Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy, aka the Joyful Gadfly! Musician, podcaster, writer, historian ... here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album is unique in some way. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wendy O. Williams ~ WOW

Style: hard rock
Label: Plasmatics Media
Year: 1984
Home: New York

Members: Wendy O. Williams ~ vocals
Michael Ray, Micki Free ~ guitars
Mitch Weissman ~ piano
Gene Simmons ~ bass/b. vocals

Guests: Eric Carr, T.C. Tolliver ~ drumsAce Frehley, Paul Stanley, Wes Beech ~ guitar


When folks talk about the music of W.O.W. its usually her work with the 70's punk outfit the Plasmatics. But, some of us are appreciative of the experiment but not so much the music & recommend live videos of the Plasmatics but W.O.W.'s later solo hard rock. It's not just because I prefer hard rock over punk, but while the Plasmatics might have the better visuals the hard rock is far more user friendly listenable music. For those who have only heard the Plasmatics this may be a surprise listen. WOW presents a very different frontwoman along with more tame, more commercial & tighter arrangements under her. The hard rock present here might be the best arranged & produced music of her career but its not the most inspired or original, either compared to the Plasmatics or other rock bands of the time. I'm reminded of the bland end of Joan Jett with a bit of Patti Smith punk in your face offrontery. It's certainly New York edgy in that vague thing called a New York sound. Certainly, W.O.W. might be the best face of punk rock & should be up there with the Sex Pistols. If she was still alive she might be. She certainly was far more talented & her later vegetarian activism shows a caring heart beyond just social rebellion. Many might see her as a performance gimmick, re: cutting guitars in half on stage with a chainsaw wearing next to nothing, but WOW should show differently. WOW should show that given the opportunity she was interested in doing more & being more than a one gimmick wonder. WOW is the first of two solo releases following the break-up of the Plasmatics. Most noteworthy about this album is that in the producer's chair is Kiss songwriter/bassist/vocalist & general social beast Gene Simmons in his first non-Kiss production role. Simmons spotted W.O.W. hosting a heavy metal video show & had been enamoured of her attitude, not too dissimiliar from Kiss's early years to shock & rock, & took the Plasmatics along as an opening act. Simmons writes a lot of the songs here ... wherein lies the problem. Simmons might be known for many things, good & bad, but not necessarily as one of rock's great songwriters. Kiss is full of cliches, unmemorable songs & weak anthem rock of little depth. For all the hits there's also a lot of blandness held together with the sheer energy of the band. He brings that cliche, no depth anthem blandness to WOW. W.O.W. is a very socially minded performer but is singing songs with the least amount of social awareness of her career. At many times the result even sounds too close to Kiss, particularly in the backing vocal chorus approach typical of the Kiss attack. "It's My Life" was even co-written with Kiss frontman Paul Stanley. But, there's a enjoyable factor in here. It may not be as outlandish or avant-garde as the Plazmatics but their outlandishness ruled over listenability. So many of the songs are typical of the era but for lack of creativity they are perfectly constructed ... wondering if Simmons is a good imitator or a good creator. It helps that for once W.O.W. has some skilled musicians behind her including the rest of Kiss with Eric Carr, Paul Stanley & Ace Frehley ... though for good measure former Plasmatics T.C. Tolliver & Wes Beech are brought in for cameos. The Plasmatics were never able to go beyond sloppy even though at times their experimentation was well worth hearing. Simmons could be the potential man to take things to the next level but he doesn't mold the music to W.O.W. Though, the problem may also be that Simmons wasn't exactly a big league successful producer for anyone outside Kiss & thus he isn't used to thinking outside the box. Today he might create a very different album that is much closer to W.O.W.'s vision than a female fronted Kiss. Though, while the music may fail on some level W.O.W. actually is pulled up by it & does her best singing, considering she's not really a singer & can use a little push & prod which Simmons gives her to his credit as a producer if not a songwriter. Its worth hearing where she takes her voice. "Thief In the Night" is a surprise with some whispered singing totally out of form for W.O.W. that gets taken up a notch with the oddly named "Opus in Cm7" that features singing in a strained voice. One wouldn't even recognize W.O.W. particularly given the piano background of this later song. Thus, on some level, WOW is as experimental as the Plasmatics, just going in different directions, so for those hesitant to listen because it's not the Plasmatics it just takes a change in perspective of what experimental means. Those who like the Plasmatics probably won't like WOW, for all valid reasons, but those who want the more listener friendly W.O.W. this is a good starting point. If one really wants the best of W.O.W. then create your own comp album drawing from a little bit of everything from her entire career. It's a box set long overdue. Of note is the blatentness of the album. There might be few songs so in your face, in a pre-hip hop world, as "Bump & Grind" where W.O.W. sings "Do you want to fucking grind with me?". The answer undoubtedly is yes. It's hard to say no to a nearly naked woman holding a chainsaw.



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