The Headless Children
Original Masters Records, 1988
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/20/1999
By the time 1989 rolled around, Blackie Lawless was fed up. He was tired of the toll his war with the PMRC had taken on him, and he was tired of the commercial direction that people were trying to push his band, W.A.S.P. (You could hear in the music that fatigue was setting in; Inside The Electric Circus was a disappointment, and Live... In The Raw, while a good album, was admittedly a stop-gap measure.)
Lawless, lead guitarist Chris Holmes and bassist Johnny Rod turned their attentions toward the one thing that had to remain a constant: the music. The end result was The Headless Children, an album that was a major step back in the right direction for W.A.S.P. - and, surprisingly, the album that gave the band their highest charting single. Even now at 10 years old, the album has lost none of its power, and is a joy to behold - made even better by the inclusion of bonus material.
Following the departure of drummer Steve Riley, W.A.S.P. looked to regroup after some well-deserved time off. Recruiting Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali and keyboardist Ken Hensley, Lawless went out to do something that he hadn't done since The Last Command - write songs that focused on the music and its quality.
With the temporary adjustment of W.A.S.P.'s lineup, they gained two things they might not have achieved had the band stayed a quartet. First, Banali's drum work seemed to give the material an extra kick into overdrive at the right times. (I don't want to say "when the material needed it," 'cause that would imply the songwriting was weak - something it definitely wasn't on The Headless Children.) Second, W.A.S.P. almost seems to toy with some progressive riffs, especially at the end of the title track. It's an interesting experiment for the band to try - and is one I kind of wish they had continued doing.
The Headless Children is best noted for two songs. First, "Mean Man," an almost autobiographical look at the stage personas the band had. (Having had the privilege of interviewing Lawless, I can honestly say he's anything but what this song describes.) The other track, "Forever Free," is a surprising dip into a - egads! - softer side of W.A.S.P., one that dares to embrace the melody of the music without turning up the distortion pedals to 11. It's a gutsy move - and one that works well.
The 10 basic tracks that made up the original release of The Headless Children are incredible enough on their own. Songs like "The Heretic (The Lost Child)", "Thunderhead," "The Neutron Bomber" and their cover of The Who's "The Real Me" all reflect some of the band's best work, erasing any doubt one might have had after Inside The Electric Circus. It's almost - but not quite - as good as The Last Command - but I admit I'm a bit biased, since The Last Command remains one of my all-time favorite records.
But if the basic album isn't enough for you, the re-issue piles on an additional six songs, all of which were b-sides. Lawless's take on Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath" is interesting, and is not bad at all (though I'll always be partial to the original). After hearing tracks like "For Whom The Bell Tolls" (not the Metallica version) and "Lake Of Fools," I had to wonder why these songs didn't make the original cut for the album.
The two live tracks, though, are a bit hit-or-miss. "L.O.V.E. Machine" is great, though it sounds like Lawless's voice was beginning to weaken during this song. The other one, "Blind In Texas," makes mistake number one by coming into the song on the third verse. The other mistake is bringing an audience member up and having him attempt to sing "I'm blind in Texas." Lawless hit it on the head when he said the kid's first effort was "terrible"; sorry, but there are some moments in a band's career that can remain locked in the vaults, and this was one of them.
The re-issue of The Headless Children has enough toys on it to make everyone who has a battered copy run out and pick up a shiny new one. If you're one of the uninitiated who haven't experienced this album, then pick it up, strap on the headphones, and don't make any plans for about 75 minutes. It all leads in to what would become Lawless's major project, The Crimson Idol - but we'll talk about that one soon enough.