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"For all the decent citizens you've enraged You Can Go To Hell!"

Class C

Main Category: Hard Rock
Also applicable: Arena Rock, Punk/Grunge, Art Rock, Smart Pop
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of an Alice Cooper fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Alice Cooper fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Don't be afraid of Alice Cooper! In the early Seventies, Vincent Furnier and his talented accomplices of Detroit origin (who were all collectively named Alice Cooper before Mr Furnier usurped that name for him and him alone) set up one of the, if not the, most famous rock show ever and became innocent victims of their own image. To this day, the average Joe's perception of Alice Cooper is: "oh, you mean that demented freak in clown makeup dancing around with chains and snakes and dissecting baby dolls onstage?". No offense to the "average Joe" - I myself shared this perception for a long, long time. The Image (and I put that capital "I" there on purpose) of Alice Cooper was so shocking and disturbing at the time it was created that it has not only preceded his (or their) reputation as a vital musical force, but virtually obliterated it. Even those people for whom the word 'rock' doesn't necessarily mean a bunch of dirty illiterate punks wasting their lifetime away, mostly limit their knowledge of the real Coop to a small bunch of hits like 'I'm Eighteen' and 'School's Out' because they happen to be played on classic rock radio (or - God forbid! - to his more recent hits like 'Poison'). These are great songs, for sure, but there's so much more...

To begin with, both Alice Cooper (the band) and Alice Cooper (the solo artist) play music with substance. This ain't just a kitsch ensemble like KISS, where the actual music is so way, way below the stage image that it makes them a perfect candidate for "the eternal whipping boys of glam rock". The band, as I already pointed out, hailed from Detroit - the Vaterland of "proto-punk" - and was rather closely affiliated with bands like the Stooges and the MC5, meaning the music they played was lean, mean, riff-heavy, and unpolished, not to mention pretty well-composed for a bunch of longhaired punks with no respect for the flower power ideology. Somehow they managed to catch the eye of Frank Zappa, to whom Alice Cooper practically owe their public notoriety, and after a couple unsuccessful early tries where Frank tried, for reasons unclear, to mould them into a semi-punk/semi-avantgarde absurdist outfit (along the lines of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band), broke through with a set of classic albums that are - quite justly - now critically hailed as one of the cornerstones of early Seventies' hard rock, at the same time inventing and perfecting their grimy gory live show to give every housewife across America and beyond a heartattack she couldn't possibly recover from.

Trouble came when the band split. Since 1975, Alice Cooper has been a solo artist, and this is where lots and lots of former fans jumped ship. The reason was obvious: those who loved Alice Cooper (the band) for their muscular hard rock sound and their sweaty brand of "teen angst rock", worshipping 'I'm Eighteen' and 'No More Mr Nice Guy', got progressively more disappointed as the former Vincent Furnier (who by that time actually got his name legally changed to Alice Cooper) moved further and further away from that sound and started transforming into a friggin' "Vegas act" with his beloved B-movie thematics taking first place and teen angst and garage rock giving up their positions. The transformation actually began earlier than that - already albums like 1972's School's Out were more Broadway than rock'n'roll - but it reached its culmination with Alice's first solo album, 1975's Welcome To My Nightmare, which faithful fans often view as the zenith of the man's career while the more sceptical ones consider to be his nadir (considered that everything that came after it was just one continuous nadir).

Since 1975, Alice's audience has become rather "marginalized", to put it mildly. He retained a steady, but not a huge, following that was more than ready to look beyond the surface and still enjoy all of the man's transformations - from rock'n'roll to Vegas to more Broadway to a weird New Wave act to deep psychologism - but his record sales got wimpier and wimpier and his alcohol problems got tougher and tougher, and so around the mid-Eighties he made arguably the single worst mistake of his career: kick alcoholism (okay, medically speaking, this part of it wasn't a mistake, but artistically speaking, I far prefer his "drunk" albums of the early Eighties to his "sober" albums of the late Eighties), make a stage comeback by revamping the old classic show, and model himself after the Eighties metal scene. The consequences of this act were obvious and contradictory: on one hand - a renewed wave of commercial success, a positive (at long last!) reception from the press, and a bunch of radio hits from 1989's Trash (most notably 'Poison'), on the other hand - wrinkled noses and sarcastic remarks like "well, what else did you expect from that old washed-out self-parody" from people who were smart enough to see through all the hype and all the bullshit of the hair metal scene. And, again, the sad imprint left behind by 'Poison' was so deep that when Alice cried wolf one more time and made a real artistic comeback in the mid-Nineties - a comeback that, amazingly enough, still lasts to this very day - few people paid any attention.

Now, definitely, Alice Cooper isn't the greatest human being regurgitated from the bowels of the XXth century. He is obsessed about commercial success - always was; he is pretty conservative and has a rather limited inventory of tricks when it comes to writing actual material; he isn't exactly the Deepest Thinker of Rock Music, having mostly exploited the same limited set of lyrical themes for more than thirty years now; and his obstinate fascination with cheap horror motives has quite often washed any potential "edge" out of any lyrical/musical messages he had to offer. But, in his defense, let it be said that, for one thing, his commercial instincts have only occasionally overshadowed both his lyrical wit and his knack for creating solid melodies, and that he'd rather take a couple thousand bucks over a million when this involves compromising his vision (according to the well-formulated principle of the lead singer guy from Almost Famous - 'and it's not about the money - although some money would be nice!'). For another, he is a good lyricist: he doesn't dabble all that much in abstract symbolism or complex metaphors, but he's got a way of taking even the dumbest of cliches and somehow making 'em work in the context of whatever he's saying. Plus, much of the time he's honestly funny, and the constant humor and tongue-in-cheekiness on even the bleakest Alice Cooper records certainly lift any accusations of "pretentiousness" he might ever have received.

The most important issue that needs to be addressed, though, is that strict line that many people draw between Alice Cooper The Band and Alice Cooper The Solo Artist. Now, it is absolutely beyond any doubt that in those early days, Alice Cooper was a real band. Guitarists Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and even drummer Neal Smith all had their share of songwriting (most notably Bruce) and deserve to be well remembered for that. However, anybody who equals Michael Bruce with the "garage spirit" and Furnier with the "glam show spirit" of the band is, at the very least, making a gross oversimplification. The same people who wrote the music to 'I'm Eighteen' and 'School's Out' also wrote the music to all these vaudeville sendups on School's Out (the album). And, as the band's main lyricist, Furnier wrote both their gory necrophilic declarations and their teen angst epics.

The truth is, if we're talking of "cutting edge", Welcome To My Nightmare was no less "cutting edge" than Love It To Death or any of those early albums. Above everything else, Alice Cooper had always been a show. The band was one of the founding fathers of glam-rock, after all. Being into Alice Cooper exclusively for songs like 'I'm Eighteen' is a little like being into the Rolling Stones exclusively for songs like 'Let's Spend The Night Together'; yes, the Stones did a lot of great pop songs in their early days, but the essence of the Stones is gritty blues-based rock'n'roll, and if gritty blues-based rock'n'roll doesn't rock your boat, you'd much rather stay away from the Stones altogether. In the same way, getting into Alice Cooper if you are not able to get a good healthy laugh of "spooky" tunes like 'I Love The Dead' is useless, because the essence of Alice Cooper is - Mach Schau! And if they do a couple mean old proto-punk declarations along the way, well, that's nice, but that doesn't make them any less Schau, you know.

On the other hand, if you do accept The Alice Cooper Show and do not stay away from Furnier's post-1974 albums, I guarantee you that you will not be disappointed, and that everybody will find at least something to like in the man's huge solo catalog. Even without his faithful former band, Alice still had a knack for teaming up with interesting people, like, for instance, Glam Guitar Gods Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, with whom he spent all the rest of the Seventies. Actually, with the lone exception of the well-fitting-the-times Rambo clone Kane Roberts (Constrictor), pretty much all the guitarists Alice ever worked with were fine players with good rock'n'roll drive and - occasionally - decent composing and arranging abilities. And speaking of the hugeness of the catalog, there's really all sorts of things present in it. Hard rock, soft rock, ballads, Broadway tunes, blues, New Wave, artsy Pink Floyd-ish tunes, you name it. Some of it's great, some of it's decent, some of it not too hot, but it's really an interesting and diverse career with highs and lows that begs to be explored. And actually, if it's "cutting edge" you're after, then I'll be damned if with some of his latest entries good old Al hasn't managed to be just as, if not more "cutting edge", than with the old band.

So don't let yourself be fooled by his hair metal hits like 'Poison'! And whatever you do, do not trust the All-Music Guide! And - once again - do not be afraid of Alice Cooper. I've even managed to find a photo of the guy without the makeup to make him seem more friendly. Let's be friends.



Year Of Release: 1969

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Nice Beefheart imitation for a bunch of sloppy garage kids, but don't try this at home!


Track listing: 1) Titanic Overture; 2) 10 Minutes Before The Worm; 3) Sing Low Sweet Cheerio; 4) Today Mueller; 5) Living; 6) Fields Of Regret; 7) No Longer Umpire; 8) Levity Ball; 9) B.B. On Mars; 10) Reflected; 11) Apple Bush; 12) Earwing To Eternity; 13) Changing Arranging.

Weird and curious. You'll rarely find a positive view on the album, for apparent reasons: it sounds nowhere near the classic Coop sound and is therefore usually regarded by basic Coop fans as a crazy blundering mistake, not to mention that it's been out of print for years and is one of the hardest-to-find artefacts in the entire Alice catalog. HOWEVER, this is where eclecticism actually saves the day; Pretties For You is something of a cross between weird dissonant hooliganry of the late Sixties, pioneered by Zappa and Beefheart, and the raging monster music of the live show of the MC5, Kick Out The Jams-style. So, if you're the kind of guy who (a) loves Zappa, (b) loves the MC5, and (c) doesn't twirl his nose at the 'Alice Cooper' brandname, you might enjoy this. Needless to say, not too many people in the world would fall under all of the three categories. And then again, even if you do, you might still be a-twirlin' your nose and a-sayin': 'You shouldn't mix all the three in one!' And you just might be right. Maybe.

Seriously now, while I do hear from outside sources that Alice Cooper's live show was supposed to be rather brutal and violent from the start (with chickens thrown into the audience and stuff, you know how the legend goes), the actual music is nowhere near the gory evil spectacle of Billion Dollar Babies and the like. The band was picked by Frank Zappa to appear on his Bizarre Straight label, and for the first two years, Frank probably envisaged the band as a combination of the two factors I gave above - namely, they would be just as musically outrageous and avantgarde as Frank himself, but their true raison d'etre would actually be presenting this stuff from the point of view of a raw gritty garage rock band, something Mr Zappa himself was too 'refined' to achieve.

And that's that. The music is LOUD and fierce, with distorted guitars all over the place, ugly vocals, solos that are deeply professional (Glen Buxton is a skilled guy, want it or not) but don't seem to be that way, crashing drums, thick fat pounding bass, you know the score. But the songs are totally unpredictable - stuff like 'Sing Low Sweet Cheerio', for instance, starts as a garage-pop number, then midway through falls apart in a blizzard of boozy dissonance, and the same can be said about most other numbers on here. Short, apparently pointless sonic snippets appear out of nowhere and lead us into longer songs that don't seem to have any concise meaning either. Total chaos and anarchy all over the place.

And yet I like it, to some extent. At least, I can't see how it is any worse than, say, Trout Mask Replica, music-wise, at least. Of course, the band probably tossed all this stuff out in a couple of days where Captain Beefheart would be preparing TMR for a long time, but if it's aural impression we're speaking of, Pretties For You is just as challenging and at least boasts this raw proto-punkish energy which TMR isn't even supposed to have. My concise advice, then, is this: disregard the snippets and go straight in for the longer 'songs', because after some time you start to realize they are actual songs. And they're fun! Tidbits of weird psychedelic imagery, crossed with rough punkishness and really interesting instrumental passages. In some respects, this is just what I'm looking for from this kind of music: spontaneous protest-kind nihilistic delivery, yet grounded in traditional musical ideas nevertheless.

'Sing Low Sweet Cheerio', in particular, is a highlight with its almost Pretty Things-like vocal melody (and yes, I do believe the album title refers to the Pretty Things - the band most renowned for combining bizarre psychedelia with garage roots), and the aggressive harmonica/guitar jam where Glen in particular shines with some magnificent licks.

There's also the excellent 'Fields Of Regret' which, to me, is a lost Cooper classic, no less, with more stunning psychedelic guitar work and, for once, a convincing vocal delivery that actually goes somewhere; the Pretty Things would certainly be proud of the humble tribute.

The two usually selected highlights, though, are 'Levity Ball' and 'Reflected', which are also good - real songs with real melodies, the first one dark and moody, the second one far more cheerful and bouncy (with changed lyrics and 'normalized' music, it would later become 'Elected' on Billion Dollar Babies), even if for some reason they saddled the production of 'Levity Ball' with a horrible feedback/echo effect that makes your audio CD crackle as if you were listening to a 28 kHz quality MP3. Ew, yuck, where was Mr Zappa looking? ''Changing Arranging' is also a nice end to the album.

But overall, it's no use discussing the songs - all of them serve the same point that I have already mentioned, and overall, while I do concentrate on the more 'finished' pieces of music here, I would really feel puzzled at these songs ripped out of their initial habitat and placed on any compilations; Pretties For You should, like TMR, be listened to in one sitting; as disgusting as the idea might seem, it at least runs for less than forty minutes, AND the Coop's vocals are at least far less ear-destructive than the good Cap'n's! And dig the band photo on the back cover as well. They all look like Maharishi adepts!

Oh, and one last thing before I go - I would like to put forth a proposition that you can petition the Lord with... uh, I mean, that this album isn't THAT much of a ridiculous oddity in the Cooper catalog. Remember, the Coop was a smart guy. High IQ level, just like Captain Beefheart's. I don't think they were all that manipulated by Zappa when it came to recording: rather they just eventually decided that they could do shocking, unusual things and be commercially successful at the same time. So in that way, Pretties For You is not simply a case of a bunch of idiots jumping on the avantgarde bandwagon for the simple reason of lacking brains and brawn. But, of course, it's not Zappa-level either - they should have brought in a regular brass section at least. And Jimmy Carl Black.



Year Of Release: 1970

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Not so easy, actually, even if their sloppy garage roots are somehow showing clearer this time.


Track listing: 1) Mr & Misdemeanour; 2) Shoe Salesman; 3) Still No Air; 4) Below Your Means; 5) Return Of The Spiders; 6) Laughing At Me; 7) Refrigerator Heaven; 8) Beautiful Flyaway; 9) Lay Down And Die, Goodbye.

