 2001, he was still sure that he was doing “commercial music”, and there were certain harmonic restrictions (like, his “Euphoria” instrumental was an example of what you cannot do as a commercial songwriter because it’s pure “artistic indulgence” and too unconventional). Okay, W.A.S.P. pays his bills (and luxurious hobbies), so it probably is commercial. But doesn’t this literal stepping on the throat of one’s own song just sound weird in the context of contemporary metal? Especially if we listen to something like Tarja Turunen’s latest albums that are even more experimental than many of the more underground releases… and it doesn’t get more “commercial” than Tarja.
And her stuff isn’t 250% metal either. It has loads of pop and punk inside. Same as W.A.S.P.
Maybe they should team up.
Okay, all this babbling was meant to introduce my perspective: that is, more “unconventional” W.A.S.P. songs, or at least those that execute the conventions better than other songs do. Proceed under the cut for the actual music, arranged in a more or less chronological order =) This post covers Blackie’s releases of the 20th century.
Late 70s, a pre-W.A.S.P. band called Circus Circus. As pop punk as it gets. …I suspect that either there are more versions of this demo floating around or the dude doing the remaster also pitch-shifted it because the mp3 I have sounds to be in a different key, lower. But the song is still good.
W.A.S.P. debut album. The chorus in this one is awesome, but it’s still pop rock =) Those bluesy guitars drive me crazy.
An acoustic version of possibly the most creative song off the same debut. The version dates from a few years down the line (I’m fairly sure it’s the 1986-1992 bassist Johhny Rod doing the extra raspy backing vox), but the song, well, the song was first released in 1984. It’s a ballad, but it’s more metal than all the other songs off the album combined.
Moving on to 1985… Lizzy Borden released their debut record, I was born, and W.A.S.P.’s sophomore effort had this song, which is just so unbelievably awesome in all departments, including the whole “sonic landscape” thing (listen in headphones!).
1986 was a particularly bad year for W.A.S.P. – Blackie next to lost his voice (but unlike Tom Keifer of Cinderella, seems to have recovered in a short time with zero issues – though the recording shows he was kinda holding back at that moment), and the whole “circus” concept was already passé (c’mon, it was the same 1979 thing). But this song kinda makes up for it all. It’s a semi-ballad, again, and all it relies on are the vocals, the instruments being a mere padding . But it works. The melody, the lyrics…
Fast forward to 1989, and we’re getting serious. Headless Children (the album) has the right balance of beautifully metaphoric social comment in the lyrics, catchy but not completely derivative choruses, and interesting instrumentation – Frankie Banali on the drums contributed a lot, and some guitar parts even have a doom metal character to them. And it’s not as overwhelmingly depressive as the 90s albums.
Just the opening track kicks some serious butt:
The title song works great with an elaborate fan-made video:
An anti-drug song with a cool voice acting bit in the middle (and a much-reused intro first found in pre-W.A.S.P. demos IIRC, so if you ever come across anything similar in other W.A.S.P. songs, it’s for a purpose… Blackie’s trying to say something by it):
1992 and The Crimson Idol which is a great one, if more prog rock than metal (which ain’t bad at all actually). But it’s a concept album and the story is even more depressive than that of Rush’s 2112. That one at least has some hope. So I’ll only add one song, and that’s a 2012 live version dedicated to a very sad event – if you go to the youtube page of the video, you can read more about it.
…yeah, 2012. The 20 year anniversary tour.
Not that 1995’s Still Not Black Enough (basically Blackie’s solo record) was any more optimistic, but it’s not a concept album which lessens the impact a bit, thankfully. It’s just a collection of very dark and honest songs. Some very angry, some very romantic. And with some of the cleverest lyrics Blackie ever released.
This one is particularly amazing in this department:
// and check out the album cover, which is one of those rare cases where the cover really works with the music and subject matter //
And this is Blackie being patriotic. He actually is, it’s just he’s an unconventional sort of patriot.
This track was only on one of the editions. So it’s kinda rare. Again, a semi-ballad. Beautifully psychedelic and full of hope.
Actually there have been a number of love songs on previous records that I neglected. Simply because I think the following is the best one (and they are all fairly similar musically):
…and another “rare” track that shows how Blackie is good at repurposing instrumental backings. I like it, the melody and lyrics are different enough, but if you have listened to the ones above, you’ll have no problem identifying where most parts come from (and those mysterious recurring lyric lines, too).
I will skip the 1997 and 1999 albums because they are a return to the horror themes of the earliest W.A.S.P. releases. Not that they’re bad, but just not what I love Blackie for.
If you enjoyed the ride, stay tuned for pt.2 that will deal with the more recent releases!