Review Summary: W.A.S.P.'s best work...yes, better than "The Crimson Idol".The Headless Children
is, if nothing else, a turning point in W.A.S.P.'s discography. Their first three albums (the self-titled, The Last Command
, and Inside The Electric Circus
) all showcased highly-competent 80's glam metal with over-the-top imagery and lyricism (see "Animal (F**k like a Beast)"), more or less designed to augment their overly theatrical stage show, which included launching raw meat into the crowd and tying ladies to torture racks. By the end of the 80s, though, frontman Blackie Lawless wanted to present an image of being a "serious musician", that there was some
substance behind the circular-saw codpiece and the singing about sexual prowess. So, they apparently decided to put more of an emphasis on presenting a "serious" image for their fourth outing.
And, surprisingly, the result of that change in focus is the best album the band's put out. Yes, it's better than even The Crimson Idol
The album's opener, "The Heretic (The Lost Child)", is the most triumphant example of this. It's longer than any single song off of their prior albums, but it justifies its opening position with some of the best riffs and solos the band has ever penned. It even features a good number of effective tempo changes, and the dark (and introspective) lyrics are a marked improvement over the schlock they peddled on their prior outings.
The rest of the album doesn't quite hit the highs of the opening number, but it ends up being very strong in all. "Thunderhead" has a gorgeous intro before settling into an excellent mid-tempo groove, and the title track is sublimely creepy and haunting. "The Neutron Bomber" is a faster number that works more than competently, and the same can be said about "Maneater". "Rebel in the F.D.G." works nicely as the closer of the "normal" edition of the album, harkening back to the likes of "Wild Child" in sound.
Unfortunately, the album does have three weak links. "Mean Man" is as close to their old material as they dance (especially with its chorus of "I'm a mean motherf***in' man"), and its hammy lyricism just doesn't work in with the rest of the album and makes it feel like a throwaway from, say, Inside the Electric Circus
. "The Real Me", a cover of the The Who song from Quadrophenia
, just comes off as being weak and out-of-place. And I'm convinced that W.A.S.P. absolutely cannot write a ballad to save their lives; "Forever Free" underlines this, falling victim to every ballad cliché you can think of.
So, those are the songs. The overall band, skill-wise, is about what it was from the last albums (though the drummer is much better on this outing), though the longer and more detailed songs serve to give them space to showcase their musical chops better. Blackie Lawless is still a pretty underrated vocalist; while he's certainly no Halford or Dio (his range is frankly poor), his unique howl is immediately recognizable and actually fits in well with the material. There's nothing else frankly remarkable from a technical standpoint, save that Chris Holmes was a good guitarist and the album sounds firmly rooted in the 80's.
There are a few missteps, but the overall quality of the album makes this the best work W.A.S.P. has done (beating out the occasionally overwrought and inconsistent The Crimson Idol
) and one of the better "hair metal" albums from the 80s. It's a pity that the band splintered after this (eventually rejiggering into the Blackie Lawless Show), because it would have been interesting to see what else could have come out of them.
[The 1998 re-release adds four studio numbers and two live performances; the cover of "Locomotive Breath" from Jethro Tull is nice, but the other inclusions are awfully pedestrian.]