Like its predecessor, this album is pretty much ridiculized in its entirety by hardcore Alice Cooper fans, because it really sounds totally incompatible with the band's (not to mention solo Alice's) later image. Well, not totally: unlike Pretties For You, it does feature certain key elements of the band's sound on subsequent albums, elements which include a rumbling "caveman" proto-punkish guitar/bass attack and Vincent Furnier's developing 'evil' vocal overtones. Not much else, though. On the other hand, there's probably no better evidence than Easy Action if you want to witness the band working together, well, as a band: Furnier's theatrics are kept at a minimum here, and in fact, the instrumental passages definitely receive more - or at least not less - attention than the actual singing. And look at that photo on the back cover! Young long-haired potheads, with nothing particularly evil about them...

However, even from the point of view of a non-diehard (in fact, from the point of view of a deep sceptic when it comes to discussing Mr Furnier's further career), this isn't a very good album. They are slowly starting to learn their songwriting craft, but at this point they aren't very good at it - either they don't want to or they don't yet have the guts, but I'm a-thinkin' they were still under the Zappa charm and were only slowly starting to find out that their initial image of "punks turned freaks" wasn't actually to the band members' liking at all. Obviously, what they wanted to play was rock'n'roll - dirty, distorted, mean and scary; yet somehow, they didn't yet have the power to throw the "freaks" tag off themselves, and so Easy Action captures the band in a moment of evident transition. It's not as gloriously crazy as Pretties For You, yet comes nowhere near the mean and lean attack of the band's two 1971 albums - although we're slowly getting there.

This transition can easily be seen even within a single song. 'Below Your Means', for instance, starts out as a gloomy, shadowy kind of rocker with power ballad elements, not an excellent, but a tolerable rocker, but after a couple of minutes the band starts messing around with tempos, tonalities, riffs, and finally the tune descends into a messy jam that descends into absolute chaos that very slowly fades away until somebody lapses out of the coma and ends the zzzznnoooozzze with a few power chords. And most of the other songs that are actual songs also incorporate their moments of madness. Keeping in mind that the musicianship of Alice Cooper was, ahem, rudimentary... well, you get my drift. "Below Your Means" indeed - is the title intentionally ironic?

That said, most of the shorter tracks are unexpectedly quite nice! 'Mr & Misdemeanour', the stomping opener, is perhaps the closest thing to a 'classic A. C. rocker', and it's funny that it's actually more of a metallized vaudeville than a true rocker, which brings it even closer to the band's School's Out/Billion Dollar Babies phase than to its Killer phase. The classic Alice growl is also introduced for the first time on the song, although the band is still schizoid rather than menacing. 'Shoe Salesman' is a pretty soft-rock composition with interesting vocal harmonies, hippiesque and charming (well, the band was really trying its hand at everything that came their way - even if it involved incorporating Crosby, Stills, & Nash influences!).

'Return Of The Spiders' is a major highlight, with a thunderous drums/bass attack that proves the band could keep its cool if it really wanted to; with a bit more self-control, the song could have easily fit onto any of the band's 'classic' albums. 'Refrigerator Heaven' is so grotesque I swear I could easily die of laughter; and then there's 'Beautiful Flyaway', an unexpectedly suave piano ballad, something in the style of 'Martha My Dear', only less catchy, of course. But Michael Bruce sure sounds a bit like McCartney on that one - a thing that would be carried over to subsequent albums as well.

Unfortunately, the album ends in another deadly dull seven-minute jam ('Lay Down And Die') which I don't have anything interesting to say about except that such things were already done before in both a far better way (Floyd) and a far worse way (the Velvets), so it's just boring and dated. Heck, not even Zappa himself indulged in such stuff at the time - he was way beyond that. At some point, 'Lay Down And Die' simply transforms into the band worshipping at the shrine of 'Revolution #9', which is exactly the point where I have to follow the message of the title. Taken together with the barely competent funk/acid jamming of 'Below Your Means', it seriously brings down its entertainment level without adding much to the creative experimentation level.

But still, this is nowhere near as bad as Coop fans put it, just different; if you're an eclectic like me and don't mind different styles, pick it up if ever you see it. Which is not very probable - together with Pretties For You, this album is absolutely unavailable, and I suppose Mr Furnier isn't all that interested in letting it re-appear on the shelves. A pity, that; it certainly deserves to remain in print far longer than all those crappy mid-Eighties' Coop metal releases.



Year Of Release: 1971

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

A little Nuggets, a little Doors, and a big knowledge of what's entertainment - classic Coop for you.

Best song: I'M EIGHTEEN

Track listing: 1) Caught In A Dream; 2) I'm Eighteen; 3) Long Way To Go; 4) Black Juju; 5) Is It My Body; 6) Hallowed Be My Name; 7) Second Coming; 8) Ballad Of Dwight Fry; 9) Sun Arise.

Love It To Death was Alice Cooper's major breakthrough album, on which the band finally abandoned the gripes of the caring Frank Zappa and teamed up with Bob Ezrin instead (yeah, the same Ezrin that was the mastermind behind The Wall - not to mention the mastermind behind a KISS album whose name I find too painful to retype one extra time). Ezrin is probably at least partially responsible for the band's "goth" image, but in that respect, Love It To Death is still pretty restrained. In fact, it just might be the most perfectly balanced record in the entire Cooper catalog, not to mention one of the most diverse and the most listenable. No wonder that some people regard it as Cooper's finest hour - and seeing as these people aren't usually huge Cooper fans (like me), I'm quite close to sharing that view.

Only two tracks on here (the ones that form each side's centerpiece, though) are drenched in fake horror, and at least one of them, 'The Ballad Of Dwight Fry', even manages to sound convincing. In a somewhat shrouded form, it "tells the story" of a famous horror flick artist, and of his profession's influence on his own psychics; in that way, it ain't goofy at all, and deals with problems that are quite actual. Unfortunately, it's not one of the best musical achievements on the record (the folkish melody is pretty generic), but it moves along steadily, with a catchy chorus and a nifty little psychosis being developed on the way. The 'Mommy, where's Daddy?' little kid introduction presages all of the band's and especially all of solo Alice's theatrical flourishes, and Alice's frantic 'I wanna get out of here!' madhouse exclamations can't be beat either.

The second "spooky weirdness" on the album is a bit more dubious, though: 'Black Juju' is a nine-minute goth epic (which isn't, by the way, all that original as some would want to put it - it borrows heavily from both the Doors and Nico, if you wanna axe me) which is quite goofy. I mean, the way Alice roars out 'BODYYYY!' is hilarious, isn't it? As is possible to see, his horror antics were pretty exaggerated and ridiculous from the very start, and his brand of "shock rock" was nothing but a theatrical put-on from the very start (not that anybody in his or her right mind would want to disagree, of course). Still, I do take it as rock theatre, and as rock theatre, the piece is pretty thrilling: the main gothic riff, the vocal melodies, the climaxes and pauses, the "rush-towards-the-end" (directly borrowed from, well, 'The End'), all of these things are pretty cool. Particularly when considering how minimalistic the song is: your basic guitar, your basic organ, your basic rhythm section, next to no extra embellishments, and it still works.

But, of course, it's not in 'Black Juju' that the band's main charm lies at this moment. The first three songs - 'Caught In A Dream', the smash hit 'I'm Eighteen' and 'Long Way To Go' - are great, self-confident, well-written "teen rockers", well worth identifying with and continuing the Who tradition rather than the Doors' one. Monstruous guitar hooks from Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton, well-placed vocal harmonies, everything's firmly in place. (A real pity that but a few years later this spot in the teen hearts would have to be taken by such worthless contenders as Aerosmith, with their cock-rock attitudes and inability to tell a hook from a worm). This is prime Detroit-school rock: straightahead, raw, ass-kickin', but without a grain of the Stooges' "artsiness" or the pretentiousness of the MC5. Hey, that's not necessarily a bad thing, I'm just sort of stating that this is rock'n'roll and that's that. And for all of Alice Cooper's theatricality and "glamminess", 'I'm Eighteen' still manages to sound like the ultimate "teen anthem" even today. (I mean, on record, not necessarily when a 50-plus-year-old Alice rolls out on the stage to sing it to the public, of course).

The second side lets down a little: the bluesy Jefferson Airplane imitation 'Is It My Body' is nowhere near as exuberant as those other rockers, and the evil-appraising 'Hallowed Be My Name' is somewhat silly; that said, both are still good songs that I do not consider filler at all. In particular, 'My Name' has a great chuggin' funky riff driving it along that sort of screams "RAW! RAW! WE'RE DOING IT RAW!" right into my ears. Even better news is that none of the rockers sound the same: most set slightly or seriously different moods, which gives the impression of a really creative band, not just a bunch of overconfident hacks assembled in the studio to churn out a piece of lifeless product.

'Second Coming', moreover, starts and ends as a poppy piano-based ballad with McCartney-esque overtones; what more could you expect from Alice? Oh, I know: you certainly couldn't expect that they'd finish the album on such a note as 'Sun Arise', an old folk cover or something like that. Now that's real shock-rock for you: end one of the most classic American hard rock records of all time with a silly three-minute chanting of 'Sun arise, whoa-whoa, every-every-every-every... sun arise...', like it was a 'Hey Jude' or something. It's ridiculous, stupid, and novel all in one, but that's what lends the record even more "piquancy".

To tell you the truth, I wasn't even sure if Alice Cooper were a band worth bothering about until I heard this album. Now, though, I daresay that it's a pretty safe and even somewhat rewarding listen even for those that feel nothing but utter disgust towards Mr Furnier for violating snakes' rights and upsetting nice ladies like Tipper Gore. Don't you worry, though: Furnier himself only wrote one song on here, and it was 'Second Coming', too. Plus a few co-writes, but that's not essential. What's essential is that there's this spotlight on the cover, see, and the band are right in the centre of that spotlight. That would turn out to be true in the nearest few years.



Year Of Release: 1971

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

"Art-garage" at its absolute best. Don't mind all the shock-rock stuff, just dig the music!

Best song: HALO OF FLIES

Track listing: 1) Under My Wheels; 2) Be My Lover; 3) Halo Of Flies; 4) Desperado; 5) You Drive Me Nervous; 6) Yeah Yeah Yeah; 7) Dead Babies; 8) Killer.

Continuing on a rather winning streak, the band is now getting more serious - and more complex. There's still enough powerful garage rock on here, to be sure, but there are also psycho freakouts like 'Halo Of Flies' and the title track, which are way more involving and way more well-developed than 'Black Juju'. Not that I have anything in particular against 'Juju', but you gotta admit, it did produce a rather laughable effect. It was sort of just this one simple riff repeated over and over, you know? But 'Halo Of Flies', while hardly being any more understandable or meaningful, is far more attractive and diverse in the musical sense, with shakey, psychotic riffs, goofy vocals, and extended instrumental sections, some of which even recall the Nice's 'Rondo'. The track never really loses the attention of the listener (me). The funny thing is, there's still very little professional musicianship involved, it's the kind of stuff Steve Howe could probably play while still sitting on his chamber pot, but somehow the band manages to keep it relatively simple and emotionally involving at the same time, plus it rocks and it ain't all that pretentious. And it all culminates in a series of guitar climaxes and funny "tumbling" organ lines!

What's even funnier to consider is they most probably did all these lengthy instrumental workouts mostly in order to give Furnier enough time to savour all his scenic debauchery - sort of a basic soundtrack to the shock-rock show. Mark my words, then: the shock-rock show will fade away (it already has, at least as far as 'Halo Of Flies' is concerned!), but the music will definitely stay, a soundtrack that outlives whatever it's supposed to accompany. Which only further confirms the talents of the Cooper band.

Overall, Killer is the band's most Doors-like sounding effort, with Alice himself often sounding like Morrison and a lot of riffs, atmospheres, tones and sound effects that seem to have been taken straight out of the minds (and sometimes, out of actual songs) of their predecessors. This is not at all a coincidence: apart from the fact that the Doors were this band's main guru, Killer was being recorded in the wake of Morrison's death, and at least one song - 'Desperado' - is said to be directly dedicated to Jim's memory, even if all the actual references there ('I wear lace and I wear black leather', etc.) were probably always taken by the public as referring to Cooper himself.

Yet once again, the album is rather well-balanced: the challenging "dirty rockers" and the spooky tunes take more or less the same space. The spooky tunes take the cake here: the instrumental diversity and interesting melodic twirls put them among the band's best ever material. 'Halo Of Flies' is great, like I said, and 'Killer' actually demonstrates signs of, er, ahem, good taste: I think the Latin funeral chanting in the middle is expendable (way too cheap for a morose trick), and the chaotic ending is just one big question mark (although I did jump right out of my chair when it first came on), but I like the contrast between the laid back ominous growl of the main part and the stern organ dirge which the song develops into later on. And again, mark the greatness of simplicity: the three-note riff played by the lead guitar while the funky rhythm chugs in the background is so goddamn effective I marvel nobody ever used it anywhere before. Probably has. So goddamn simple, it couldn't have not been used earlier. Maybe by somebody like the Chocolate Watchband.

Meanwhile, 'Dead Babies' earned the band its first serious accusation of necrophilia and "pedophobia" (is it a real word?), even if it's just a simple, attractive, hook-filled gothic ditty about parents not caring for their children. Nothing but that. It wasn't until a bit later, with stuff like 'I Love The Dead', that Alice started descending into real kitsch that he couldn't explain right away as a "misinterpretation of his good motives".

The garage rock part is not nearly as well-developed, I think, as on Love It To Death, but only because nothing out there is nearly as great as 'I'm Eighteen'; yet it still deserves enough attention due to consistency. 'Under My Wheels' is a great power-chord-based intro to the album, with saxes adding the necessary glam touch (come to think of it, the song would have easily fit onto something like Aladdin Sane) - and another excellent teen anthem... notice how every Alice album of that period has one, dedicated to various essential rock'n'roll themes? Growing up on Love It To Death, driving around on Killer, and, er, education problems on School's Out - right?

'Yeah Yeah Yeah' is great groovy pop with some more monster hooks, pretty indistinguishable from contemporary Sweet material, but whoever accused Sweet of never having penned a supercatchy ditty? Not me, that's who. 'You Drive Me Nervous' is quite a good tune to drive somebody nervous indeed, with a wonderful choo-choo train riff and excellent use of feedback throughout (it gets a bit of flack for muddy production at times, but hey, this is a Detroit-based group, buddy, they're supposed to be muddy). In fact, 'Be My Lover' is just about the only song on the entire album that hardly does anything for me, but even this might eventually change.

The only problem is that I fully agree with those who say Killer is not as obviously excellent as the previous album; it's more consistent, actually, and shows significant growth even if it was released only months later, but it takes some time to grow on you. Once it does grow, though, you'd really be surprised that dear Alice Cooper once used to put out two prime quality records per year, when in more recent times it took him a decade or so to release a bunch of prime crap. But then again, I'm running ahead here, ain't I? Truth is, shock rock doesn't really get any better than this; the "goth numbers" feel so damn appropriate in their places when they're spread among exciting garage rock, and the lyrics are all clever and never trite or completely straightforward. Hell, even the album cover (with a nice-looking snake named Kachina on it!) feels far more interesting than all the childish spookiness Mr Furnier would decorate the sleeves with afterwards.



