Recording information: Utopia Sound; Warner Bros. Recording Studios.
In an attempt to radically change his image, Todd Rundgren and Utopia were recruited to reinvent teen idol Cassidy for the new wave '80s. They wound up essentially remaking Rundgren's Faithful album with lesser-known cover songs, looser arrangements, and Shaun on lead vocals. Like Faithful, WASP is an eclectic selection of covers, mixed with typical Rundgren originals, all delivered with adventurous, uniformly fine vocals from Cassidy.
The opening take on Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" is indicative of the futility this album sometimes falls into: Cassidy sounds fine in his lower register, but Rundgren adds a munchkin-like second lead vocal, turning the song into near-parody. Similarly, "Shake Me, Wake Me" is nearly ruined by synthesizer tweets and synth drums, and "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" sports a playful tack-piano that undermines Cassidy's edgy delivery.
Throughout the album, though, Cassidy's expressive vocals redeem material that is hampered by production quirks. And most of the album rises above the dated arrangements, which mar some of the best selections. "It's My Life" is effectively creepy with its eerie vocal and funereal tempo, "So Sad About Us" sports the strong group vocals and drive of Rundgren-styled power-pop, and "WASP" features a rapped lead vocal and heavy riff reminiscent of Utopia at its best.
WASP is a gutsy album for Cassidy and, when he's not being overshadowed by his producer and backup band, a fine showcase for a talented singer
who clearly transcended the teenybopper niche he was stuck in. ~ James A. Gardner