2011 Coming Home Records
Typically when I pick a record to write about there’s an overall idea woven in to give you, the reader, something more than a standard track-by-track report of what I heard and why (or why not) you should hear it, too. I sincerely wrestled with this review for about a week because, while War Widow is easily a great album, it seems to exist absent of context. At least to me.
What that means is War Widow, though having ties to known artists (Mellowdrone), seem to have appeared, fully formed and confident, out of nowhere. I’m not saying that a band can’t keep the garage door shut until they’re good and ready but in their case the aggressive mystique of the band seems to enter the room a few seconds before the music. War Widow’s website, and by proxy their overall visual vibe, is dark, self-consciously edgy and littered with disjointed S&M detritus. Like the shy kid you knew from 8th grade who suddenly became Goth in 9th grade and had a meticulously developed “dark” persona that revolved mostly around Scott Walker lyrics, scowling through his hair and scratching anarchy symbols into the legs of his giant black cargo pants with a hobby knife, War Widow appear to be trying to impress upon you just how dangerous their music is with contrasty images of women in bondage poses and cat fangs and generic religious iconography. In point of fact guitarist Eric Blackwell said of singer JP Russell’s lyrics “It’s like being raped while you sleep….by a muppet.” If that doesn’t set a lofty precedent then I don’t know what does.
Now, granted, War Widow IS edgy, dark and more than a little skeezy but you get that in spades from the music itself. Despite the point of this review being to extol the appeal of that music, something about the band’s image is coloring how I choose to go about talking them up. The music is certainly awesome; the music is big, grindy and not afraid to grope you in public. It’s got the aural dry-hump sleaze of Queens of the Stone Age (“Good to Go”) with the b-movie gothic synth menace of Mellowdrone (“Heaven”) wrapped up in the fuzzed-out swagger of T Rex (“One Finger”). So, yeah, it’s got a lot going for it. War Widow have really, truly crafted a great rock record and it sounds great loud, as great rock should. It’s layered and thick with a dreamy, lucid slant which fits well with their whole decadent, goth/libertarian image. Russell’s voice has an air of detached amusement and a sinister sweetness like a smiling cult leader who’s got malice just below the surface. Tracks like “Tear It Up” and “Holy Roller” amble at an ax-murderer’s pace; slowly but persistently so no matter how fast you run it’s always just a room away. The music does a great job of being everything the band wants to appear to be all on its own.
So why can’t that be enough? I’m speculating here but I don’t really think the guys in War Widow are the deviants their image implies they are; I’m sure they’ve got families and houses and cars and pay their bills and sort their recycling like everyone else. Shit, even the guys from Insane Clown Posse wash of their ridiculous make up and sit down to eat dinner with their kids from time to time. Maybe I’m just getting old but the whole rock star image, that sexually charged, dangerous outsider, is-he-gonna-rock-me-or-rape-me thing is more or less worthless in comparison to the music. A scuffed up image of a girl deep-throating a crucifix doesn’t make the album sound better and it doesn’t improve the image of the musicians in my mind. I’d be fine knowing that War Widow are three guys about my age wearing t-shirts and jeans playing music in a rented practice space. I was never really a huge fan of Metallica but when I saw images of them recording, James Hetfield wearing reading glasses, Kirk Hammett without product in his hair, Lars… well Lars still looked like a douchebag but the point is seeing those guys as actual people made the music BETTER for me. I was under no assumption that Metallica lived in an abandoned machine shop living on rock and eating only what they killed. For some the carefully crafted image of a band might enhance their appreciation for them, and in some cases (namely mid-90’s U2) it can work to add a layer of charisma and theatrics that you didn’t know was there. And I’m not saying War Widow are huge phonies on the level of, say, Lady Gaga or Marilyn Manson but they’re definitely trying to sell an image and I don’t think they need it.
So I suppose the theme of this review is that image isn’t everything and often times isn’t even necessary. If a band can rip out a thoroughly good album like War Widow then that’s enough for me. If I pull back the curtain and see something that resembles myself? Well, really that’s exactly what I’m looking for. Anything else is just deceptive marketing.