Year Of Release: 1972

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

The beginning of the Great Coop Vaudeville era, and as fresh as they come, actually.

Best song: SCHOOL'S OUT

Track listing: 1) School's Out; 2) Luney Tune; 3) Gutter Cat Vs The Jets; 4) Street Fight; 5) Blue Turk; 6) My Stars; 7) Public Animal #9; 8) Alma Mater; 9) Grande Finale.

I once used to consider this a serious letdown, and even some rabid Coop fans aren't too hot when it comes to this record. I should have known better, though - this album's a total gas once you get used to the serious change of style. What, you thought Alice Cooper would be stuck with the Killer vibe forever? School's Out marks a crucial and radical turning point in the band's, and particularly Mr Furnier's personal career. While the previous two records could only hardly be called "glam-rock" (or "shock-rock", whatever), being rather like two delicious slices of "garage attitude" lightly peppered with Doors' references, this one, for the first time in history, presents Alice Cooper in their truly theatrical, glittery incarnation. As far as I know, it was about this time that the band's live show turned into a full-fledged demonstration of horrors, with live boas, fake executions, etc., etc., and even if an Alice Cooper live show was always a different matter from Alice Cooper's studio products, the transgression from "garage" to "rock theatre" is eminently visible on the band's fifth record.

Basically, School's Out is a concept album - telling about the protagonist's young days and his "school adventures". The concept gets overridden by Cooper's extravagant fantasies from time to time, though, and apart from a global anti-school message (which is still kinda soothed down by the nostalgic romanticism of 'Alma Mater', which is not far removed from Ray Davies' sentimentality on Schoolboys In Disgrace - just with a little Coop sneer to embitter the pill), there's nothing particularly interesting, idea-wise, about it. If anything, this newly-found conceptuality gives Cooper a chance to put together a real "show" album as opposed to unconnected bunches of isolated rock songs on the previous records. And a show album it is, with quite a lot of elements borrowed from Broadway musicals and Las Vegas fantasies.

It does start in a similar way to the band's earlier work - with the classic title track, every pissed-off schoolboy's anthem. A great little angry tune that must have scared the shit out of every second parent way back in 1972. Nowadays, Alice hideously growling 'school's out for summer, school's out forever, school's blown to pieces' might seem rather timid and even stupid, but hey, we're judging everything according to the standards of its time, and for 1972, 'School's Out' was as rebellious as it could be: not your usual 'wussy' 'turn on, tune in, drop out' invocations, but a pissed-off punkish scream instead. So much for the Seventies. But apart from the title track, its fabulous, unforgettable garage riff and great nihilistic mood, nothing on this album seems to be particularly rocking out.

Which, at first, seems to suggest that nothing on the album is particularly good - nothing truly offensive, but nothing memorable or emotionally impressive as well. But, like I said, it takes a little time to get readjusted to the new "theatrical" reality. If lounge music, Broadwayish references, and gratuitous saxes make you puke by their very existence, School's Out is definitely not for you. But let's face it: Alice Cooper have always been an "irony" band above all else. They were never a "true" garage band just as they never were a "true" Broadway band - every record of theirs has to be taken with a grain of salt. The attitude of 'Under My Wheels' may be different from the attitude of 'Black Juju', but only superficially: at heart, we all know the Coop's just having a big laugh over all of these things. He's having a big laugh on School's Out as well, and invites us along.

'Luney Tune' is based on a pretty pedestrian rhythm to it, and even if the lyrics (apparently, it's about a madman who ended up committing suicide) must have seemed pretty shocking, it has no true shocking to it. Yet the vocal melody is pretty catchy, and for some reason, the line about swimming in blood cracks me up every time I hear it. The guitar solo kicks ass too. 'Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets', with its West Side Story influences, kinda predicts Andrew Lloyd Webber's take on Cats, I suppose, but is way funnier than anything in Webber's opus - and the "martial" keyboard riff in the second half of the song is a touch of comical genius. I guess I wouldn't be castigated if I said the track was somewhat, er, hrm, messy, but that's the way it goes with Broadway-style tunes, you know. The keyboard riff saves it, as well as the little 'Street Fight' coda with its comic bass and loads of special effects.

The best songs, though, apart from the title track, are 'Blue Turk' and 'Public Animal #9', two impressive pieces of aural delight. We should, of course, disregard the fact that the first song is essentially a generic cabaret tune with a little Jim Morrison "overtoning" and the second song is a direct rip-off of Sly & The Family Stone's 'I'm An Animal' (the main melodies don't exactly match, but there's such a lot of elements in common - from the 'hey hey hey's to the monotonous mid-tempo to the lead vocalists' growling intonations - that this can hardly be a coincidence); once we do, both are tremendously enjoyable.

The messy ramble 'My Stars' (very energetic, but so blurred and confused it never seems to know where it's going exactly) does spoil the picture a bit, but then it's easily redeemed by 'Alma Mater', where Alice distorts his vocals and turns in a strangely sentimental "aria" dedicated to his old school friends. It's not that often that you witness Mr Cooper as being sentimental, isn't it? And then there's the 'Grand Finale', mainly written by Bob Ezrin (Bob was basically a full-fledged band member by that time and contributed to albums in every respect that he could contribute) and featuring a couple marvelously catchy, if also Broadwayish, synth-and-horn themes.

Overall, School's Out may be a wee bit flawed, but it works: the songs are lengthy, but never excruciating, and even in those few cases where melodies are being hard to discern ('My Stars'), Alice's "show personality" and Ezrin's production excesses still manage to save the day. Yes, this album marks the beginning of the disappearing of Alice Cooper as a cutting edge band acting as spokesmen for their generation, and the appearance of a new Alice Cooper - "shock trooper". But then again, it's basically a myth that Alice Cooper really were a cutting edge band acting as spokesmen for their generation. It was just one of the band's many faces, together with their "avantgarde" face on Pretties For You and this new vaudeville face on this album and whatever followed. And as full-scale spectacle, replete with ideas, fun tunes, and delicious glitz, it is a minor masterpiece for the Coop. Shame on me for not having recognized this earlier, which explains all the (perfectly just) critiques from readers in the comments section.



Year Of Release: 1973

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Theatrical Peak. Take it or leave it, you gotta admit it's an event at least.


Track listing: 1) Hello Hooray; 2) Raped And Freezin'; 3) Elected; 4) Billion Dollar Babies; 5) Unfinished Sweet; 6) No More Mr Nice Guy; 7) Generation Landslide; 8) Sick Things; 9) Mary Ann; 10) I Love The Dead.

A weird album. It manages to trim down the Broadway excesses of School's Out, restoring the garage-y power of the 1971-mark band, and at the same time raise the "theatre" flair of the music to new, unprecedented levels. For many people this is the ultimate Coop album; they see it as exactly that kind of thing: a perfect balance between Alice's punkish stature of yore (with tunes like 'No More Mr Nice Guy' and 'Elected' to prove that) and his theatrical stature of the future (with tunes like 'I Love The Dead' to prove that). While there is hardly any dispute about Billion Dollar Babies being the quintessential Coop, then, I'm not entirely convinced it's really the band's finest hour. Killer may have been more limited in scope, but it had the better pool of ideas without having to resort to as much cheesiness as we encounter on here.

Because the main problem is not that the record refuses to provide me with enough creative and/or interesting melodies (I'll get around to that in a minute); it also shows even more hickiness than School's Out could ever hope to demonstrate. I mean, come on, 'I Love The Dead' might be one of his most famous numbers, but isn't it just a pure slab of silly "shock-pop"? Not to mention that there ain't anything even vaguely terrifying about it - it's so straightforward that it can't help but sound ridiculous. And 'Sick Things'? Idiotic faux-goth take on the excesses of stardom, with less than a rudimentary melody at that. Don't get me wrong: I like both tunes, especially 'I Love The Dead' with its constant meandering between gloomy goth pianos, pompous 'Hey Jude'-like 'I love the dead' refrain, and fast spy-movie-muzak-mid-parts, but if there ever was a guilty pleasure for me, it's this kind of stuff and nothing else. The lyrical message of the songs is so hopelessly dated you'd be embarrassed to play this openly to anyone today outside of a bunch of rock historians and Marilyn Manson aficionados cracked enough to want to dig into his idols' history.

Likewise, I'm not too keen on the "punkish stature". On Billion Dollar Babies, the original Cooper band is starting to be obliterated with hordes of sidemen and sessionmen, and Ezrin's overproduction leaves simply no place for the powerful rawness of two years' before. I mean, had 'No More Mr Nice Guy' been recorded in 1971, would it have sounded so slick? It's not a rock number at all - pure power pop, not that I necessarily object, but there's just not too much left of the power which this band once used to have. Every once in a while, the guitars manage to break out from under the gloss, but they rarely do this over the duration of even one song - like when the title track comes along and it's got this flabbergastingly great metal riff and then Ezrin drowns it completely in the "vaudevillian" mid-section.

That said, even if Billion Dollar Babies does not wow me over neither sonically nor melodically ('No More Mr Nice Guy' and the title track are pretty much the only easily hummable tunes on here), it certainly wows me over in that very aspect which is the most crucial for the band: pure entertainment value. Not setting any conceptual limits anymore, the band roams wild and wide, tackling all subjects possible, from campy comedy to campy dentist horrors to mocking politicians to necrophilia to sly, yet biting social commentary to self-mocking even (isn't the title track sort of a negligent look upon rock star decadence, after all?). Everything is confused and messy, thrown into the big pile, but that's the charm of it; it's, simply put, an album that will never leave you bored.

Yes, dissecting it into individual parts may be disappointing. As far as I know, the opening number 'Hello Hooray' was a minor hit single, and this leaves me totally baffled: I mean, it's a friggin' "introduction-to-the-show" song, it can't stand on its own even if you nail its feet to the ground. It only works in context. Hearing the instrumental hooliganry in the mid-part of 'Unfinished Sweet' will only make you raise your eyebrows until you're informed it was used as one of the major highlights in the live show, with the band playing around watching Alice on the table, "tormented" by the "dentist". And so on, and so on...

But even without this "mock-contextuality", and even with a lack of really strong, kickass melodies, almost every tune has an interesting idea or two to it. 'Raped And Freezin' is pretty funny, with its tale of poor Alice brutalized by a female driver somewhere in Mexico, and perhaps the closest thing to a true rocker (even if still Ezrin-ized) on the album; 'Elected', wisely reworked from the earlier 'Reflected' on Pretties For You, also rocks moderately well, and has a lot of historical importance, since it used to accompany Alice's presidential campaign. Which, by the way, he might have won with a few more efforts - hey, after all Billion Dollar Babies hit #1 in the States and Britain. God, just goes to show you how really sick the record buying public were in 1973...

The title track is a strange mess, not to mention that it actually steals a vocal melody from the Hollies' 'Tell Me To My Face' (I bet you didn't know this, huh?), but it's intriguing in its own way, not least because of having Donovan (yes, the Donovan - the mild folkie hipster Donovan, which just further goes to show you how tightly intertwined show-biz is) sing about half of the lead vocals, duetting with Alice in an uncanny manner. 'Unfinished Sweet' is one of my personal favourites - hey, it's about a little kid's visit to the dentist! Pretty afraid of the dentists, myself, so I can identify. Love all the drilling in the instrumental section. 'Generation Landslide' is sort of catchy, and 'Mary Anne' is just a short bit of piano vaudeville which is the last thing most people would expect from an Alice Cooper record, but hey, we the reviewers know that deep down inside Mr Furnier is just a sentimental barroom piano player, ain't he? (I'm seriously baffled by the closing 'I thought you were my man' line, though).

In brief, there's so many ideas on here that even if some of them make you sick, others are sure to take their places in a matter of moments and drive you into ecstasy. This is rock theatre at its most blatant, and, if we agree that "theatricality" is the main element of glam rock, probably the best true glam rock album ever recorded, or, at least, the second best after Ziggy Stardust. There's no need to be afraid or ashamed of this kind of campiness - it is perfectly self-conscious and, most of the time, deeply ironic. After all, an era of cheap comedy is best seen through the viewpoint of a cheap comedy, and in that respect, Billion Dollar Babies is definitely the product of its time par excellence.



Year Of Release: 1973

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Even ONE (1) Alice Cooper muscle of love suffices to make a pretty damn good album. And no Ezrin!


Track listing: 1) Big Apple Dreamin'; 2) Never Been Sold Before; 3) Hard Hearted Alice; 4) Crazy Little Child; 5) Working Up A Sweat; 6) Muscle Of Love; 7) Man With The Golden Gun; 8) Teenage Lament '74; 9) Woman Machine.

A last hooray for the band - before Alice the Guy fired all the remaining members of Alice the Band, as rumours would have it, after they gangraped and brutalized his favourite snake and rubbed too much soap into his favourite noose... well, metaphoric rumours, I mean - and became a solo artist in his own rights. Actually, the main idea of the conflict was that the band insisted on relinquishing theatrics and concentrating more on the musical side of the whole deal, while Furnier, on the other hand, wanted to increase the theatrical side even further, transforming it into an unparalleled, unending show of horrors. The big surprise is that instead of compromising, they seemed to put it this way: the band would go off completely after one last album (they eventually ended up dubbing themselves "Billion Dollar Babies" and releasing a few albums which I never heard and doubt if anybody else has... well, Mark Prindle has heard one and says it's not good at all), but this last album - Muscle Of Love - would be less theatrical and more rocking than its predecessors. The funny thing, it does seem to be that way, even if that whole situation is just my guess: Muscle Of Love rocks more than the two previous albums put together, with more riffs, heavy guitar tones and steady R'n'B tempos than Billion Dollar Babies could ever have hoped for. What's more, Bob Ezrin is taking a break from this one.

Not that it's that much of an improvement - the band would still never be able to scale the heights of Killer again. The riffs are pretty generic (meaning I don't remember the absolute majority of them), and there are none of these cool speedy garage rockers of yore. But on the other hand, nothing on here really sucks: Alice doesn't engage in any corny stupidities like 'I Love The Dead', and the album's share of cheap-rate horrors is definitely lower (although it would spring up to unprecedented levels again on Cooper's first solo album in just one year). See, Bob Ezrin is taking a break from this one. Keeps me happy!

Still, it's just nice to have a song like 'Workin' Up A Sweat' on the album; it doesn't manage to fully recreate the jovial atmosphere of old, but it's still pretty solid, catchy, well-performed rock'n'roll - and you know, it's only rock'n'roll but I like it. Likewise, 'Big Apple Dreamin' and the title track are good; catchy refrains and nice arrangements, what else do you want? What's with those vacuum-cleaner sounds on the verses to 'Muscle Of Love' anyway? It's little sick things like these that make a song intriguing. Or the exclusive guitar tone of the solo on that one. As for 'Big Apple Dreamin', it's gotta qualify as one of the most effective anti-NYC anthems ever recorded; there's something very convincing about Alice chanting 'New York is waiting to swallow us down...'. After all, isn't it? Alice Cooper's glorious rule over NYC is, like, the most natural thing you could imagine - the City of Grand Spectacle ruled over by the Master of Grand Spectacle. Even if Bob Ezrin takes a break from this one.

