Released: 2018, Napalm Records
I have a long history with THE CRIMSON IDOL. As a life-long W.AS.P. fan, they remain one of my favourite bands even to this day.
THE CRIMSON IDOL, was, and still is, historically speaking, a pretty big album. One of the big popular Metal databases ranks it as the #1 album of 1992, based on an overall average of 97% for reviews. It sold big, had videos, singles, been reissued countless times, and still sells to this day. It is ranked in Martin Popoff’s massive Top 500 albums book at #339 and by extension in the Top 10 concept albums of all time. Keep in mind, all of this happened over a year after Nirvana supposed apparently killed Metal. Someone forget to tell Blackie Lawless he was supposed to be dead I guess. The ground-breaking album has credibility, history, reputation and staying power so it is only fit that for the 25th anniversary W.A.S.P. has re-recorded and updated THE CRIMSON IDOL.
REIDOLIZED comes in a number of versions and I splurged (it was not that expensive at all) and got the four-disc version (2 CD, DVD, Blu-Ray). W.A.S.P.’s second foray back into a larger, more mainstream label situation, now on Napalm Records after a decade in the wilderness on small (but respectable) labels like Demolition. The end result of this new business collaboration is that the hype machine is in full-swing and the product and packaging are top notch. It is a big digi-book, 24 page booklet, full lyrics, all new art, all very nicely presented. All the graphics are new/upgraded but remain faithful to the original vision. The story is also printed out to make it easy to follow along.
In case you have not heard the original, as previously mentioned, it is a concept album. It is the story of a boy who flees an abusive, dysfunctional family and moves to L.A. to find fame and fortune. He finds his fame and it ultimately becomes his downfall. The story is allegedly semi-auto-biographical of Blackie’s own life. There is a far more to it than that as the story is loaded with allegory and metaphor. It is a very bleak story, a high tragedy of epic Greek proportions one that Lawless was very proud of and rightly so. Back in 1992, many casual observers felt that Blackie Lawless, the man who once wore a flaming cod-piece and sung ‘I Fuck Like A Beast’, might not have the emotional depth to pull off such an undertaking. Even the critics and cynics begrudging admittedly this was WA.S.P.’S finest hour.
REIDOLIZE, with the full title of (THE SOUNDTRACK TO THE CRIMSON IDOL) is more than just a plain reissue. It is a full re-recording with an additional six brand new tracks, totaling about 24 minutes of new music. There are three full new songs, (‘Miss You’, ‘Lost Boy’ and ‘The Peace’) and three semi-instrumental, spoken word, atmospheric pieces. So the 2 CD set now runs just over 80 minutes. The new songs fit in very nicely and flesh out the story a little. It sounds great, the line-up of Blair, Duda, Dupke, and Lawless do a fine job. I was worried that Dupke might not be able to pull of the magnificent drum work of Frankie Banali on the original, but he does an admirable job.
For the experienced W.A.S.P. fan who is very familiar with the original album, there are several little changes, lyrical and musical that you will notice right away. On several occasions while enjoying this re-recorded masterpiece for the first time, I was thinking to myself, ‘That’s not how it goes! That’s new! That’s different!” One highlight is, as insignificant as it is, is the new and extended, opening crowd cheering, live-concert sequence to the song ‘I Am One’. There are also changes in the voice-actors playing the various backing characters, (e.g., his Manager, Dr. Rockter etc) and some of the lyrics, most notably the removal of the curse-words. This has caused no small amount of consternation among die-hard W.A.S.P. fans, most suggesting it is Blackie’s conversion to Christianity many years ago that prompted him to vaporize of the more vitriolic verbage from the verses. I join the chorus of the disenchanted; the changes are wholly unnecessary and reduce the overall effectiveness of the scene that introduces one of the antagonists, Chainsaw Charlie. In terms of the album, REIDOLIZED is an amazing re-working that wins on almost every level.
On a quick side-note about Christianity, Blackie’s faith shines through in an unexpected place. If you wait until after the end credits roll on the DVD the very last thing you see is a single, stark message left on the screen. It says, ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ (Latin for ‘Glory To God Alone’).
