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"The Crimson Idol" is the 5th studio album by American heavy metal band, W.A.S.P. It was released in 1992 on Capitol Records and produced by Blackie Lawless. The line-up for the album was Blackie Lawless (vocals/guitar/bass), Bob Kulick (guitar), Stet Howland (drums) and Frankie Banali (drums).
Although this was released as the 5th W.A.S.P. studio album, it was originally meant to be a Blackie Lawless solo album. Gone from the line-up was stalwart guitarist Chris Holmes, replaced with Bob Kulick, and sharing the drum stool was Stet Howland and then current drummer, Frankie Banali.
"The Crimson Idol" is a concept album, about a young man named Jonathan Steel who wanted nothing more than to be a musician, and over the course of the songs we follow his story to fame, fortune, and finally, the end.
"The Titanic Overture" begins the album (and story) with an acoustic number and Blackie's softly sung lyrics. Jonathan's story begins here as he's tormented between his family who think he's going nowhere and his own conscience which is telling him he's nothing and a nobody. Part-way into the song and the guitars kick in with a riff that is to recur in a few songs to signify Jonathan's life changes.
"The Invisible Boy" begins with a classic W.A.S.P. sound, but with maybe too many drum rolls. Blackie Lawless (or, in this case, Jonathan) puts forth a lot of emotion in his singing as the story continues. Jonathan realises that he's the black sheep of the family and his brother could do no wrong. He looks in the mirror and the face he sees answers him back, telling him that he must get out of there or he'll lose his mind. It's not the best song on the album, but there really isn't a best and worst song because they're all inter-linked.
"Arena of Pleasure" sees Jonathan leave home, not really knowing what he's going to do next. He's running away from all the problems he's having with his parents, but you get the sense that he's already decided on rock stardom and has either reached or is nearing his place of destiny, which he calls the arena of pleasure. I like this song for its punchy chorus and frantic riff that goes with it. There is also a really good solo in the track, and Blackie clearly hasn't forgotten how to play bass, of which he did for the band in its early years.
"Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue)" carries on the story with Jonathan in Los Angeles and how me meets a man named Charlie. It is about how record executives throw money at young musicians and work them to the bone for their own profit. It's one of the catchier songs on the album with some great guitar work and lyrics. It is here where Jonathan starts to get a taste of the stardom he once craved while looking in the mirror.
When "The Gypsy Meets the Boy" rolls around, we find Jonathan being told that he has to choose the right path. "Be careful what you wish for, cause it may come true" is said to him with acoustic guitars playing in the background. It's the softest and slowest song on the album, but this is where Jonathan's life is mapped before him. Blackie Lawless has nailed it here, cranking up the guitars and drums near the end to signify Jonathan's mind being torn in two places and which path he should eventually take.
With "Doctor Rockter" comes Jonathan's downward turn, as he turns to drugs to cope with the fatigue of playing show after show. The song sounds a lot like "The Real Me", which appeared on the band's 1989 album, "The Headless Children". It's here where Jonathan's life is hanging in the balance, and the only thing he can do to save it is to take more drugs.
In "I am One", Jonathan finally makes it to the big stage. He's turned 18 and he is now seeing, for the first time, that he has a purpose in life. He no longer sees that face in the mirror, and in fact, that face is him now. He's also hitting out ay his parents in that 'told you so' attitude. This is one of the better songs on the album because of its energy. There are intricate riffs and simple riffs, all merged into the same track.
"The Idol" starts out with a scene in Jonathan's house, where he's having another monumental party. He's doing more and more drugs and drinking heavily, and this is where his manager tries to talk some sense into him. This is also where Jonathan reaches out and calls his mother for the first time since running away, because he feels down and out, and even with all the money and fame he has, he's lonely. Musically, it's an incredible song full of meaning and emotion, sung brilliantly by Blackie, and is one of the best W.A.S.P. songs, ever. The line of "Where is the love to shelter me, only love, love set me free" sets the goosebumps going when you hear it.
We're nearing the end of the album now, and with "Hold on to My Heart" we find Jonathan completely broken emotionally, and would do anything to have his mother around to take away the pain. It's another brilliant vocal performance from Blackie Lawless against the backdrop of softly played guitars, and the slow solo near the end of the song is incredible. Jonathan realises that the only thing in life he really wanted was the love of his parents, and he'd trade the fame and fortune just to have that.
"The Great Misconceptions of Me" ends the album in epic proportions with lots of time changes, heart-felt vocals, and hard hitting guitars, mixed with acoustic. The song is Jonathan's suicide note, broken up into portions. He's first telling the audience at what proves to be his last concert that this is it, and they'll beat witness to his demise. He then tells his mother that even she can't save him because he's lonely and can't reach out. It's then back to the audience as he's telling them he doesn't want to be their idol, and he's a prisoner of his own making. He then takes his own life with the six strings of his guitar and as he's taking his final breaths, he once again tells everyone the only thing he wanted was the love of his parents. It is nearly 10 minutes long, but it's an incredible end to the album, the story, and Jonathan.
In summary, while I love the W.A.S.P. of old with the songs about sex, drugs and rock & roll, this is Blackie Lawless' best work. It's an incredible piece of music which belongs on a stage, as Blackie intended it to be. Having heard some of these songs live when the band played Donington Monsters of Rock in 1992, I can only hope to one day hear it in its entirety, whether that be on stage or in the theatre as a rock opera. If you only buy one album this year, make it this one. You won't be disappointed with your choice.
1. The Titanic Overture
2. The Invisible Boy
3. Arena of Pleasure
4. Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue)
5. The Gypsy Meets the Boy
6. Doctor Rockter
7. I am One
8. The Idol
9. Hold on to My Heart
10. The Great Misconceptions of Me
My rating: 10/10
The Crimson Idol is a concept album, conveying a story about a young rock singer and his fate - a simple enough tale but well handled. This is far more gentle than much of Wasp's work although the single that was released "Murders in the New Morgue" was much more their usual style. The Crimson Idol is a mournful, thoughtful piece of work with some really strong tunes as well as a few cracking and headbanging tracks. The song "Hold on to my heart" is a move into the rock ballad form, and can either be taken as a romantic piece, or the cry of a desperate man. I think this album really shows the bands' versatility and musical capacity. Those more fond of more aggresive music will not find this to their tastes perhaps, but I thought it was a brilliant piece of work that deserves far more recognition than it has had.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Titanic Overture
2 Invisible Boy
3 Arena of Pleasure
4 Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue)
5 Gypsy Meets the Boy
6 Doctor Rockter
7 I Am One
9 Hold on to My Heart
10 Great Misconceptions of Me
11 Story of Jonathon (Prologue to the Crimson Idol) [*] - Blackie Lawless, W.A.S.P., W.A.S.P.
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Phanthoms in the Mirror [*]
2 Eulogy [*]
3 When the Levee Breaks [*]
4 Idol [Acoustic][Live][*]
5 Hold on to My Heart [Acoustic][Live][*]
6 I Am the One [Live Donnington 1992]
7 Wild Child [Live Donnington 1992]
8 Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue) [Live Donnington 1992]
9 I Wanna Be Somebody [Live Donnington 1992]
10 Invisible Boy [Live Donnington 1992]
11 Real Me [Live Donnington 1992]
12 Great Misconceptions of Me [Live Donnington 1992]