The intrigue continues with some novelty tunes - 'Man With The Golden Gun', for instance, which was originally intended by Alice as theme song for the Bond film of the same name but was rejected by the company, since Alice Cooper wasn't exactly the kind of artist whose production you'd expect to be featured in a blockbuster movie around 1974. Ah, how times change... would Hollywood have refused an Alice Cooper theme song today? Well, they probably would; after all, they have such marvels of the modern music world as Garbage or a thoroughly washed-up Madonna to rely upon. Gee. Anyway, a very funny song it is, and quite Bond-proof, if you axe me - there's no reason to doubt Alice was seriously considering it as a candidate, in fact, he was goddamn intent on it. Silly producers. Of course, in this do-it-yourself era you can always get yourself a DVD-R and hack into your copy and justify history. Alice Cooper music is, like, perfect for James Bond flicks: campiest, "entertainingest" music for campiest, "entertainingest" cinema! And Mr Ezrin takes a break!

Another novelty tune (probably the most well-known on here - did I mention yet that Muscle Of Love did not yield any significant hits or immediate Cooper classics?) is the pretentious 'Teenage Lament '74', where Alice is, for the last time in his career, trying to manage to capture that "rebellious teen spirit" on tape. Sure is a long way from 'I'm Eighteen', though, what with the bombastic arrangement and Liza Minelli (sic!) on background vocals. Novel, but funny, especially when the proceedings speed up on the last minute and overdubbed Lizas start goofing off with endless "what are you gonna do, gonna do, gonna do?"s on the chorus. And no Bob Ezrin in sight! Just Liza Minelli!

Meanwhile, the vaudeville isn't forgotten either - 'Crazy Little Child' returns us into the world of barroom pianos and lounge jazz (and into the world of outcasts driven to theft and mowed down by trigger-happy policemen, too); and 'Hard Hearted Alice' is a strange "introspective" ballad with psychedelic and Beatlesque overtones that's no great shakes but is still interesting. In all, if you ask me: 'Hey man! Is this a diverse album?", I'd have to say: "Well, it's not your White Album, boys, but sure is more diverse than watching an entire day's worth of MTV". Which should give you an idea or two, because a day's worth of MTV is... well, it's pretty diverse. It's just that every song within every given formula sounds absolutely the same, but other than that, there's at least a grand total of three or four formulae, so give yourself in. Have I mentioned that Bob Ezrin was taking a break from this one?

And Muscle Of Love? Certainly the last Alice Cooper album to buy if the thought of cringing makes you cringe. From here on, it's Broadway and Vegas and lounge and cabaret and alcoholism and decadence and social irrelevance all the way. But if you're not afraid, plunge into the depths with me and you may find second breath yet.

PS. 'Never Been Sold Before' is one of the two best examples of a fruitful borrowing of the first half of the 'Day Tripper' riff. The second one is, of course, 'Hair Of The Dog' by Nazareth. Gee, I love Seventies' hard-rock!



Year Of Release: 1975

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Easily the culmination of the whole Glam Vegas B Movie Oriented Schtick - and a lot of campy (and occasionally witty) fun, too.


Track listing: 1) Welcome To My Nightmare; 2) Devil's Food; 3) The Black Widow; 4) Some Folks; 5) Only Women Bleed; 6) Department Of Youth; 7) Cold Ethyl; 8) Years Ago; 9) Steven; 10) The Awakening; 11) Escape.

Don't be afraid that the band is gone. In 1975 Vincent Furnier the loner wasn't exactly cutting edge, but he could still effectively bare his teeth, and this here record is certainly worth at least an involved listen or two, by golly. Welcome To My Nightmare is often called Alice's masterpiece by the fans; to be correct, Alice fans are divided into those who prefer his theatrical side and those who prefer the unabashed rock'n'roll, and the latter ones will probably choose any of his 1971 albums. I'm closer to the 'unabashed rock'n'roll' party, of course, but still, one must certainly give Alice the Goofball his due as well. This is the Vegas-ey classic of his, so much that when he was planning his rote 1986 comeback, the original idea was to make an album called Welcome To My Nightmare Part II.

At least you can't deny that the record is, simply put, very well made, and that already means something. The interesting thing is that Welcome is not creepy at all - superficially at least, and yet it doesn't exactly sound like a stupid self-parody either. In style, it is perhaps closer to School's Out than to anything else before it, but it's actually better, as the atmosphere is more diverse and... well, just about in every sense possible. By now, Alice's rock theatre includes straightforward rock numbers, jazzy send-ups, cabaret tunes, childish ditties, and gothic ballads. And 'Only Women Bleed'. The actual music here, I believe, was written by guitarist Dick Wagner, while the former Mr Furnier (who officially changed his name to Alice Cooper in 1974, thus forever stating that he was Alice Cooper and not his former band) contributed lyrics, charisma and goofiness. Well, okay, so he did hum his lyrics. Big deal.

Bob Ezrin is called in to produce again, and a fine job he does: the sound has never been so intricate yet. The album, as hinted at in the title, is supposed to be a concept one, and both the following tour and a TV show were based on it, but of course, the concept is very loose, and without any visual help it's hard to get how can tunes like 'Only Women Bleed', 'Department Of Youth' and 'Cold Ethyl' actually be connected. But who cares? The melodies are fine, well thought out and memorable - at least, if you find show tune melodies possible of being memorized at all. The lyrics are interesting, too; Alice still hasn't gone off the deep end, and there's enough subtle provocation instead of straightforward dumb "ugliness". And the arrangements? The album was recorded with a cast of thousands, so the instrumentation is diverse and professional.

To the actual songs - since this is considered to be a 'trip', let's try to take it. The title track is a near-perfect introduction here, going from a quiet, spare acoustic sound into a more jazzified shuffle with classy brass riffs driving the tune forward (and making it sound rather Bondish in places, but should that surprise you, considering the last album?). Don't really expect any gripping terror: there's nothing more than a slight menace, with a good, 'un-earthy' sound vibe to back it. And while we're at it, doesn't Alice's voice produce sort of the perfect accompaniment to a "cheap-scare" composition? And I don't mean "cheap" as in "rotten cheap" - I mean, isn't Alice Cooper in music sort of like the equivalent of Christopher Lee in cinema? A guy who can star in a million dumbest movies ever made and still come out on top just because of, well, pure class?

'Devil's Food' is a heavier and stupider piece of filler, but then it makes an easy transgression into a chilling Vincent Price monologue as he's depicting the cute nature of the Black Widow; and 'Black Widow' itself is one of Coop's most effective pieces of "plain horror" ever recorded. The sleazy Broadway chorus ('love him, yes we love him...') is somewhat ambivalent, though. Then we move to plain cabaret stuff: the somewhat pointless, but entertaining 'Some Folks'. And the side closes with an unexpected surge of pathos, as we witness Alice sing some thoroughly feminist lyrics in a voice displaying care and passion ('Only Women Bleed'). Who can tell if Mr Cooper really is a feminist or not? Granted, he hasn't been all that sexist throughout his career, but still... nah. If you ask me, all of Alice's sentimental ballads he's been reserving for hit material stuff have to be taken with a grain of salt.

The second side begins with the ultra-cool 'Department Of Youth'. Where are the days when Mr Furnier used to present himself as representative of the young wasted generation? 'I'm eighteen, eighteen and I like it...'. 'Department Of Youth' ridiculizes the young generation and all their ideals, and the disillusionment and cynicism are brilliantly expressed in the little bit of 'dialogue' between Alice and a choir of demented children: 'We're the Department Of Youth! We got the power!' 'Who's got the power?' 'We have!' 'And who gave it to you?' 'Donny Osmond!' 'WHAT?' Wonderful. Then, all of a sudden, Alice remembers that he's a shock-rocker after all, and gives us a bloodcurdling necrophiliac anthem ('Cold Ethyl'), and a cute little 'gothic' trilogy of songs about a young boy named Steven who's apparently the protagonist of a horror story which I can't quite make out. Great songs, these three - and then comes the 'Escape', to let us free and make us evade the nightmare after all.

These descriptions really sucked, didn't they? Now don't go off at once - remember one thing I gotta tell you: you might not like all of this album, or you might even despise all of it, but don't tell me it's boring and uninvolving, because it's not. Don't tell me it's proverbially dumb, either: in pure Coop fashion, it can mix straightahead brainless shock value ('Cold Ethyl') with rather acute social satire ('Department Of Youth') and even relative psychologic depth (the 'Steven' trilogy). And in time, you might even grow to like Alice's passion for Vegasey music and cabaret stuff - now prithee, would it be better if all of the guy's music sounded like Black Sabbath? The man opts for style and - relative - subtlety in his work, you gotta respect that. Anyway, the simple truth is that as far as pure entertaining rock theater goes, this is one of its best examples, and I can fully understand the fans' devotion to the record.



Year Of Release: 1976

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

I guess Hell must be a swell place to be, then.


Track listing: 1) Go To Hell; 2) You Gotta Dance; 3) I'm The Coolest; 4) Didn't We Meet; 5) I Never Cry; 6) Give The Kid A Break; 7) Guilty; 8) Wake Me Gently; 9) Wish You Were Here; 10) I'm Always Chasing Rainbows; 11) Going Home.

Okay, the cheese sets in firmly this time. Despite the ominous title, there's something really stupid and harmless about Alice Cooper's greenish devilish grin on the album cover. So when you put on the record, the feeling is it ain't gonna scare the shit out of you, and it's true: Goes To Hell is, in fact, a very lightweight record. It's sort of a return to vaudeville territory and the old days of School's Out, except that the overall professional and artistic level is slightly higher. Not to mention the diversity - shred the record to pieces and everybody will find something to his (or maybe even her) taste. In fact, even the lyrics aren't all that scary or anything; the concept supposedly deals with, well, Alice Cooper's adventures in Hell, but you never can tell. In any case, Goes To Hell, while far from a laughable self-parody (the album still has enough moments to guarantee its being worth a figment of your time), is certainly the beginning of Alice's "slip into irrelevancy" - it lacks the edge of old and is definitely nowhere near as provocative as in those times when Alice Cooper (the band) used to get banned from hotels for devil worshipping and such. Even the production, again courtesy of the omnipresent Bob Ezrin, is nowhere near as deep or thrilling as before. But who cares?

Even without the "edge" Mr Furnier still displays loads of talent - the record is involving, whatever else I might say about it. 'Go To Hell' opens the album with a bang: its dancey rhythm is hard to resist, and it has the catchiest vocal melody of all. Yes, it's Broadway, baby, do you have a problem with that? Don't despise Broadway as long as it's done with enough skill, and this particular Broadway is certainly skillful, no doubt about that. The lyrics may seem a bit overblown, and, frankly, they make me suspect that Alice was so uncomfortable about his not getting nearly as much "negative publicity" as in the good old days he had to resort to creating some of it himself: 'For criminal acts and violence on the stage/For being a brat refusing to act your age/For all the decent citizens you've enraged/You Can Go To HELL!' You know the drill - if they don't keep screaming about how bad I am, I'm gonna have to do that myself. That said, the lyrics are still hilarious, and the song is still catchy and riff-heavy. Broadway meets Seventies metal: cheese multiplied by cheese plus Alice's IQ = genius.

'You Gotta Dance' is hardly Broadway, though - it's trendy, and it's disco. Isn't it? It's also completely out of touch with most of the other songs on here, but what the hell, the album lacks cohesiveness in general, so I'll pass. I did hear far worse disco numbers, of course; this one could have really graced Saturday Night Fever. You figure out for yourself if it's a compliment or not. Said to be a parody on disco, which Alice predictably hated with a passion - given that the lyrics more or less describe the disco dancer as a helpless marionette programmed to dance, that's totally believable. Meanwhile, 'I'm The Coolest' features a goofy, pseudo-spooky and totally sacrilegious monologue (are we supposed to think of Alice Cooper as Jesus Christ or what?) spread over a moody, relaxed jazzy tune with an AWESOME bassline. I'd give my grand prize of the evening to the guy who played bass on that one. One thing you can't accuse Cooper of - he sure did care about his backing band.

The album's surprisingly meek and calm after those two first tunes, by the way: the band only lets rip on two more numbers, which are 'Guilty' (a rather self conscious attempt at recapturing the unabashed rocking style of the Alice Cooper band of old, with rather unsavoury results) and 'Wish You Were Here' (duh!), Alice's attempt at funk this time, and not a bad one at that: the endlessly repeating chorus might get nagging after a while, but it's one of those endlessly repeating nagging choruses that you can't throw out of your head even if you tip it all the way down. In other locations, though, you'll much more probably encounter a soft ballad, like 'I Never Cry', an obvious stylistic rehashing of 'Only Women Bleed' which works a little less effectively than the original, something not too unusual about stylistic rehashings. Also self-conscious: Alice put it out as a single, remembering the success of 'Only Women Bleed', and probably came close to establishing a double reputation - as a second coming of Barry Manilow for the singles-buying public and as a second coming of Nietzsche for the LP-buying public.

My favourite, however, is the hilarious 'dialogue' between Alice and the devil in 'Give The Kid A Break', which has the most generic Fifties' R'n'B melody ever imaginable, but it's not the melody, it's the way they construct that dialogue that makes me go gaga. Apparently, Alice is sitting in the frying pan and tries to deal with the devil ('listen boss maybe we can make a little deal, isn't there anything I can say or some kind of fine I can pay?') and laments about his fate when he finds out nothing can be done ('Don't know why I'm down here/Must be something I said/Or some small imperfection/In my soul or in my head'). Ridiculous as it is, it is so ridiculous that it's a hoot.

That said, an eleven is still a pretty high rating for an album whose second half is also loaded with fillerish, forgettable 'power ballads' like 'Wake Me Gently' and 'I'm Always Chasing Rainbows'; and 'Going Home' ends the album on a very lean note - it's presumably pompous and cheerful (he's going home, after all) but it's just pompous and cheerful and nothing else. That's the bad deal with all those Cooper conceptual albums: however intriguing they might be, you always gotta have some percent of filler, just, you know, just to pan out the concept. You could say an album as scary and mean as this one needs a really uplifting, optimistic ending, and that 'Going Home' is the perfect ending for it, but hey, I don't think Goes To Hell could even scare a five-year old kid. Maybe a rabid Evangelist, but these guys operate on logics way different from the one used by your normal average human being anyway.

