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Even at the time of its release Inside the Electric Circus felt mediocre. Following the outrageous theatrics of their eponymous debut and the sophistication of its follow-up, The Last Command, the third offering from W.A.S.P., released through Capitol Records in September 1986, felt a little too retrained and polished, lacking the edge that had made its predecessors so engaging. From an ill-advised cover of I Don’t Need No Doctor, which was first recorded twenty years earlier by Ray Charles, to such forgettable efforts as Shoot From the Hip and Sweet Cheetah, Inside the Electric Circus felt more like a gimmick than a serious metal album.
Produced by frontman Blackie Lawless, who had moved from bass to rhythm guitar, the album marked the first W.A.S.P. release to feature bassist Johnny Rod, who would remain with the band until after the release of The Headless Children in 1989. But while the latter would receive considerable praise from the music press, Inside the Electric Circus is often considered one of their lesser efforts. The album was released under a cloud of controversy as the group had been included along with several other artists on a list dubbed the ‘Filthy Fifteen,’ which had been targeted for their violent, sexual or religious content by Tipper Gore’s moral committee the PMRC. Following its release W.A.S.P. toured extensively, capturing their theatrical show on both the album Live…in the Raw and its VHS counterpart Videos…in the Raw.
On Friday 6 June W.A.S.P. took to the stage on the third night of this year’s Sweden Rock Festival, during which time Lawless, the sole remaining member of the band from the 1980s, attended a press conference in which he discussed the music of W.A.S.P., both past and present. In a rather candid discussion he described his evolution as a songwriter between their 1984 debut and The Headless Children five years later. ‘I remember on the first album we had a song called B.A.D., and a girl came up to me one day and she says, ‘I want to thank you for that song.’ And I said, ‘What for?’ And she says, ‘Well, I used to be a really bad heroin addict. And when I heard that song it changed my life and I don’t shoot heroin anymore.’ Now, that song had nothing to do with heroin. I don’t know what she heard in those lyrics. And at the time I really didn’t want to hear that, because to me I knew enough about what a statement from her like that meant.’The incident, however, clearly had a profound effect on Lawless. ‘We got finished with the Circus record and I realised we had made one of the biggest piles of junk in the history of the recording industry,’ he admits. ‘And I said, ‘You know what?! That’s it. I’m not doing that anymore. If I can’t say something with the music, there’s no point in me doing it.’ And I thought, ‘This girl is telling me she’s not shooting heroin anymore and I didn’t even try. Imagine what I could do if I tried just a little bit.’ And there’s a ton of stories that you hear like that and you don’t realise the impact that you’re having on people, because I’m one of those kind of people, I live in my own little bubble. I mean, I am really one of the worst people to ask opinions about anything, because I just live in my own little space. You know, if I’m not writing or in the studio, I live way away from everybody and I’m just in my own world. So you don’t realise the impact you have on people a lot of times.’
A little over two and a half years would pass in between the release of Inside the Electric Circus and their next studio album, The Headless Children, and in that time Lawless had progressed significantly as a songwriter, with their new arsenal including such classics as The Heretic (The Lost Child), Forever Free and its epic title track. ‘Headless came out in ’89 so I would say that’s when that change happened,’ Lawless continues. ‘Because there’s a place I guess for all kinds of music but for myself, personally, I started looking around at what I felt was my purpose. And I thought music can be so much more than this. And I’m not saying that there’s not a place for guys to have a good time. But if I can do something to say something or help change somebody’s life, I’m gonna sleep a lot better at night.’