Wednesday, 9 December 2009

W.A.S.P. - Inside The Electric Circus (1986)

1. The Big Welcome
2. Inside The Electric Circus
3. I Don't Need No Doctor
4. 9.5.-N.A.S.T.Y.
5. Restless Gypsy
6. Shoot From The Hip
7. I'm Alive
8. Easy Living
9. Sweet Cheetah
10. Mantronic
11. King Of Sodom & Gomorrah
12. The Rock Rolls On
13. Flesh & Fire*
14. D.B. Blues*

This is where it all started folks, with W.A.S.P’s third release, “Inside The Electric Circus”, released November 8th 1986 and which hit the Billboard chart at #60 . This album literally changed my life, changed the way I viewed music as an entertainment outlet and my appreciation for every aspect of audio recording. It all began when I was 16 years old, a college drop-out and a greenhorn metalhead only just beginning to amass my humongous album collection. At the time, I had been listening to a radio station called Total Rock via my mother’s satellite connection and happened to catch a classic rock programme during the lunch hour. They played a song called “Sleeping In The Fire” by a band named W.A.S.P. and I thought it was magnificent. It sounded like heavy rock mana from the gods, better than any “Stairway To Heaven” or “Freedbird”, something you could really hoist a cigarette lighter upto in a concert hall and not feel foolish for burning your thumb off!

So, like I said, I was a college drop-out. One day, as my adventure into further education was coming to an end, I had skipped class (again!) to wander into town and to the local HMV record store. Upon browsing through their lacklustre metal section, my gaze found its way to a 2-Disc, double album set by W.A.S.P. Now, I had totally forgotten about the song from the radio in all honesty, but sure as hell did I remember that band name! I think the CD was about £8 and I snapped it up out of sheer curiosity. I had heard none of the songs from these two albums – “Inside The Electric Circus” and “The Headless Children” – I thought they were two of the most wicked album names I’d ever heard of - Plus, there were no band pictures at all, so I only had the music to make a judgement on my newest purchase.

The bus ride back home didn’t take too long and I had time to kill before I went back, pretending that I’d been in classes all day. I went into the woods nearby my mother’s house and popped the first disc into my CD player – “Inside The Electric Circus”. Blackie Lawless had previously named W.A.S.P. “Circus Circus”, but due to a threatened lawsuit from the famous Vegas casino of the same name, a change came about. Almost six years later, Blackie would bring the Circus concept back, though seeing this record as a portrayal of life in a hard living, endlessly touring rock band. He imagined the stage as his three-ring showcase, full of wild attractions, the crowd rolling up every night to bear witness to the heavy metal frenzy under the hot lights. The intro, titled “The Big Welcome”, slowly became audible over the chirping of birds and the whirring of my walkman. It was already like nothing I’d heard before, with a strange voice in the style of a Ringmaster addressing an imaginary crowd of people, greeting them as they entered a circus big top. Everything I have just described entered my head in vivid images. The voice and the music petered out, being replaced almost instantaneously by the loudest, crunchiest guitar riff I’d ever heard! The title track smashed its way into my head from both earphones, like AC/DC amplified a million times the decibels. It was magic and the sound was everything I had been searching for when it came to listening to music and knowing what I liked best. This was especially apparent when Blackie’ Lawless’ vocal chords came rasping over the top. He sounded at first, as if somebody had taken Slade’s Noddy Holder and told him to swallow a pack of razor blades, yet Blackie is so melodic at the same time. The chorus to this song is stunning too “Welcome, I bid you welcome/To life inside the electric circus/Hang on, hang onto your life/The animals are all insane/God help us!” It washed over me with so much power, retained all the melody and it filled me with incredible warmth, a huge tingling buzz through my skin. The only way I could describe it is in the way heroin addicts describe their first real high, like a comforting wave of energy.