I mean, it's a comedy album, pure and simple. 'I'm The Coolest', 'Give The Kid A Break', the title track - they're all straightforward comedy numbers, and hilarious ones at that. Might just rank among the funniest numbers Alice ever put out, and it's not just innocent, lightweight fun, it's hilarious satire, too, and that sure counts for something. That's the way these late-period records have to be looked at, anyway. If you think of them as "Alice Cooper losing his teeth", you're sure to hate them. If you think of them as "Alice Cooper going clownish", they're a total hoot. Sure he'd still be revisiting the truly gruesome and the truly painful on From The Inside and Dada, but the overall tendency from now on will be to descend into vaudeville, parody, satire, and goofiness, and what's wrong with that? Provided it's done with class, of course.



Year Of Release: 1977

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

The guy's really off his rocker here, but with Alice, the madder the guy is the better.

Best song: ROAD RATS

Track listing: 1) It's Hot Tonight; 2) Lace And Whiskey; 3) Road Rats; 4) Damned If You Do; 5) You And Me; 6) King Of The Silver Screen; 7) Ubangi Stomp; 8) (No More) Love At Your Convenience; 9) I Never Wrote Those Songs; 10) My God.

Okay, this one might seem to stink a bit more on the surface, but it's still hardly bad! Just a little bit more cheese than on the previous album, but whoever gave it one star out of five in the All Music Guide was probably just following that vile dragon known as 'general critical opinion'. (Even more probable, they just did this to illustrate the album's poor chart performance, which, as we all know, never really matters - but hey, if you were a big commercial star once, you just have to keep pumping out bestsellers, doncha?) Judging by the album title and the album cover, you might think it's some kind of stupid concept album dealing with Prohibition and gangsters and Al Capone... not at all. There's even less actual 'concept' here than on the previous record - sure, there's a lot of retro imagery in the songs, but so what? Retro imagery had always been an important element in Coop's songwriting, ever since that goshdarn School's Out record came out five years ago.

To tell you the truth, this isn't even a 'shock rock' record by any means. There ain't a single song on here that's even supposed to shock - and that's what the critics probably forget. It's very easy to say 'At long last, Alice Cooper lost that golden touch and turned into an inoffensive, feeble self-parody', but what kind of self parody is this? Constrictor would definitely be an unintentional, uninspired self-parody; this is just something different, a record that concentrates primarily on Cooper's diversity and love for theatricality and sentimentality, not on the gore-and-guillotine stuff. And what's wrong with that? Since when do we judge artists on a limited formulaic scale? Lace And Whiskey isn't a masterpiece by any means, and it's a pretty disjointed record that's all over the place, but heck, are we really going to trash it just because there's no 'Black Widow' or 'I Love The Dead' on it? Go figure.

Like I said, the album is rather mellow; all the 'heavy' stuff comes on right at the beginning - three decent, attractive rockers that all have their moments. 'It's Hot Tonight', as usual, provides us with a great upbeat introduction: a gritty disco rocker with excellent "cheeseball guitar playing" from Coop's usual Wagner & Hunter team. God I love that sound. It's the kind of music that Kiss would probably love to be making - and that they probably would make, if they had a few more drops of talent and professionalism. But they preferred to leave all the good ideas to guys like Wagner/Hunter. What a cool riff! What cool solos! Nothing pleases the guts better than a good dose of in-yer-face glam-rock per day.

'Lace And Whiskey', on the other hand, obviously shows Alice's preoccupation with the Europop stuff slowly oozing out of the Old World and trickling into the States; it's pretty good and catchy, though, and even the nagging, obnoxious hi-tech synths shouldn't detract from the melody. Almost ABBA-like in places (although, of course, ABBA wouldn't touch lyrics like 'give me lace and whiskey, mama's own remedy' with a 10-foot pole), but that gets me thumbs up, especially when the chorus is so insanely catchy. This only leaves 'Road Rats' as a traditional heavy metal rocker for the Cooper band to display that they still haven't lost the good ol' rock'n'roll grittahness. Again, a good and not all that standard melody and tolerable lyrics. THIS is considered a Seventies nadir for Coop? Gimme some neck! Oh, and the main guitar riff was to be ripped off by the Kinks for '(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman' two years later. Tee hee. Good old Ray.

After this three-song heavy intro, though, comes the usual Broadway-type showiness - some high points alternating with some low points, as usual. The major low point here, I think, is 'You And Me', the third in a row of Alice's sentimental ballads released as singles (man, that guy really had a strange way with these hit singles - Alice Cooper the Saviour of Housewives? What a bizarre creep!); it's more generic and even more disgustingly sappy than usual, you know, with all kinds of Carpenters-style strings and very poor lyrics ('We share a bed, some lovin' and TV?' What the hell is that?). Now yeah, I can get it that the idea is still the same - to provide the housewives with a sappy radio hit from a guy who actually has his head chopped off onstage, but he simply pushes it a bit too far this time. He could have at least written a better song, for Coop's sake.

But the hilarious pop-rocker 'Damned If You Do' more than makes up for the cheese of that number, and both the Broadway stomper 'King Of The Silver Screen' and the even more ABBA-esque Europop stomper '(No More) Love At Your Convenience' are perfectly normal, enjoyable, melodic compositions that only the most snub-nosed anti-Seventies individual could easily discard. Heck, I even like the grotesque Fifties throwaway 'Ubangi Stomp', because Alice manages to pull it off with the utmost authenticity: you really couldn't tell it was recorded in 1977 and not in 1957 if not for the crystal-clear production. What's wrong with that?

I'll admit that the album ends on a somewhat lower note - stuff like 'My God' and 'I Never Wrote Those Songs' is a bit too drawn out, slow and bombastic without enough emotional sincerity to back it up (although the latter's lyrical matter is brilliant). Yet there are people to whom this material would easily appeal as well, and none of these songs makes me vomit. So I give the album a decent rating that equals it with Goes To Hell, with the main complaints being the housewife-pleasing triteness of 'You And Me' and the fact - a subjective one, of course - that some of the melodies aren't really all that great. But I daresay, Lace And Whiskey was only so much maligned by the critics because it had the misfortune to come out in the year of punk explosion. Whoever wanted to hear Broadway stuff and retro throwaways when they had some Sex Pistols around? Now, in retrospect, I hope the record will get some of the praise it was so unjustly deprived of. I challenge you, the listener, to put this little disc on and remain unmoved by it. I mean, yeah, it's campy and all, but resisting the campy charms of it is akin to resisting a voluptuous broad or something - you may cut it off if you've got a strong will and strong moral principles, but if your bodily essence remains unmoved, well sir, it's a medical problem then.

Hear that? Me defending Alice Cooper from being unjustly persecuted! The world must be coming to an end!



Year Of Release: 1977

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

If that was a BAD night for the guy, I'm kinda stumped as to why the market ain't currently flooded with GOOD nights from the epoch.

Best song: I LOVE THE DEAD medley

Track listing: 1) Under My Wheels; 2) I'm Eighteen; 3) Only Women Bleed; 4) Sick Things; 5) Is It My Body; 6) I Never Cry; 7) Billion Dollar Babies; 8) Devil's Food/The Black Widow; 9) You And Me; 10) I Love The Dead/Go To Hell/Wish You Were Here; 11) School's Out.

Okay, I'm gonna defend Alice Cooper some more. This is about the only officially released live album from the 'classic' Cooper epoch (or the 'somewhat less than classic', if we agree that the classic Cooper epoch ended in 1974), and it's been panned and derided by critics and fans alike like no other record in the Coop catalog. Moreover, it's out of print now and will more than likely never see the light of day again, so if you're a Cooper neophyte, you might as well skip this blabbering by yours truly.

It's easy to understand the critiques, of course... all except one: people complain about the sound quality being very poor, but I actually never noticed that. Perhaps my CD edition has been remastered or what? Dammit if I know; I can hear the guitars and the singing just fine, and I don't really care about the basslines on an Alice Cooper live record, thank you very much. There's been lots of complaints about the singing, too, but the only thing I can compare it with are contemporary studio albums - and truly, I don't think Alice does a particularly bad job on here. Yes, his poor state of health and alcoholism might show in that much of the time he's singing with this compressed growly tone, but as long as he stays on key, this tone is perfect for his songs. As for the ballads, well... I challenge you to defy his singing on the ballads. It's as good as possible.

A far more serious critique is the track listing - while most of the songs are justly considered Cooper classics, they're often abridged, cut down (why make such a stupid rush through 'Under My Wheels' and 'School's Out'?), or turned into medleys. The single-LP format is hardly the culprit: in fact, looking at the setlists from that epoch, the album is a pretty good reflection of a typical show from the Lace And Whiskey tour, omitting only about 20% of the regularly performed material. I suppose the medleys and the compressed versions worked much better when you were actually there, but when transferred to record, they give the impression of "let's get it over with as soon as possible and go have one more Jack Daniels". Well, actually, considering that this particular show was specially arranged at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas at the very end of the tour, that may be close to the truth.

To make matters worse, the album includes all three of Alice's recent ballad hits, from 'Only Women Bleed' to 'I Never Cry' to the main stinker, 'You And Me' (thankfully, that one is abridged as well - cut down from five minutes to just two). Obviously, it was a shrewd commercial move (what honest, hard-working housewife won't buy an album with three of her favourite sentimental ballads on it?), but for all of us non-sentimentalists the ballad quota will certainly look overdone. And, of course, the most appalling is the idea of a live album itself: the Alice Cooper show was just what it's billed like - a show, with all the usual Alice gimmicks, so vividly painted on the album cover. How can you transfer the horrors and the creepiness and the sickness and the guillotine and the serpents onto a live album? You can't. I can only imagine all the, er, sick things Alice was doing while the guitarists were blowing each other out of the water with their crazyass guitar solos. Not that I'm a video freak when it comes to Alice Cooper, but, well, even if you hate the Eiffel Tower, you still gotta climb it once in a lifetime.

All of these complaints are perfectly understandable and justifiable, but if you distract yourself from the abstract 'this album sucks because it doesn't live up to my former expectations' idea, I don't see why anybody couldn't enjoy the record. Sure, 'You And Me' sucks, but that's about the only thing that sucks on here. The track listing ain't fabulous, but it's good - nice to see that Alice hasn't distanced himself from the old 'garage classics'. Of course, it's a wee bit strange to hear him sing 'I'm eighteen and I like it' when he was, like, thirty or something, but don't the Who still sing 'hope I die before I get old' while performing 'My Generation' on their year 2000 shows? Be forgiving.

Besides that, you get your 'Billion Dollar Babies' (shortened and with no Donovan, but the riff is even more lumbering and monstruous than in the studio) and 'Is It My Body' and 'Sick Things' and 'I Love The Dead' - indeed, the bulk of the material dates back to the 'classic Coop' years, a nice thing to realize for the 'limited Cooper fan'. Besides the crowd-pleasing ballads, the only new stuff is the Nightmare medley of 'Devil's Food/The Black Widow' (they even leave in a large chunk of the immortal Vincent Price monologue) and an adrenaline-heavy version of 'Go To Hell' that ends with a few bars of 'Wish You Were Here'. Count me perfectly satisfied.

Special mention must be given to the Wagner/Hunter team: their performances rank from "hot" to "ultra-fucking-swell", unless you just have a general alergy on glammy rock guitar playing. Aw well, I liked their particular style on Lou Reed's live Rock'n'Roll Animal, I can easily digest it on here. In a way, they are the quintessential glam rock duo, maybe only challenged by Mick Ronson at his best, and while their solos aren't always memorable, they're always exciting. In a straightforward and simple way, yes, but I'd much prefer a straightforward simple solo that's actually there for excitement purposes than a complex "subtle" solo that's actually there just to fill the obligatory empty space.

No particular highlights or lowlights (bar 'You And Me') on here, but let's just mention that this particular version of 'I Love The Dead' even gives me goosebumps - how does he pull off that cold, quiet, frightening intonation so well? Fabulous. Good album - I agree, though, that they shouldn't have shortened 'Under My Wheels' and particularly 'School's Out' so drastically. Almost as if they were just simplistic passable numbers thrown in to satisfy the older fans of the old Alice Cooper band. Half a point off for that, please.



Year Of Release: 1978

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Also known as "Bedlam On Broadway", I guess.


Track listing: 1) From The Inside; 2) Wish I Were Born In Beverly Hills; 3) The Quiet Room; 4) Nurse Rozetta; 5) Millie And Billie; 6) Serious; 7) How You Gonna See Me Now; 8) For Veronica's Sake; 9) Jackknife Johnny; 10) Inmates (We're All Crazy).

Holy shit! I just noticed that my three preceding album reviews in a row begin with 'okay'. Am I really that repetitive? Or is it just the blame of the cut-and-paste policy? I'm so embarrassed. So dang embarrassed I can't even bring myself to adequately reviewing this record, which is often praised by fans as Alice Cooper's minor comeback before a further slump. To tell you the truth, though, if you listen to the fans, Cooper's entire 1975-2000 career consisted of nothing but endless slumps and comebacks, so let's not talk in that terminology.

Let's just say that after two albums that weren't uninteresting musically but were somewhat cheesy as far as Cooper's 'philosophy' went, Alice finally went and recorded the direct opposite: a very interesting conceptual record that, unfortunately, was somewhat 'slumpy' as far as the actual music goes. Ditching all kinds of genre experimentation he'd formerly conducted, Alice now concentrates on a) rockers, b) soft ballads and c) power ballads. Granted, these were always his main genres, but this time they're all accented in a rather, er, straightforward manner, with hardly any real hooks in sight. It could also be successfully argued that this is where Alice's "Broadway phase" reaches its peak: if there's one Alice Cooper album on which we could, without any restrictions, slap the moniker "musical", it would be From The Inside. Pompous, operatic, full of 'character action', and conceptually united - Music Hall aficionados rejoice!

But does that really matter? Or is that necessarily bad? Rumours are that Alice recorded this album after spending some time within a madhouse where he got for substance abuse (supposedly, his alcohol problems were too much for a regular rehab center to handle), and it is supposed to be actually based on some of his own experiences in that place. When he got out, he accidentally hooked up with none other than Bernie Taupin - see the Elton John page if you're not familiar with the guy - and thus was this album born, the record where Vincent Furnier actually lets us take a small look at the real Vincent Furnier instead of the shock monster Alice Cooper. Or maybe not. You can never tell with these people. Anyway, the fact is, this stuff is definitely not recorded from a 'pure glam' perspective, and it does challenge the listener to take it seriously, whether it succeeds at that or not.

This alone makes From The Inside stand out a bit; pity it wasn't really noticed among the sea of all those slick, professional and catchy, but essentially soulless late period Coop records. Now if only the songs had been a wee bit better written, I could have easily given this stuff an even higher rating. Unfortunately, the feelings and confessions alone aren't enough to guarantee instant huge success. Plus, the absolute majority of the rockers on here is, well, downright pedestrian! Perhaps this has something to do with Steve Hunter quitting the Cooper team - and Dick Wagner, left without a sparring mate, just cannot bring himself to create any sparkling guitar riffs. So a lot of emphasis is on the keyboards, and the keyboards, while not exactly cheesy, don't work perfectly.