Speaking of the DVD, the big attraction for many fans is the DVD or Blu-Ray if you prefer. Back in 1992, W.A.S.P. shot an hour-long promotional movie for THE CRIMSON IDOL. This gives you an idea of how big they were at the time. Virtually no band in the history of Metal has made it to that level, to have a movie made. For reasons now lost to the sands of history, it never really got released. Among the loyalists, there were little whisperers, subtle hints, quiet rumours…legends really… that it was put out…on VHS only in Japan, on LaserDisc maybe…bootlegged somewhere… but I’ve never seen a copy, or met anyone who has a copy. It was lost in the mists of time. It is the Holy Grail of all W.A.S.P material. Now fans can finally see the movie as it was intended. I have waited 25 years to see this!
Despite the hype, this is not a Hollywood style film or ‘movie’ as the cool kids say these days. This is more of a long-form, promotional video. It runs 60 minutes and follows the storyline. There are many actors and characters but there is no actual dialogue. It is shot in sort of a red/white/grey black mono-chrome style and is edited in a very jarring effect at times. Earlier, I referenced the tragic storyline and the visuals certainly reinforce that sense. It is not explicitly graphic per se, but the scenes of alcoholism, drug abuse, crime and a fairly graphic death scene ensure that it is not for children. The extended scenes of child abuse, a young Jonathan getting repeatedly beaten by his father, are especially unsettling. Again, it is a tragic tale of the highest order, certainly not the fist-raising, hard-drinking, head-banging fare of the first three albums and later albums like HELLDORADO.
The movie falls short in one respect. It seems they only shot about 30 minutes of footage as they keep using, and reusing the same scenes over and over and over. I’ll admit it gets repetitive quickly. Very quickly. I repeat…I’ll admit it gets very repetitive, very quickly.
Overall, anticipating seeing this video for 25 years, I had really built this video up in my mind. I set my expectations to an almost an unachievable level. This was going to be better than every Hollywood movie ever made! Therefore, perhaps somewhat expectedly, I was mildly disappointed after finally watching the video in 2018. I suppose I can’t be faulted for setting the bar so high, because until now, this was as I said earlier, this was the Holy Grail of all W.A.S.P. material. It is still a fantastic video, quite unique, well-shot and edited, effective and an amazing visual companion to the story.
A curious note…the actors in the movie are not credited. Anywhere. It must be a legality. I’ve asked a few people of various W.A.S.P. fan forums and Facebook pages but no one seems to know. Could this be the ultimate W.A.S.P. trivia question? Who played Jonathan Steel in The Crimson Idol movie? He is probably well into his 40’s now living in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills with all his royalty cheques from starring in this film! Well…maybe not…
REIDOLIZED is not without flaws however. The notable absences are several bonus tracks from those recording sessions, and it would have been nice to have the spoken-word monologue of the story from the original. In addition, it would have been really good to have all the promotional videos from the original included as bonus clips on the DVD. I suspect all this material is still held under contract/ownership of Capitol Records, or whatever holding company owns the rights to their back-catalogue. One of my other minor grudges is that this was supposed it to be the 25th Anniversary of THE CRIMSON IDOL, due in 2017 and it came out a year late in 2018. Close enough. Lastly, I would have liked some sort of essay or commentary from Lawless about the re-recording. In the original, there was a nice essay and extensive liner notes, none of which we get in REIDOLIZED. It would have been nice to hear from the master-mind about how and why the re-recording came about.
Oddly enough, THE CRIMSON IDOL (and by extension REIDOLIZED) is not quite my all-time favourite W.A.S.P. album. I feel it is hampered, ever so slightly, by containing too many drawn-out, melodramatic, semi-ballads. Two more fast, angry or aggressive songs on the album would have put it at the Top of my W.A.S.P. list for sure. Be that as it may, it’s still a stunning work that I still listen to regularly a quarter of a century later. Despite a few minor technical issues, which I belaboured in this fan-boy review, the re-recording set is superb. The production, performances, the nuances, it’s all wonderful. If you never got THE CRIMSON IDOL the first time around, now is your chance to hear the re-make and get the complete package (with movie) as originally intended. For W.A.S.P. fans you will have a great time re-visiting a fresh take on this old classic and finally get to see the movie. Long Live The King Of Mercy!