The Crimson Idol

W.A.S.P.

Original Masters Records, 1993

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/22/1999

For Blackie Lawless, the writing and recording of The Crimson Idol was an emotional purge that I don't think he expected would be as powerful as it was. One can't help but listen to this album and compare it to a work like The Who's Tommy (in fact, Lawless saves thanks in the liner notes for one Pete Townshend), only this portrait is an even darker one than The Who could have thought of.

I didn't get the message of The Crimson Idol the first time I listened to it a few years ago - but having gone through the entire W.A.S.P. discography up to this album, I now can appreciate what led Lawless to the tale of Jonathan that is told in these 10 songs. Now released as a double CD, The Crimson Idol adds lots - both good and bad - to a story that some claim is W.A.S.P.'s best album ever.

First, I might as well get the potential flame mail going: I still do not think that The Crimson Idol is W.A.S.P.'s best work. I'll save that title for The Last Command, with a close runner-up being the group's overlooked recent release Helldorado. But by no means do I think The Crimson Idol is a bad album; if anything, it has grown on me over the years to the point where I think I'd have a difficult time pulling this one out of the CD player's rotation.

The story revolves around Jonathan, a young man who is seen as the "black sheep" of his family. He both looks up to and despises his parents, and the only light of hope in his world - his older brother - is taken from him thanks to a drunk driver. Even more isolated than before, Jonathan runs away from home and falls into the traps of drugs and alcohol before discovering the key to making a name for himself: music. However, the success only leads to more excesses and, upon the breakup of a Caligula-like party, more isolation. He reaches out to the parents he ran away from, hoping they will accept him as the success he's become - only to be crushed when they reject his attempt to reach out to them. Whether Jonathan commits suicide or not at the end of the story is for each listener to decide.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Musically, The Crimson Idol features Lawless and a skeleton crew at their angriest and at their most introspective. Gone is long-time guitarist Chris Holmes, and with a few exceptions, Lawless himself handles a good portion of the instrumentation. And while this is a solid effort, I can't help but miss the bite of Holmes's guitar work; Bob Kulick is good, but his work does lack something.

Some of these songs, if they catch you in the right mood, will be heartbreakers. "Hold On To My Heart," "The Idol" and "The Great Misconceptions Of Me" all are tracks that will get you thinking. "Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue)" is one of W.A.S.P.'s best songs ever - and one strong indictment against certain record company executives. Ka-pow.

The bonus material starts with Lawless's narration of "The Story Of Jonathan," which is also printed in the booklet. Frankly, hearing Lawless tell the tale adds more power to the story than just seeing the printed word, and is a well-spent 16 minutes. The two b-sides that were apparently left out of the original story, "Phantoms In The Mirror" and "The Eulogy," both flesh out the story and seem to suggest what Jonathan's fate really was.

It is the bonus material that contains some of the surprising moments, as well as the frustrations. Let's talk about the frustrations first. I don't know if this problem has been rectified, but there are several occasions during the live performances where the sound completely drops out for two to three seconds. If this wasn't enough (bad enough it happens once, for God's sake), the start of "The Invisible Boy" sounds like a tape machine was started out of fast-forward. I mean, I can't believe any label would put out shit like this - and I'm positive the original source material isn't to blame. Whoever okayed this should be hung by their manhood, 'cause there's no fucking excuse for any CD to go out like this in the digital age. 'Nuff said.

While all the W.A.S.P. discs have had bonus material slapped onto them, it's on The Crimson Idol that it reaches a pinnacle, turning it into a 2-CD set. The funny thing is, every added on track is must-listen material. From the almost note-for-note cover of Led Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks" to the acoustic renditions of "The Idol" and "Hold On To My Heart," Lawless and crew simply amaze the listener. The live tracks recorded at Donnington in 1992 (and the source of most of said problems) are also fun to listen to, although one wonders if they were really needed with the promise of a live album ( Double Live Assassins) on the horizon of this disc's original release.

If you already own The Crimson Idol, you'll definitely want to retire your copy and pick the double-CD set up, sonic warts and all. If you've never owned it before, you will want to experience this tale, even though it's so powerful that you might be scared to listen to it more than once.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Original Masters Records, and is used for informational purposes only.