I mean, songs like 'Nurse Rozetta' may have hilarious lyrics ('nurse Rozetta make me better, secretly my eyes undress her' - do I make myself understood?), but melodically, the song is little more than filler. It sets a half-decent funky groove and, as is usual with the Coop, hardly offends the listener's intelligence by changing tempo and veering off into little side-melodies from time to time, but there's no major power in the song. 'Wish I Were Born In Beverly Hills' plods along nicely for the stupid slab of pop-metal it is, but for Chrissake it's just a generic boogie... not even catchy at all. Pfouagh. Stylistically it reminds me of something like 'Under My Wheels', but without the youthful energy and with a much more slick, "un-exciting" instrumental attack. Even the title track doesn't present us much of a spectacular opening - unlike the previous three or four (or five... or six title tracks).

Unsurprisingly, Coop's best material on here all falls into the ballads category - unsurprisingly, because these confessions and heartbreaking intonations are only ideal when set in a ballad frame. 'How You Gonna See Me Now' continues the Coop tradition of putting out ballads as singles (doesn't that get monotonous?), but this time the song really works better in the general context of the album than torn out; the single-buying public was probably saying 'oh no, not another saccharine ditty from the Coop', and, ironically, this isn't really saccharine at all. It's actually one of the few Cooper ballads that really approaches true beauty, despite the occasional cheesy synth bits. It's funny to compare it with 'You And Me': the two songs have a lot in common, but where 'You And Me' was a clear housewife-ready throwaway that had absolutely nothing to do with the real life of Alice Cooper and thus sounded forced, false and cheesy, 'How You Gonna See Me Now' hits right home. The McCartneyesque 'Quiet Room', where Alice describes his place of imprisonment, is also nice and moving and cleverly shifts between quiet and melancholic and loud and aggressive. (Not sure if the 'breathy harmonies' that sound as if they were borrowed straight from 10CC's 'I'm Not In Love' really belong here, though). Excellent stuff overall.

However, the one track that really merits an extra half-star on here is 'Inmates (We're All Crazy)'; again, inattentive listening might lead you to the conclusion that it's just another 'epic' Cooper album closer as on every other record, but it's really one of Cooper's most convincing songs ever. Great lyrics with excellent insight into the psychology of the "mentally challenged" ones - 'it's not like we ain't on the ball/We just talk to our shrinks/No wonder we're up the wall/We're not stupid or dumb/We're the lunatic fringe that rusted the hinge/On Uncle Sam's daughters and sons' - and a shiver-sending climactic ending with the band chanting 'we're all crazy, we're all crazy, we're all crazy...'. Really creepy.

Sure, the record could have used some more quality tunes, but at least its "musical" status definitely confirms that you'll be discovering something new here with every new listen. (The 'epic' love story of 'Billie And Millie', for instance, was rejected by me first time around as something extremely generic and annoying, but I've found enough interesting twists and stuff since then to be left content; funny trivia bit - the 'Millie' part is actually sung by long-time Eric Clapton sidekick, Marcy Levy). It's still a pity that the unsuspecting public and critics just took this as, well, just another Coop record - granted, our goofy boy has cried wolf several times too many, but still, one could have expected better at least from the people who actually do listen to music. So remember, it ain't just another Coop record - although, granted, it ain't one of his best. Unlike the one album that followed.



Year Of Release: 1980

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

More like "UP with the fashion". Is the title s'posed to be ironic? This is Alice "Cars" Cooper speakin'!


Track listing: 1) Talk Talk; 2) Clones (We're All); 3) Pain; 4) Leather Boots; 5) Aspirin Damage; 6) Nuclear Infected; 7) Grim Facts; 8) Model Citizen; 9) Dance Yourself To Death; 10) Headlines.

This album initiates what is probably Alice Cooper's most underrated, and definitely most overlooked period. The album cover proudly sports 'Alice Cooper '80': the man was certainly intent on reshaping and reinventing his act in accordance with the times. This means that both the hard rock and the Broadway thing are on their way out, and post-punk and New Wave influences are in. Needless to say, for a long long time this metamorphosis has been confusing and befuddling the fans - anything could have been expected but not Alice's "sellout" to the quirky jerky nerdy scene of the early Eighties. The Talking Heads, The Cars, the Human League, and Alice Cooper in one sentence? Sounds like blasphemy.

In retrospect, though, what has been missed is that Mr Furnier was actually perfectly able to adapt both his "vision" (if any) and his songwriting skills to the new scene smoothly and inventively, and these albums have stood the test of time just as well as anything else in his catalog, if you ask for my humble opinion. Especially considering that the formula had become rather stale; it was time to move on. Too bad the fans never understood it at the time - Flush The Fashion was the first in a series of commercial flops for the Coop, and the general public was hardly amused either.

Why should it have been amused, when the first single from the album was 'Clones'? Instead of the usual sappy ballad like 'Only Women Bleed', what's that we got? A weird synth-rocker with drum machines and a Cars-like synth riff, and emotionless almost spoken vocals? Robotic Cooper? Who needs that? Well - I certainly do need it, because I find the synth riff attractive and well-churned-out, and the song has so many cute little twists and jerks that it's hard not to appreciate all the creativity. Besides, if you come to think of it, a song with the title 'Clones' should sound somewhat robotic. So let's not talk about how Alice was so goddamn drunk at the time he couldn't bring himself to resist another Cheese Temptation - if you ask me, he was sober enough to be able to stick his head out of the gutter where he'd firmly placed himself and try something radically more creative for a change. Or maybe it was the booze that actually helped him. Come to think of it, it was definitely the booze. He got genuinely worse after he sobered up, not before that moment.

As for the LP, well, it also begins tellingly: the first song is, believe it or not, a cover of the old garage classic 'Talk Talk' by a band that was appropriately called "The Music Machine". And, like the music machine of the age of technology that Alice is now aspiring to become, he does a rearrangement that preserves the melody of the old classic note-for-note, including the solos, but introduces electronically enhanced percussion, murky synth noises a la Heroes-era David Bowie, and hi-tech instrumental passages. Nuggets for the age of electronica! (Don't panic, though - the main melody is still entirely guitar driven, so that there's still some rawness preserved. This ain't Gary Numan, after all).

Likewise, stuff like 'Aspirin Damage' is something that you'll never want to associate with your traditional Coop, but lightning strike me if the song ain't one of the catchiest, most hilariously stupid creations in the entire Alice catalog. 'Asprin damage, asprin damage... kills the pain and destroys the brain...'. It's the same old stuff lyrically, in fact, but the musical coat is radically different, and that's a good thing for me. I can understand how people who had been trying to associate with Alice and co-sympathize with the protagonists of his lyrics would find these ditties cheesy, annoying, and silly, but then again, these people never really liked the Cars either, and I do like the Cars, so I know what I'm talking about. Do you, Mr Jones?

Besides, it's not like there's really nothing to chew on for the older crowd. At least two or three of the rockers are mean and lean classics in the classic vein. 'Grim Facts' is a real kicker, with dirty riffage and the old evil voice in full power and full shape, and a good couple of hooks to boot. I'd even say the song rocks more convincingly than most of the post-74 Cooper rockers. It's got the garage mood to it in parts! Particularly when it comes to the soloing. And you gotta love the shiver-sending organ swoop every time Alice slyly intones 'grim facts...' (Every parent better know, you get that?). And if that one's not emotional enough for you, then you got pain! Er, no, I mean, you got 'Pain', about the only serious link to Cooper's Broadway-influenced material, with a clear piano part and vaudevillian vocals. If you're one of 'em hardcore oldies, just make yourself a single out of 'Grim Facts' and 'Pain' and be happy.

A few things actually do baffle me. For instance, 'Dance Yourself To Death' obviously borrows its main melody from Dylan - and Alice's nearly surrealistic lyrical delivery is almost entirely ripped off of 'Stuck Inside The Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again', which I understood immediately upon arriving at the 'oh me, I'm really embarrassed...' line. Only when the melody takes a left turn and the guitars disappear giving way to the grim drum'n'bass interplay ('I smile and wish them well, and then I pray like hell') does the thing transform into classic Alice Cooper. Nevertheless, the effect is still pretty cool.

Add to this a few more Eighties rockers like 'Nuclear Infected' and 'Model Citizen', which never forget about the hooks yet never betray Alice's typical message either - which is, I'm gonna ridiculize your fuckin' establishment until the day I die - and you get yourself a nearly flawless record. Well, nearly - a few of the songs might qualify for filler. (Then again, maybe not. The whole album's so ridiculously short anyway that there's simply no time for filler). But that's not the main thing.

The main thing is I find these new shoes of Mr Furnier perfectly adaptable to his size. At any rate, this sudden embracement of poppy New Wave values is a much more fascinating thing than Alice's real sellout six years later, with the rotten hair metal of Constrictor. Please think of that when pronouncing your final judgement.



Year Of Release: 1981

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

The transition from Ghoulman to Clownman proceeds at full speed.


Track listing: 1) Who Do You Think We Are; 2) Seven & Seven Is; 3) Prettiest Cop On The Block; 4) Don't Talk Old To Me; 5) Generation Landslide; 6) Skeletons In The Closet; 7) You Want It You Got It; 8) You Look Good In Rags; 9) You're A Movie; 10) Vicious Rumours.

[Warning: nothing in this review that doesn't refer to actual music should be taken seriously. One of my pissed-off days, I guess.]

This one further continues Alice's winning streak, an excellent and actually innovative - no, I'm not afraid to use that word - record that serves as a perfect "mediator" in between Alice's usual goofiness and the new sounds of the Eighties. And remember, if you don't like Special Forces, you obviously just don't get Alice Cooper, not to mention New Wave, the Eighties, the Pope, and the Committee To Re-elect the President. That goes without saying, so you'd better start admitting the truth now before I have to resort to extra measures to put you in your proper place.

The album is a mock-concept one; Furnier was strangely preoccupied with the military at the time, and some of the songs revolve around a vague 'rock star in a military camp' theme, although when it comes to the actual song material, it becomes transparent that it's actually more pleasant to think that there is some unifying concept here than to realize there really isn't any, even if there's plenty of evidence at hand. I actually think most of the 'military' elements were incorporated into Alice's live shows, which were, by the way, his last performances before the 1986 "comeback" (neither of the two followng albums were accompanied by a tour). The important thing is to understand the songs are all really well written and refined by the Coop in an exciting manner. There's actually somewhat more theatricality in this record than there was in its predecessor, and while it's not necessarily a good thing (after all, we all know that theater as a concept is bound to wither and die in the upcoming millennium as it gradually loses its relevance for newer generations, and if you refuse to acknowledge that, you're a hopeless sentimentalist who sees only what he wants to see), it adds up a little diversity to the proceedings. But it's not the kind of Seventies vaudeville that Alice is famous for - it's more like straightforward comedy. But good comedy.

The album begins with one of the harder rocking tunes, 'Who Do You Think We Are', which introduces the basic "military" concept and doesn't rely as much on special effects and synthesizers, thus making it perhaps the only "salvageable" song on the record for the 'conservative' Coop fans - and it's a great slice of pseudo spooky boogie. However, already starting from the second song, 'Seven And Seven Is' - the cover of the famous Love single - the weirdness starts to arrive. The chuggin' robotic synthesized bassline suddenly leads the way into a riff that sounds suspiciously like a classic Fifties boogie-line, then Alice steps in with half-spoken lyrics about his (or, rather, Arthur Lee's) childhood fantasies in such a manner that each verse ends with a dissonant 'Ooh biff biff ooh biff biff yeah'. Oh how that song must have sent many a devoted Alice fan - provided that fan wasn't familiar with the Love original, of course - reeling back and screaming in horror. Of course, it goes without saying these fans were all close-minded conservatives, weened on their Beatles, Stones, Who, Stooges, Aerosmith, Roxy Music, David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Captain Beefheart, and Caroliner Rainbow fetishes, but I guess people are just different. (What's that you say? Caroliner Rainbow didn't exist at that time? Whatever. Don't bug me with useless nitpicking. The point stands that you're a moron regardless of any actual things I say). The song is absolutely great.

'Prettiest Cop On The Block' can be a bit confusing, mainly due to its unwarranted sarcastic attacks on the police force of the world's freest country, although some might say it's merely a stylistic rip-off of the Stones' 'West Coast Under Assistant Promotion Man', but even with all those reservations, it's still pretty catchy and a lot of fun. 'Don't Talk Old To Me' is almost like a parody on the Coop's older ballads, but the song raises vital issues of aging and surviving in the modern world, doesn't it? Almost like Neil Young, the world's greatest songwriter whose only flaw was not having Neil Peart write his lyrics. And the side closes off with the album's main misfire, the oddly-recorded pseudo-live version of 'Generation Landslide' - supposedly imitating the "rock performer inside the boot camp" mode and all, but it doesn't really come across that well. Still, the song has always been great.

The second side is nearly immaculate, though, milking Alice's comic vision for all its worth. 'Skeletons In The Closet' is a hilarious music hall sendup - granted, there was a period when Cooper used to explore the paranoia thematics seriously, but there's a time for throwing stones and there's a time for gathering stones, as the Bible will tell you, although only a complete retrograde would be still reading the Bible in the modern world which has long since refused treating women as little more than sexual toys. Still, the analogy was good, I think, and I do get a good laugh of the song. 'You Want It, You Got It', in dire contrast, is the album's most "synthesized" song, all robotic pulsations and drum machines, and only an absolute minimum of lyrics at that... truthfully, it almost ends up reminding me of Genesis' 'Who Dunnit?' - a similar musical "joke". But nowhere near as dumb-sounding, what with the synths actually delivering a shivery sound, and the Coop's vocal antics on the song are unparalleled. There's just something in that 'you want it - then you g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-got it' line that gets me going. After all, I'm not a meat robot like my pet hamster (which reminds me of how dumb all these vegetarian people are - hey, how can you ever feel sorry about killing something which, according to well-established scientific proof, has no soul whatsoever? Read a book, you ignorant fuck!), so I'm supposed to have deeply running emotional reactions. This is one of them.

'You Look Good In Rags' is another seriously rocking tune, with a monumental riff to equal any previous Coop riffs, and great catchy vocal melodies. It might have been the album's rare exercise in seriousness, if not for the fact that halfway through the tune the melody disappears and is replaced by a chorus of asimmetrically overdubbed vocals chanting 'rags, rags, rags, rags' and when the riff reappears after that, it's too late to take anything seriously already. 'You're A Movie' is not so much interesting for its melody (rather ordinary) as it is for its parodic presentation - Alice bragging about his virtues and genius as he impersonates a movie actor that has lived his characters a bit too vividly - but it's a good laugh as well. And finally, 'Vicious Rumours' is nothing to write home about, but at least it finishes the album at a good pace.

