W.A.S.P. – Superficial Glam or Something More?

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Glam Metal has always been somewhat of a love-it-or-hate-it sub-genre of the Classic Heavy Metal playground. But maybe the Glam tag has turned into a bit too much of a casual insult these days. Maybe we should be thinking a bit harder about is or isn’t a worthwhile listen, not dismissing whole catalogues of music on the strength of a sometimes-misleading label.

Do some bands have more depth than a throwaway ‘Yeah, Glam’ comment might imply? Classic Metal Hawk says YES. Let’s have a think about that, using a famous 1980s example – the one and only W.A.S.P.

Shallow and Fake

Browsing through Andrew O’Neill’s excellent ‘History of Heavy Metal’ tome the other day, Classic Metal Hawk was drawn back to one chapter with the particularly attention-grabbing title, ‘F***ing Glam F***ing Metal’. As you might guess, O’Neill is not a particular fan of Glam, seeing it as shallow, fake, and a distraction from the real branches of heavy metal that are more worthy to command our attention.

The Hawk gets the point – some glam metal bands were / are indeed taking the piss in those ways. But as regular readers may be aware, he’s also something of a whore when it comes to music styles. No full genre is getting ruled out from being mentioned on this blog, and just because a song is played by a bunch of big-haired, spandex-clad, face paint-wearing dudes, that doesn’t automatically rate it as a 9 on the turd-o-meter. No sir.

Anyway, flicking through that chapter in the book, it occurred to The Hawk that he’d never really thought that hard about what Glam means anyway, and was therefore surprised to find that bands like Bon Jovi, W.A.S.P. and Guns n Roses were lumped in, all acts he would not have automatically listed under that category.

Our Subject Matter

Take W.A.S.P. Now sure, W.A.S.P. came out of the Sunset Strip in LA, which was a hotbed of early Glam acts in the early 1980s, a scene best illustrated by hedonistic hellraisers par-excellence Motley Crüe. But there were many glam acts of all shapes and sizes.

(What is the collective noun for Glam Bands anyway? A debauchment of Glam bands? A of hairspray of Glam bands? Contact The Hawk if you have a suggestion.)

W.A.S.P. wore a ton of face paint – hell yeah. And they wrote a lot of puerile songs about sex. Everyone thinks of ‘Animal (F*** Like a Beast)’, but the band probably peaked in risible vomit inducement with the ‘Inside the Electric Circus’ abomination, ‘Shoot from the Hip’. Sample lyrics as follows:

‘Hot sweaty steel, a woman’s fingers on my gun
Pull it hard, touch the trigger, squeeze it when I’m done

Yeah. The Hawk ain’t going to pollute his own log with that a video of that particular turd sandwich – look it up if you must. But we’ll tolerate the ‘Animal’ video instead.

It’s Art!!

And then there were the on-stage shock tactics. W.A.S.P. would sometimes tie half-naked models (female obviously) to torture racks. And for reasons best known to themselves, they went through a phase of throwing raw meat out into the audience.

There’s an amusing interview still on YouTube from 1989 where lead singer Blackie Lawless attempts to defend the band against charges of misogyny by claiming that really it was all intended to be thought-provoking art, and that he just wanted to avoid middle-of-the-road boredom that provoked no reaction from anyone.

It’s a nice try, but you can tell that his heart really isn’t in it, and some of the antics were embarrassingly lame and sexist even for that era. But it all served to gather publicity, and the band went on to have quite a lot of success. They toured worldwide, and shared bills with some Classic Heavy Metal legends – Iron Maiden, Metallica, Kiss and Dokken to name just a few.

So are W.A.S.P. a Glam Metal act or not?

Back to the question in hand.

In the ‘History of Heavy Metal’ book, the Glam Metal chapter is one of the shortest. O’Neill is so quick to dismiss Glam and rush onto other, preferred sub-genres that he doesn’t pause to give any detailed definition. Probably wise – coming up with definitions for metal genres is a mug’s game at the best of times, so The Hawk does not propose to start doing so here.

Let’s just say that, for all the reasons just mentioned above, in their early years W.A.S.P. did indeed qualify as a Glam band. That would cover the first 3 albums, ‘W.A.S.P.’, ‘The Last Command’ and ‘Inside the Electric Circus’.

But then things changed, with the fourth album, ‘The Headless Children’ representing a new direction. The band had always had decent musicianship, and were fronted by Lawless’s charismatic vocals, both which are instantly recognizable whichever category you want to throw the songs into. The question was always whether they could progress and mature in their writing.

Headless – Moving on from Glam

With Headless Children, the song writing took a new, more serious direction. Gone are the sexually explicit shock lyrics, and instead, we have grown up topics like heroin addiction (‘Thunderhead’) and that perennial metal favourite, nuclear war (‘The Neutron Bomber’). That second track might also be about a local arsonist Lawless knew whilst growing up, depending on which interview claims you believe. But at any rate, it doesn’t call for a backdrop of naked women.

The album also includes a cover of ‘The Real Me‘, written by Pete Townshend for The Who (click that link for The Who version), and seems to be a hint that Lawless is starting to show a degree of introspection is his song writing, instead of just seeking to shock. Compare the W.A.S.P. version with the original.

The Crimson Idol

That trend continued on the next album, 1992’s ‘The Crimson Idol.’ This is a concept album about Jonathan Steele, a kid who runs away from home dreaming of stardom as a rock performer after the untimely death of his brother. His dreams come true, but the fame and fortune turn him into a ruined, drug-addled shell, at the beck and call of his corporate masters. A classic tale of being careful about what you wish for. The story is often thought to be loosely based on some aspects of Lawless’s own life, though that’s never been confirmed officially as far as The Hawk is aware.

The W.A.S.P. Black Album*

1995’s ‘Still Not Black Enough’ is also decent. Not in the same league as the previous two, it’s a bit ‘Here’s MY black album now’, but there are real highlights nonetheless.

*No connection to the one true Black Album whatsoever.

Glam is History

Getting back to the point, though, Classic Metal Hawk is going to go on the record here, and state that ‘The Headless Children’ and ‘The Crimson Idol’ are in no way Glam metal albums, so it stands to reason that by this point in their careers, W.A.S.P. were no longer a Glam Metal band. And that’s how it continued.

By the time Classic Metal Hawk last caught up with them live, in 2017’s 25th anniversary tour for The Crimson Idol, Blackie Lawless didn’t even look as though he had any makeup on, never mind face paint.

The Glam Metal scene has, unfortunately, a reputation going before it, as being packed full of thrill-seeking dickheads, who couldn’t play and anyway cared nothing for the music. And that reputation is built a good 90% on the shoulders of Motley Crüe, with their stereotypical and sometime tragic antics. That deserves much greater attention in subsequent articles by The Hawk. Watch this space. However, there are alternatives like W.A.S.P. who came out of the same scene, started with the template shock tactics and all the rest of it, but who eventually grew out of all that and began to make some far better music for having done it.

I’ll be Back

As an interesting aside, did you know that Blackie Lawless also did some acting, and was in the frame to play the evil T1000 cyborg in the smash hit movie Terminator 2. Apparently, Arnold Schwarzenegger thought Lawless was too tall, and black balled him for the part, meaning that Robert Patrick came in, and the movie as we know it came together.  So, without further ado, let The Hawk play for you his favourite offering by the band of all time. Hope you like it too.

Did The Hawk manage to convince you that W.A.S.P. successfully moved on from glam into something else? Should we care whether they did or not? Tell us about your own favourite W.A.S.P. era – maybe you liked the earlier raw material the best?

Share your thoughts in the comments below, or send feedback direct to The Hawk.

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