I Don’t Need No Doctor” was released as a single, with an accompanying promo video and was a cover version of Ashford, Armstead & Simpson’s original. But, have no doubt, W.A.S.P.’s take fucking rocks! The main riff slides in and once again turns up the voltage, Blackie’s voice sounds wickedly delightful in the delivery of each verse and the backing is really tight and high energy throughout. The chorus has a fun “Whoo-Hoo” line that is superbly sung by Blackie, Chris Homes (guitar), Johnny Rod (bass) and Steve Riley (drums). Chris Holmes guitar playing is top notch here, with a tone I hadn’t heard before where the production work really shines. All the lines and fills are layered so well over the rest of the music, that every note is crystal clear and packed full with dynamite! “9-5 N.A.S.T.Y” (single) is written and performed in the classic W.A.S.P. vein being full of sleazy innuendo, tales of loose women and burning lust. You can never go wrong with those themes on a metal record! The overall sound of the album will seem the same at this point to the casual listener but after repeated listens, so much more texture reveals itself from behind the huge wall of treble noise. This becomes especially obvious once “Restless Gypsy” is in full swing. “Restless Gypsy” is probably the best song W.A.S.P. have ever recorded, it’s just that perfect. It’s so emotional – a tale of longing and constant roaming – yet still so powerful. I have never ever tired of this song, its heart-wrenching lyrics and atmospheric feel cannot be matched in my opinion. I suppose it was made even more wondrous by the fact I was alone and at peace in the woodland. I was away from the rush and push of everyday life, surrounded by nature and fully focused on what my ears and mind were devouring. Truly, it was a life changing moment. The moment I really felt sure that this was a special band I could treasure and an album that was going to be unforgettable…

Shoot From The Hip” is another heavy, hotshot rocker about ejaculation, well, to be more upfront and frank….a cumshot: “Hot and sticky, here it comes/I got the bullets, load it up/Slide it into place/My emotions coming down all across your face”. This was the type of song that was getting W.A.S.P. into hot water with the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Centre), as well as their early stage shows featuring blood, raw meat and women being tortured on spiked racks. But in comparison to their earlier output this album comes across quite tame, the subject matter only seems to hint at sexual acts or any form of violence, but is never as blunt and in your face as “Fuck Like A Beast” was two years prior. Blackie Lawless had also discarded his infamous buzz-saw cod-piece in favour of an exploding one (fuck yeah!). The negative media focus on the band only enhanced their notoriety and drove up album sales and this was during a period where they had practically shifted to glam metal whilst still packing out arenas worldwide. Blackie Lawless was even being sent death threats. The sound of gunshots and the odd bomb scare even took place, but you know what they say: “Any publicity is good publicity!”

The other stand out tracks I must quickly mention (‘cause let’s face it, I could go on forever!) are “I’m Alive”, “Sweet Cheetah” and a cover of Uriah Heep’s “Easy Living”. The Uriah Heep cover is totally as good as the original, heavier but faithful and in-keeping with the tone of the record, “Sweet Cheetah” is almost like a re-visit of “9-5 N.A.S.T.Y” – more tales of sexy temptresses, animal lust and guitar riffs that sound like duelling hot rods gliding down a neon highway into the dead of night. “I’m Alive” though, is another very special track for me. Basically a war cry toward the right-wing religious zealots of the time with some insanely intelligent lyrics: “The target is me, a monster you flee/I hate what you say and you do/A mirror is there and look if you dare/The fool that you see's only you.” The song then continues into a majestic pre-chorus: “Oh, no, you won't, nail me to you tree/Or hang my head up high/No kingdom reigns over me, despise all the liars I see/Don't give me your "Save my soul" cure.” Being a staunch atheist, this track speaks volumes to me, it draws on all my thoughts and feelings in regards to religion, censorship, freedom and basically bullying, which I’m sure many people can relate to. It’s a brilliant track that I can’t speak more highly of. As for the rest of the album, there doesn’t seem to be any “filler” in my eyes.
All the other tracks seem well put together and pack a hard punch. It does not seem to me, a rushed effort by a tired band possibly becoming conscious of their place within the music industry of the 1980s. It’s solid throughout and a great example of W.A.S.P.’s talent and growth up to that point. Some people (even Blackie Lawless himself) have stated that this is the weakest W.A.S.P. album and that it was a step backward. I will always disagree. It is under-appreciated for sure, but it is no step back seeing as the band was extremely popular at the time and some of the themes of this record set the blueprint for what was to come with “The Headless Children” – an album widely regarded as the band’s best work. “Inside The Electric Circus” has had a massive impact on me (I never did go back to college after that day!) and it will forever score full marks….


© Flash Metal Circus

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