So, in all, this is yet another of those irritatingly, absurdly underrated early Eighties' Coop records. Creative, vibrative, and authoritative, you'll never understand this record if you can't get rid of the Seventies' Cooper stereotype, but being able to get rid of stereotypes and humbly accept another person's opinion (mine, for instance) is, after all, one of the main signs of an open mind and inner honesty. Hey, truth hurts, of course, but it doesn't mean that Special Forces is anything less than a deep-hidden gem in the Vincent Furnier catalog. Now go back and jerk off to your Sgt Pepper, you bleeting sheep.



Year Of Release: 1982

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Tag, You're It! If you keep complaining about this record, that is.

Best song: I BETTER BE GOOD, but I'm not really sure

Track listing: 1) Zorro's Ascent; 2) Make That Money (Scrooge's Song); 3) I Am The Future; 4) No Baloney Homosapiens; 5) Adaptable (Anything For You); 6) I Like Girls; 7) Remarkably Insincere; 8) Tag, You're It; 9) I Better Be Good; 10) I'm Alive.

How would a respectable Republican react if the American president went out alone in the middle of the street one fine day, dressed in jeans and T-shirt, with a ring in his nose and a Batman mask over his face, and started singing the Beach Boys' disco version of 'Here Comes The Night?' Imagine the possible reaction, and then you can understand the feelings of the fans when Zipper Catches Skin came out.

At least the previous two albums, while as far musically from Cooper's Seventies legacy as possible, still toyed around with the usual subjects lyrically (and, if I could say so, vocally). Alice might have embraced the New Wave sonic styles and rejected the 'scary' image, but he was still retaining some shock value, even if on a pure level it was "mock-shock" rather than anything. There were skeletons in the closet, brain-destroying aspirin, clones, sarcastic 'model citizens' and stuff like that, all sung in a gritty voice that was somehow reminiscent of the Alice of old. Zipper Catches Skin certainly has shock value as well, but this time it's more like it's shock value for traditional Alice Cooper fans. No wonder it was a total commercial catastrophe.

The funny thing is, musically this album is a retread from the 1980-81 albums. Synthesizers are used much more sparingly, and Dick Wagner is back on the guitar to play some 'traditional' riffs and solos. And while some of the rhythmic elements are still "modernistic", much more often Alice is just content with your basic hard garage rock playing. No; it is the lyrical/conceptual/performance-wise side of this album that is so completely baffling. And "baffling" is the word; on this record, Alice isn't trying to shock you, he is puzzling you. In a comic, but often befuddling and disorienting, way.

I mean, let's just go through some of the, err, "highlights". The album kicks off with 'Zorro's Ascent', a song about the death of Zorro, no less, and sung in a totally serious mood... what's the message? Musically, it's half "rockified" Latin groove and half "Get Back" rip-off, so that doesn't help much. Then there's the only bit of 'social comment' on the record, but you know you're in social trouble when your social comment bears the name 'Make That Money (Scrooge's Song)' and is as lyrically predictable as your left toe... okay, so it's not exactly "predictable" when you're dealing with Alice Cooper, which leaves your head in an even bigger mess. And if I'm not mistaken, the lengthy anthem 'No Baloney Homosapiens' (sic!) deals with the possibility of people meeting with aliens and the ensuing dialog: 'We're black and white/You're green and blue/Well, we're all right, so are you.../My blood's thick red/You bleed black glue/So, let's not bleed at all/Is that all right with you?'. Somewhat funny, but... errr... well, you know what I mean.

'Adaptable (Anything For You)' is one hell of a take on a love song, and is pretty catchy too. 'Say you're Vampira/And needed plasma/And I was dying/From chronic asthma/I'd leave my death bed/To draw some blood for you'. You could say this bears vague traces of relationship to the "shock lyrics" of old, but this only happens when you extract the verse of its context and do some mighty fine detective work. 'I Like Girls' chugs along mighty fine and presents Alice as a master comedian as he depicts his romances past and present, easily the funniest song on the record, particularly because of its enthralling fast one note bassline and Alice's exaggerated delivery. By the way, a typical accusation of Alice for this album is that he doesn't sing, instead going through every song with the goofiest narrative intonations possible... doesn't bother me in the least, since we're not exactly dealing with a Frank Sinatra here. Mr Cooper is a performer above all, and if any of his performances deserve a talkin' rather than singin' style, it's all right by me.

'Tag, You're It' is also 'spooky', but more in a mock-Hitchcock style, ridiculing the generic horror flick sequence shooting. Then here's a sample verse from 'I Better Be Good' for you: 'If I ain't cool/My daddy gonna send me/to Military School/If I ain't nice/My girlie gonna freeze me/With cold shoulder ice/If I'm real late/My teacher gonna use me/For alligator bait/So, I better be good'. And finally, the complete name of the last track is 'I'm Alive (That Was The Day My Dead Pet Returned To Save My Life)'. Need I say something else?

Well, yes. Few of these songs, and that includes even the more 'normal' songs like the ballad 'I Am The Future', are tremendously memorable; in fact, I was really disappointed with this obvious dropoff in quality from Special Forces, and I guess this has something to do with the fact that Alice was taking to the bottle more than ever at this period. But even if the melodies suffer a bit (which doesn't really make these songs generic - they're just too schizophrenic to retain any possible hooks), the performances themselves are a total hoot, and anybody who enjoyed the previous two albums will be able to squeeze out entertainment value from this one as well.

Goes without saying, though, that if the Alice Cooper of 'Dead Babies' is your ultimate hero, then you'll probably prefer to squeeze the skin out of your zipper than to ever put any of these songs on. But I like it. And if you ask me, it's only natural that a performer of Alice's stature, after spending so much time offending the tastes of the "general public", should make this turnaround and start, with an almost equal amount of irreverence, offending the tastes of his fanbase. It takes guts to do this (and a mighty heavy swig from the nearest opened Jack Daniels bottle, but that's understood). So it's just one more of those Selfportrait-like cases when getting offended actually means falling for the very joke that's being played upon you. It's much wiser to accept the joke, if you ask me. So don't rip this page out of the Coop biography - it may not be his finest, but it's definitely one of his weirdest. In fact, if you're a weirdo, feel free to add one more point to the rating - I was gonna give it an 11, but then I sort of realized there ain't a single song on here I happen to be in love with, and the basic concept is not enough.



Year Of Release: 1983

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

The Surrealistic Psychoanalytic album. Deep, cleverly crafted, and as sincere as they come.


Track listing: 1) Dada; 2) Enough's Enough; 3) Former Lee Warmer; 4) No Man's Land; 5) Dyslexia; 6) Scarlet And Sheba; 7) I Love America; 8) Fresh Blood; 9) Pass The Gun Around.

Count this as a weak 13 as opposed to the strong one of Killer... then again, maybe the "Killer-13" was a weak one, too, anyway, if you're still giving a shit about the decimals, why don't you send a man to Jupiter or something like that instead. The fact is, this is a dang good album, an opinion long held as a fact by many "diehard" Coop fans but still remaining an opinion (and a goofy one at that) to everyone else who thinks that Alice couldn't possibly rise above 'No More Mr Nice Guy'. Well...

This one is a pretty oddball affair. See, after three eccentric hilarious records in a row, when you get a fourth album and it's called Dada (I presume the conception of dadaism doesn't really need to be explained here, and I got no space for it anyway), one should expect that Alice'd be continuing the same old pranks. In fact, maybe that explains the fact it didn't chart at all. But actually, no. The "Dada" in question is a pun - as much as it's an irrational philosophic concept, it's also a reference to 'Dad', and a lot of the tracks seem to be dedicated to Alice's (or the protagonist's, I don't know how this really ties in with Mr Furnier) family affairs.

And it's actually a serious album, and also the last one before Alice, angered and frustrated by his lack of commercial success, went on his infamous sell-out spree. In fact, after three records worth of unprecedented comic goofiness, I was really thrown off my rocker for this one; thematically, it's more reminiscent of From The Inside than anything else, except that it has none of those potential hit singles. Yes, the fun factor is still present, but for the first time in three years, you're being forced to look under the surface as well, and some of the songs here briefly touch upon the deepest depths of our psyche - in a way, it is the most serious artistic statement Alice ever made, and what's even more amazing, a perfectly adequate one.

The title track, opening the album, leads us straight into a gloomy, stern, almost Gothic atmospheric piece built upon periodic DOOMY drum machine rolls, chimy soul-sucking synths, and a hushed theatrical delivery from the part of either a dying father or a schizophrenic father ('who's my boy?'). The overall feeling is closer to Pink Floyd's The Wall than anything else, and it's no big wonder considering that Bob Ezrin is back. He takes co-writing credits on virtually every song (along with Dick Wagner and Alice himself), and, in fact, 'Da Da' the track is credited to Ezrin alone, although I guess one could have guessed that even without seeing the credits.

Granted, the rest of the album is more influenced by Ezrin than written by him - and on a couple of tracks the Coop ditches the moodiness and throws on the usual "hip sarcastic guy" guise. 'I Love America', in particular, is the most vicious lyrical attack upon the proverbial American stereotype ever ("I love that mountain with those four big heads/I love Velveeta slapped on Wonder Bread/I love a commie...if'n he's good and dead, yup"), punctuated by what looks like football match noises ('here they come!'), a phoney redneck accent, and a brawny 'I LOVE AMERICA!' chorus. And 'Dyslexia' is another one of those cooky "love songs" that mix real feeling with mental disorder ("is this love? or is it dyslexia?').

But otherwise, even the more 'upbeat' songs are unusually serious for the man - for instance, 'Enough's Enough', easily the most hard-hitting song written by Alice that deals with family relations. See it start so upbeat and quirky and sarcastic and then make the ominous transition into the creepy middle-eight: 'When my mother died, she lied in bed and cried, I'm going to miss you my brave little cowboy...' This anti-Dad attack is unusually vicious even for Alice, especially considering that his actual relations with his father were supposed to be rather normal.

A couple of tracks seem to recapture the evil miscreant atmosphere of old, and this is where Ezrin really takes off, as on the sadomasochistic ode 'Scarlet And Sheba': 'They're trying to kill me, want to pick my bones/Methodically, erotically'. That's Ezrin for you: a dark, creepy atmosphere with heavy grimy guitars, totally overwhelming drums and organ-like synths, but the actual melody is more in the ABBA camp than anywhere else. In fact, this is the main problem with the album - it is more atmospherically involving than melodically involving, and it takes some time before you start realizing the songs actually have the usual amount of Coop hooks, they're just hidden inside the "lush" sonic layers.

It helps that the lyrics on the album are uniformly creative. Stuff like 'I Love America' and 'Dyslexia' might be relatively simple as far as the message is concerned, but then there's also 'Former Lee Warmer', a creepy tale about two brothers, one of which has gone insane and is being kept under lock and key and the other one takes brotherly care of him - I remember reading somewhere that the insane brother was actually supposed to be cannibalistic, and the sane brother was the one who delivered him his prey, but the lyrics never actually mention that. Creepy anyway. And then there's 'No Man's Land', an encounter of a rich girl's one night stand with a mentally unstable Santa Claus... And 'Fresh Blood', a funky synth-based, almost Prince-style, composition about a modern day vampire. All of these things help keep the record thought-provoking and entertaining.

But it's the final track that really pays off. Maybe it's not the best Cooper song ever recorded, but it's the first Coop song that had actually managed to get me straight into that very very sensitive spot which induces catharsis. I dunno, I guess I just wasn't prepared. 'Pass The Gun Around' is a heartbreaking tale of the last moments of a hopeless alcoholic's life - ending with a gun shot, respectably. And everything works on here. Alice's passionate delivery is sincere to the extreme, certainly because the song was to a large degree autobiographic; the chorus breathes painful, inescapable pessimism ('pass the gun around! - give everyone a shot, give everyone a shot...' and those choral 'aaaaaaaaaah!', that really drives me nuts), and - hands down - the most devastating guitar solo to be ever met on an Alice Cooper record, Dick Wagner's minute-and-a-half spot played with such verve I never thought the guy'd be capable of. Rock theatre? Whatever. This song gotta rank along with the very best stuff that Pink Floyd ever managed to create. Pure perfection, unjustly and mercilessly forgotten by everybody including Alice himself: obviously, the song is way too personally meaningful to the guy to be ever included in his glammy stage show. It's like a monumental, epic-proportion 'A Day In The Life' to end an otherwise "lightweight" record - and boosts up the rating for sure.

And also serves as the final radical conclusion to Alice's "experimental" period. He's sung his heart out to everybody on this record, yet nobody wanted to buy it. And why? Because the world is full of dumb fucks who don't give a damn about sincere, well-written, emotionally devastating confessions - yes, it's nothing but a cruel sick joke that Dada was a total commercial flop, yet as soon as Alice reverted back to his cartoonish image three years later, people started buying his records again. Ah well, give the people what they want, I suppose. Too bad.



Year Of Release: 1986

Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 6

I can only assume this was a joke album. This WAS a joke, wasn't it?

Best song: CRAWLIN'

Track listing: 1) Teenage Frankenstein; 2) Give It Up; 3) Thrill My Gorilla; 4) Life And Death Of The Party; 5) Simple Disobedience; 6) The World Needs Guts; 7) Trick Bag; 8) Crawlin'; 9) The Great American Success Story; 10) He's Back.

History knows no second case like this. How often does black equal white? Up until now I'd say "never", but now I'm tempted to say "well, maybe at least once", because at least once I have witnessed how "comeback" can equal "sellout". Alice Cooper's Constrictor is a massive comeback... and a complete sellout.

The three-year "empty" period between one of his finest creations and easily his worst album ever (also a first - in my book, at least) was due mainly to Alice getting his stuff in order. He didn't even tour behind his last two LPs, being in pretty bad physical (not creative) shape. So he took some time to recover, sober up for good, and take a long serious detached look at his life. What he saw did not please him much: apparently, his commercial future looked pretty grim. Whatever you, or me, or he thought about his freaky "New Wave" period, one thing was obvious: it didn't sell. People were not too disposed to accept No More Mr Nice Guy as a cross between Ric Ocasek and Cheech Marin. And it is no use denying that a solid amount of popularity and cash flow has always been a source of worry for Mr Furnier, that is, until he got too drunk and, well, you know...

So anyway, the point was, Alice wanted to make some quick bucks again. In the past, it was his horror image that made him most of these. Thus it was pretty much inevitable that Alice would sooner or later make an attempt at reverting to "Mr Nightmare" - in fact, rumours have it that the working title of Constrictor was Welcome To My Nightmare Part II. The horror show was reopened - the guillotine, the baby dolls, and the electric chair brought out from dusty warehouses, cleaned and polished, and set to work. And, to be honest, Alice's newly-sober eye for commercial success couldn't be blamed: there could hardly be a more perfect time to bring the delicatessen back to the public than the mid-Eighties, what with the hair metal scene in full flow and gazillions of Coop-influenced performers now doing the same stuff that the Master introduced to the world more than a decade ago. Unsurprisingly, the show was a success.

