Friday, May 1, 2009
The Plasmatics - Metal Priestess
If you were a fan of rock and roll in the early 80’s, you at least heard about The Plasmatics. It was hard to avoid them, as the band’s subversive behavior provided them with a large amount of press in both rock mags and the mainstream press. If you were curious enough, the stunts (chainsaws, car explosion, electrical tape strategically placed over nipples) prompted you to take a listen.
The moment you gave The Plasmatics a spin, you realized that they were all about shtick, not songs. The gangly mowawked Richie Stotts looked the part of a punk rock guitarist, but he had little regard for innovation or memorable hooks. Had the band been able to translate their visual appeal into actual material, the band would be more revered today than it currently is.
They were able to swindle the notoriety into a record deal with Capitol after their first two albums New Hope For The Wretched and Beyond The Valley of 1984. The band hooked up with Dan “Instant Replay” Hartman who was convinced that they would be the next big thing. The man who voiced “Free Ride” offered to produce their major label offering and the skinny among Plasmatics fans is that the resulting material is great. Apparently, the label didn’t think so and Capitol ordered the band back into the studio with another producer to re-record the material.
Obviously, this all created delays in getting the Plasmatics into Middle America, so the label pieced together an e.p., Metal Priestess, to introduce their newly acquired act into the malls and chains across the country.
Metal Priestess shows the band beginning to abandon their punk origins in favor for a more metal (ha!) direction. It actually works in their favor as Stotts was able to trade in his weak speed playing in for a more aggressive power chord structure.
While the change benefited Stotts, nothing could hide the fact that Wendy O Williams wasn’t much of a vocalists and even worse at songwriting. The e.p. features a tasty jug-jug-jug riff that’s ultimately neutered by Williams’ cornball prose. She barks and spits throughout the e.p., but when you listen to what she’s yelling about you tend to get the idea that the whole thing is an act and that there’s not much substance to her angst. Initially, it was the old tried-and-true bash against consumerism. With Metal Priestess, you find her dipping into the clichéd world of S&M and the occult. Credit Hartman and Stotts for helping to bring some grit to the proceedings, but there’s little in Williams' words to make us believe that she felt comfortable with the new role as a metal poet.
Which pretty much makes their first few albums irrelevant, if you think about it. After bitching about consumerism, the Plasmatics began to pine for it. Williams was always a great student of art, but to see her forgo it is more painful than a beating by the Milwauke police department. Someone failed to tell her that she could still respect her original vision without having to resort to force out some nonsensical interpretation of what a metal song should be about.
Metal Priestess is the first sign of it. Before too long, she would be hanging out with Gene Simmons and retiring the Plasmatic name for an easy to digest W.O.W. This e.p. serves as the first notice of the change the band would undertake, the potential the direction could provide, and the limitations that Wendy O had when faced with finding the motivation for her art. The moment she (and them) began considering the input of others outside of the band was the moment in which they started to become irrelevant.