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Ha, WASP. I think I love them for the reasons many people would despise Blackie and company. Blackie Lawless clearly has epic rock-pyrotechnical-wizard-of-doom ambitions and unmistakably tortured by the fact that he had to play to massive crowds and have sex with nubile women. Clearly, Blackie thinks he sounds like Who’s Next era Roger Daltrey and Steve Marriott, he doesn’t, Blackie Lawless sounds like a heavy metal Noddy Holder…
But Blackie, despite his silly artiste moments, happens to deliver some killer heavy metal armed to the teeth with massive rock ’n’ roll clichés. He and Ian Astbury – in some alternate past – would ideally have formed some massive super-group and boldly cover me in “woahs”, “ows” and “babys”, baby. Let’s face it, you’ve got to love a band who can write a song like Mean Man, if not you’re probably best sticking to neo-folk and such as clearly you don’t love riding on the wind whilst the fan is on medium setting.
Headless Children marks when WASP went from shagging everything to that moved into a more serious (in a GCSE in sociology degree sort of way) and indeed heavier band. However, I for one wouldn’t ever question WASP’s metal credentials and rather than giving some big fuck-off sonic comparison to their peers, let me put this to you, in the 1980s Chris Holmes could out-drink James Hetfield, whilst his mother was present. Headless Children simply shows WASP’s ascension into more consistent and, dare I say it, mature territory. In fact it’s one of those clichéd planetary alignment moments in which everything was right for WASP and they delivered in stratospheric proportions.
If you needed any assurance of this change for the better just take opener, The Heretic (The Lost Child) melodic, ripping and clearly more advanced than anything the band had attempted before whilst retaining their visceral energy. It’s got a vibe comparable to that of Iron Maiden’s Moonchild with its dark tone, strong melodies and slightly progressive – or at least ambitious – touches. Notably Blackie taking on a rhythm guitar role has freed up Chris Holmes and as such he rips away in a really exciting fashion and at its conclusion The Heretic descends into a vibrant slurry of soloing with all sorts of insane trilling, legato and tapping going on with some sparse but effective use of wah. It’s an impressive piece of guitar but doesn’t come across as a talented guitarist simply going into kitchen sink styled acrobatics.
Acting as an indication of things to come we get an earnest and brave version of The Who’s The Real Me. Why brave, you say? Well even attempting to play a song by The Who is a pretty brave thing to attempt, what with their completely unique chemistry and general awesomeness. “What?” you’d exclaim, “Pete Townshend couldn’t sweep pick the Transylvanian minor scale…” and then I’d finish this ‘joke’ and possibly mention Death, it’d be great. But I’m still quite impressed by the song at hand. The bass is especially notable; Johnny Rod clearly knows The Ox well and does his playing justice and even though the drum sound isn’t ideal for the Moon style of playing he also clearly understands what Keith Moon was going for (a hovercraft and a house in the country?)
What with all the seriousness and socio-political commentary you’d think that WASP had lost their ability to just rock out. Thankfully, this is not the case and though even the album’s more serious numbers demonstrate this with vigour, Mean Man gives a sufficient boost of straight-ahead awesomeness in a British Steel fashion. The song is, of course, an odd to Chris Holmes and apparently was inspired by a woman – following an incident in a restaurant, possibly involving bread that was too small – saying “Chris Holmes, you are one mean man!” to which he replied, “You got that half right, cuz I’m a mean motherfuckin’ man” and probably pulled out a guitar right there and then. That’s pretty awesome, although perhaps she got it two thirds right, I’m not sure. You really can’t deny the simple infectiousness of this song; a primal ode to how Chris Holmes was raised by badgers and born in a cave. Amusingly enough, this mean man left WASP shortly after, to spend time with his wife.
Headless Children does have one let down, Forever Free is a fairly average ballad and makes me think of eagles crying, the graphics on the side of fairground rides and cowboys singing about “real American hot dogs”. However it is notable for Ken Hensley resurrecting some Heep-styled organ melodies which is pretty tasty… I just wished they’d given him a big organ wig-out ala Gypsy. I’m not sure where that would have fitted in this song but organ wig-outs improve tacky ballads. Fact. Also, I spotted another bit of Uriah Heep worship, listen to that intro on Thunderhead just prior to the first verse… complete Uriah Heep. Though I must note WASP learnt how to deliver an effective ballad on the subsequent egotistical-but-brilliant Crimson Idol.
Rebel in the F.D.G. brings things to a close in typically remarkable fashion with perhaps the best solo on the album, it’s scintillating, exciting stuff. But I do have a point of contention with this song, assuming Blackie Lawless is some kind of rock ’n’ roll rebel – which his name may suggest. To be a rebel in the so-called ‘Fucking Decadent Generation’ surely Blackie would have to adopt the role of some sort of accountant/lion tamer, eat his vegetables and not partake in anything morally suspect, right? So this makes little sense lyrically, but musically it’s strong enough to me to forget its shortcomings and sing along and play air guitar in my dressing gown.
So though Blackie Lawless may look like an aging gothic woman, like the sort you’d find under dry ice at Sister’s of Mercy gigs or running a shop selling dream catchers and incense, but he also happens to write fucking brilliant heavy metal. Headless Children – though still 1989’s second best Headless record – demonstrates this better than any other WASP record.