I lost track of W.A.S.P. shortly after receiving reissues of their first releases a few years back. I didn’t intentionally let Blackie Lawless, the only consistent member of the band, fall off of my musical radar screen. I think the reissues just took a lot out of me. I didn’t like much of their material after The Last Command and what I heard didn’t excite me. It wasn’t terrible material; it just wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
While W.A.S.P. has always been about being outlandish and doing things the way they want to – you can read about Lawless’ philosophy on life in the liner notes he wrote for the aforementioned reissues – there has always been a glaring weakness: reliance on well-established themes that other bands have pursued. On Babylon, that trend continues. Did we really need another song about being “Crazy” (track 1)? Did we really need multiple new songs about fire? On this release, you have the Deep Purple cover of “Burn,” the pseudo-ballad “Into The Fire,” and “Seas Of Fire.”
What saved this release for me was the way in which Lawless transformed tired themes like craziness and fire and interwove them with apocalyptic references to the end of the world. Now I’m feeling more interested in the band. Just as important, Lawless’ vocals are still potent after all these years. His energy tames the frantic pace of opener “Crazy” into something that is compelling. He spits out a tale about someone needing to be crazy in order to love him, which is probably true. I don’t think it is as compelling of an opener as “Wild Child” (from The Last Command) or “I Want to Be Somebody” (the opener the record label demanded as the first cut when they released this disc, but not what Lawless would call the record’s “real” opener). That said, the in-your-face attitude anthem marks the territory that the band is going to cover.
As a drummer, I immediately picked up on the thunderous tom-tom runs from Mike Dupke in all the right places. Lawless persists in writing lyrics that are deeper than they first appear. The entire CD deals with mortality, and “Live To Die Another Day” tackles that theme dead-on. Lawless sings in the chorus, “I’ll live to die / Die another day / Another place, another time / I’ll live to die – Oh Lord I’ll rise to life again / I will live to die another time,” which raises the question: can a man really choose when they are going to die? Your faith, or lack of it, probably provides your personal answer.
And that’s why I like this release. There are questions raised about life, death, and what may or may not come after it. Lawless shies away from this theme in “Babylon’s Burning” when he paraphrases the book of Revelation from the Bible and doesn’t really ask any pointed questions – it’s more of a description of a vision than his own personal revelation. Next comes a cover of Deep Purple’s “Burn” with lots of Dupke drum fills. The band sounds excellent on “Seas Of Fire,” my favorite track. I wish this would have opened the release. “Godless Run” bares Lawless’ soul as he sings, “Long had I gone to be / A slave to my eyes / Lost at that cross I kneel / Amazing grace saved my life.” The fun cover of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land” concludes the release on a less serious note.
If you have not listened to this band in a few years, I’d recommend taking Babylon for a spin. I wouldn’t be surprised if W.A.S.P. never dies, judging from the energized performance by Lawless on this release.