Despite being “the crazy eighties”, W.A.S.P. shocked the world in 1984 with their first single “Animal (F.U.C.K. Like A Beast)”. Their second, “I Wanna Be Somebody”, in promotion of their self-titled debut album, still has airplay nowadays (in rock radio stations, that is). The list of hits and controversy that would follow those singles is endless, but there’s no doubt that Blackie Lawless and his W.A.S.P. would release “THE” album of their career ten years after the band’s formation. And curious enough, it would also be their most solemn one.
“The Crimson Idol” is a concept album that tells the story of Jonathan Aaron Steele, a young man who didn’t meet his father’s expectations and so he ran away from home at the age of 16 to become a rock star – which he accomplished and got to know the selfish and greedy side of music business. Cliché? Certainly. Which once again proves Lawless‘ talent – not anybody is able to turn such a “beaten path” into something so enthralling.
That story is narrated by Lawless in a single that wouldn’t be featured in the album itself until its remastered edition in 1998 (and now also in the digital versions), “The Story Of Jonathan – A Prologue To The Crimson Idol”. Sixteen and a half minutes of melancholy, with an acoustic guitar in the background, fingering riffs which would reverberate throughout the upcoming album, And for those who’d missed the single, the narrative would be printed on the inner sleeve of the vinyl and CD booklet.
More than just a concept album, “The Crimson Idol” is an opera. And Lawless took the term very seriously, coming up with an epic overture and finale – “The Titanic Overture” and “The Great Misconceptions Of Me” respectively. Both tracks cause an immense impression, using some chords and key-verses from the album. This also happens with the several brief interludes of some songs and with “The Gypsy Meets The Boy”, a track whose first half is a ballad written in those familiar tones, and the second half a rampant version of them. One may say that “The Gypsy Meets The Boy” is the true interlude, separating the first act, where Jonathan tries to be a rock star, from the second act, where he achieves it.
W.A.S.P. had begun pushing their hard rock more into the heavy metal field in the previous album “The Headless Children”, but it’s in “The Crimson Idol” that their sound carries that weight with determination and class. “Arena Of Pleasure” and “Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue)” are the best examples of that, with all their instruments shredding notes and beats. The dark rhythm section that precedes the explosive chorus in the former and the ovation chant that goes along the chainsaw in the latter are details worth mentioning.
Also “The Invisible Boy” and “I Am One” are fast and strong songs, matching the themes that they depict – the abuse Jonathan suffered at the hands of his family (with a whip echoing here and there) and the rock star he became meanwhile, for the proverbial price of his soul.
“Doctor Rockter”, Jonathan‘s drug dealer, is immortalized in a track with shades of a JETHRO TULL and DEEP PURPLE kind of rock, but Lawless made sure that it wouldn’t sound out of place. It’s a weaker track, but it doesn’t make it weak per se, just in comparison with the rest of the songs and not jeopardizing at all the general dynamics of the album.
The simplicity and delicacy in the melody of “Hold On To My Heart” make it one of the most beautiful metal ballads, enrapturing even those who aren’t fond of metal. Yes, it’s a love song, but not a lovers song. “Hold on to my heart” is what Jonathan pleads to his fans, his crowd, in hopes that they will hold his true self to reality.
“The Idol” is another ballad, but a lot more somber, both lyric- and music-wise. The level of emotion is on fire in this song, which is undoubtedly the most charismatic of the album. As a matter of fact, the emotional weight of “The Crimson Idol” is another of its assets. Three years later, after reuniting W.A.S.P. and releasing “Still Not Black Enough”, Lawless would say that, looking back, he saw “far more similarities between Jonathan and myself than I would have ever allowed myself to believe at the time I wrote it”. But wherever Blackie Lawless took his inspiration from, “The Crimson Idol” is an unmatched masterpiece.
Label: EMI Records
Producer: Blackie Lawless
The Titanic Overture
The Invisible Boy
Arena Of Pleasure
Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue)
The Gypsy Meets The Boy
I Am One
Hold On To My Heart
The Great Misconceptions Of Me
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