Unfortunately, though, what this also meant was that the music would follow the times, too. As I have often remarked, 1986 was easily the worst year in rock music (for established acts, at least), and Constrictor is so thoroughly nineteen eighty-six it hurts pretty bad. There were two directions to go wrong at the time: the cheesy synth-pop route and the even cheesier hair-metal route, and, of course, Alice was a rocker, so he chose the latter one (although one song at least on the album goes the synth-pop route, sort of as a "tribute" to The Other One). Now let me see, what are the trademarks of a bad hair metal album? Loud, booming, preferrably electronically-encoded drums that sound as close to machines as possible. Mostly power-chord based riffs, played in such a way that all the notes blur into one big mess and memorizing the melody is harder than passing a test on neurodynamics. Solos that go "whee!" as the soloist tries to visit every fret on his board without taking the time to consider the actual importance of doing that. Simple, poppy vocal melodies that mostly get by through endlessly repeated choruses. Superficially provocative, but essentially shallow, unfunny, obvious lyrics. Guess what. Good old Coop managed to have all that and more under one roof.

It's as if he intentionally threw his songwriting gift out of the window. In fact, it's the realization of this fact that sort of alleviates the pain. I can't believe he actually thought this crap he was doing was anything more than crap. It was just a well-calculated commercial move. He was actually more bothered about tickling the nerves of the PMRC than anything else - which explains the up-a-level goriness of the lyrics and the atrociously tasteless album cover. (I mean, in a way, most Alice Cooper album sleeves were tasteless, but this one is just disgusting. It's like going from a sarcastic postmodern take on a B-movie to a B-movie itself). Yes, I'll admit that some of these songs are moderately catchy, but, like I said, it is mostly due to the endless repetition of the choruses. Not one instrumental melody, not one guitar solo on here inspire any positive feelings in me. Oh gee, how could they, if, judging by his photo, guitar player Kane Roberts spent more time in the gym than in the studio? He looks like Silvester Stallone's long-lost brother. I'm amazed his fingers could actually fit in between the guitar strings.

There's one half-decent pop-rocker here, and that's 'Crawlin', a song that could, with a bit of luck, be rearranged and maybe even fit as a minor fun track on Flush The Fashion. The generic riffs and sucky production draw the life right out of it, but the chorus still manages to be mildly rollickin' and captivating. But everything else is pure, catastrophic rubbish, culminating in such masterstrokes as 'Thrill My Gorilla' ('Where were you when the monkey hit the fan? Thrill my gorilla!'), 'Teenage Frankenstein' ('Are my shoulders too wide? Is my head screwed on tight?' - don't ask me, Alice!) and the already mentioned synth-pop tribute, 'He's Back', which just might be the worst song Alice ever recorded, like a poor man's Duran Duran crossed with a rich man's Modern Talking. Sample lyric, by the way: 'But you're still on the lake/That's a bad mistake'.

The only reason this gets a 6 and not a 4, or something like that, is that repeated listens (well, three - forgive me if I don't pull it through number four) actually reveal a handful of wasted potential. In other words, had these songs been written and recorded four years earlier, with Dick Wagner in the studio and all, I'm pretty sure some of them could have been salvaged, not only 'Crawlin'. Maybe 'Give It Up' could have been a decent rocker, or 'Simple Disobedience' (whose grim '...and all the hungry outlaws have taken up a stance...' moment is probably the hardest-hitting four seconds on the entire record, but, unfortunately, the rest of the song never lives up to that). But with these arrangements, with this kind of attitude, it's simply a total fiasco, and that's coming from me, who usually doesn't care much about the arrangements as long as the melody ain't fucked up. So - no bananas. Why don't you "thrill my gorilla", Mr Furnier?



Year Of Release: 1987

Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

Hey! I found a song or two to like here! Does that mean I'll be becomin' a Motley Crue fan soon?

Best song: FREEDOM

Track listing: 1) Freedom; 2) Lock Me Up; 3) Give The Radio Back; 4) Step On You; 5) Not That Kind Of Love; 6) Prince Of Darkness; 7) Time To Kill; 8) Chop Chop Chop; 9) Gail; 10) Roses On White Lace.

A bit of an improvement in every direction, but you know, no matter how much deodorant you're gonna spray in your toilet, it'll still be the prime location for defecation. I think that where Constrictor was a poorly planned, badly carried out mess of a generic hair metal album, this one is a meticulously planned and expertly carried out generic hair metal album. That's what makes it somewhat fun. In parts. Some of the songs make me giggle and one or two songs actually make some kind of a mock-serious impact on me. To that extent, the record succeeds.

Yet essentially, it is still Constrictor's younger brother. Even the album cover is painted with a similar lack of taste (or, rather, a similar lack of lack of taste? The Coop's album covers have always been tasteless, but they were FUN. These are just predictably cheap and ugly). And as long as that Kane Roberts guy continues to treat his guitar strings as automobile details on an assembly line, nothing truly positive is going to happen. Did I say 'He's Back' is Alice's worst song ever? I take that back. 'Prince Of Darkness' is. I can't believe a smart guy like Alice Cooper could, even under pressure to deliver a slick commercial album, stoop to penning such proverbial garbage.

I mean, there are two kinds of successful songs about Satan, right? One's the Mockin' type, like 'Hells Bells' or something, where the evil vibe is so grossly overdone it's impossible to take it seriously, the other's the Scary type, like 'Black Sabbath' (well, you could argue that 'Black Sabbath' belongs to the Mockin' type as well, but apparently it was meant to be scary, and for anybody who's not rendered insensitive by years of digesting rock music cliches, it will be). But 'Prince Of Darkness' doesn't belong to either. The combination of the "ominous" atmosphere with the "informative-style" lyrics seem to suggest it has to be taken as a warning. It's like: 'Hey kids, beware the horned guy! Look, I'm tellin' ya! He's, like, EVIL!' It's not funny enough to giggle at (in fact, it ain't funny at all); it's not scary enough to hide under your bed (in fact, it ain't scary at all! What could be scary about it? The shitty guitar solo?); it's cliched and generic enough so you may be sure there's nothing interesting going on; it's not provocative enough to serve as a PMRC tease; and of course it's the longest song on the album, replete with a "medieval" acoustic section.

I gave out this long rant about one particular song just to try and illustrate what it actually is that pisses me, and probably lots of other people, off about records like these. Every song is supposed to have some kind of goal, and 'Prince Of Darkness' is a classic example of a song that either has none at all, or else misses all the ones it's supposed to have. Fortunately, this does not apply to all the rest of the material. 'Freedom', in particular, is almost a decent opener for the record. For one thing, it's brutally direct and honest, and it's a pity it got stumped in this stupid arrangement on this stupid album - it's arguably the only song that would deserve inclusion into the Furnier Archives. It's easily the most straightforward anti-establishment rant that ever came out of the mouths of established, non-underground artists in the Reagan years: 'Stop pretending that you've never been bad/You're never wrong and you've never been dirty'. The melody is pretty sucky, but there's some real conviction out here, and when Alice belts out 'you better leave us man/cuz you sure can't take us!' I really feel a subconscious urge to "raise my fist and yell".

Essentially, the rest of the songs that deal with civil and personal liberties (including Alice's own) all have their moments. 'Lock Me Up' is one of the few that has a half-decent Judas Priest-ish riff; 'Time To Kill' (it's such a perfect anthem for Rambo I wonder why the hell didn't they give it to Kane Roberts as a vocal spotlight) has a memorable chorus; and 'Give The Radio Back' ('to the maniac!') is just plain funny. You sure won't remember them much the next day you wake up, but for a couple hours they might stick in your head as guilty pleasures. Or maybe not. I think it's advisable to force yourself to listen to the very end of 'Time To Kill' because the last 'I've only got time to KILL!' line is pretty powerful. That's just a matter of two seconds though.

However, when the civil liberty talk is over and Alice proceeds to the usual guts-and-rape business, it's cheapy time time all over again. Song titles like 'Chop Chop Chop' kind of speak for themselves, don't you think? Now don't get me wrong here: the word of day was censorship, so it's obvious that the extreme straightforwardness of the songs was essentially a matter of testing for Alice. Lyrics like 'The bugs serve time in her skeletal jail/I wonder how the bugs remember Gail' are stupid and offensive, but they're there for one simple purpose: to tickle the nerves of the PMRC and the like and to put to the test the solidity of civil liberties, much like Larry Flynt's pictures of rape and fecalia and whatnot. That's all right by me. I'm a civil liberties guy. But obviously, this means that this whole "experiment" is dated as hell. A song like 'Freedom' is still actual. A song like 'Roses On White Lace' is still nothing but a piece of puerile provocative shit.

As far as music goes, though, there are a few steps up, like I said. The production is better, and in some songs the guitar actually sounds like a guitar - that is, like a real hard rock guitar playing a real hard rock riff (never mind if it's unmemorable), not like a horde of dinosaurs where each member is trying to produce the ugliest gargling noise on the planet. And, thank God, there are still no keyboards - and no miserable attempts at synth-pop like 'He's Back'. This doesn't make the songs more likable, but it does make them eminently more... uhh... tolerable, maybe. But this is really a very frail remark, because it is plain obvious that neither Alice nor the hacks that backed him up really gave a shit about this kind of music. Heck, by the time they embarked on the 1987 tour, they were only doing one song live from Constrictor ('Teenage Frankenstein'). Which is only natural - the songs are all interchangeable. I'd bet you a dollar most of Alice's "classic" fans were collectively heading for the bathrooms the minute any of the Raise Your Fist numbers started playing.



Year Of Release: 1989

Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

I like how he's bowing his head on that picture. Ashamed at what he's done, no doubt? Or just hiding the make-up so as not to offend Grandpa?

Best song: TRASH

Track listing: 1) Poison; 2) Spark In The Dark; 3) House On Fire; 4) Why Trust You; 5) Only My Heart Talking; 6) Bed Of Nails; 7) This Maniac's In Love With You; 8) Trash; 9) Hell Is Living Without You; 10) I'm Your Gun.

Boy, if this album ain't "calculated", then nothing is. And I usually feel a bit guilty referring to any record as "calculated", because, heck, usually you really need to be out there in the studio and hang out with the producer and all to be one hundred percent sure. But in this case, the obviousness of this album just screams at you. Still, you gotta hand it to Alice: the man really justifies his high IQ level. He really desperately wanted to hit the charts and prove that age wasn't everything, and he did.

In a way, Trash is like a successful examination. Question: 'How should a middle-aged former rock star, who kicked it big in the Seventies but has been commercially unsuccessful ever since, go about restoring himself to the higher ranks of the charts?' Answer: 'By jumping on the trendiest bandwagon and hitting all the soft spots of the modern public'. You might think that's what the guy actually did with Constrictor, but that wasn't quite right. For all of its tastelessness and predictability, Constrictor wasn't a "safe" album. It was way too heavy for the general record buyer; it had a cover that was way too gross and spooky; and there was a bit too much death, S&M, and schizophrenia in the lyrics. In other words, it was targeted at way too small an audience.

Trash corrects that mistake. Its album cover is pretty much classic hair metal-style. Just look at that jacket. The credits are jam-packed with names all over the country - key among them is Desmond Child, producer for none other than Bon Jovi, and Bon Jovi himself, along with the entire Aerosmith crew, actually guest on the album. The music is heavy, but poppy at the same time; nothing really "dangerous" about it, not one song, really (well, maybe the title track comes close to 'unsettling'). The guitars are weak and generic; at least that Kane Roberts guy is gone, but that doesn't make the tones any more interesting. Worse, there are keyboards; pretty much absent on the last two albums, they make their triumphant entry here as the indispensable element in hair metal hierarchy and proceed to choke at least half of the songs with their swishy vapidness.

Yet pretty much the worst blow is the lyrics. As trite and cliched as the lyrics on his previous two albums were, Mr Coop really reaches an all-time low on here. These songs - get this - are all love songs. Well, call 'em lust songs if you wish, or sex songs, or fuck anthems, whatever, but there's not one little piece of social critique, not one little bite of nasty humour, not one goshdarn line to be quotable. And they're about two hundred percent safer than abstinence. The guy who, just a few years ago, publicly convicted the PMRC in interviews, now penning this shitty toothless stuff that would have the PMRC proud of the little guy? How pathetic.

Or, maybe, how clever of him. Again, considering my general respect for the Coop, I would rather think of Trash as the quintessential experiment in pandering towards the LCD (which, of course, stands not for Liquid Crystal Display, but rather for the Lowest Common Denominator). That's why I don't really hate the album: I am pretty sure that, had he wanted to do something better, he could have done that easily. But he obviously needed the cash. Or maybe he needed another big popular stand as a foundation. You know, return into the public eye with something and then, after you reestablish your commercial kingdom, you're free to make whatever you want. Make this one sacrifice in order to have your hands untied for the rest of your life.

Moreover, it's not like this is the worst album ever. In fact, I think it is more consistent than the 1986-87 stuff, believe it or not. Yes, the two power ballads are among the corniest stuff he's ever done: 'Only My Heart Talking' has a decent hook in the chorus, but is entirely ruined by Steve Perry's backing vocals (which are probably there just to inflict the "Remember Aerosmith, the Godfathers of the Power Ballad" message in your subconscious), and 'Hell Is Living Without You' doesn't even have that. And I would also like to take a stand and say that 'Poison', the most successful single from the album, still played by Alice in concert, still perhaps the only song from that period that the fans remember, is a truly God-awful number. It starts off sleazy and ominous, but don't let it fool you - it's still an inferior rip off of 'Sick Things' and the like; and then it goes into this big booming power-chorus that's totally pointless. Maybe it sounds better live, I dunno.

However, there are at least three goshdarn good songs on here, and that's more than I could say about Raise Your Fist And Yell. 'Trash' is an ugly, sleazy, and nicely funky rocker that is totally devoid of these lifeless sing-it-in-unison choruses. If I'm not mistaken, it's the song where Alice duets with Bon Jovi, but he's never obscured on there, not when he belts out '...but when you hit the sheets you just turn to... traa-a-a-a-a-a-sh!' Considering that there was a real swarm of guitarists recording this album, and that this is the only song on the album where the guitars are credited to the duo of Mark Frazier and Jack Johnson, I say Alice should have let these guys play on more of his songs. It's the only number that has some real live drive to it.

The other two songs I'm partial to simply happen to be fast rockers with insanely catchy choruses and - in the case of 'Spark In The Dark' - pretty decent leading riffs. No, I mean I really like 'Spark In The Dark'. I can't help it. A fast rocker with a nice riff and a nice chorus; George says thumbs up. Maybe halfway up, because the keyboards are still utterly depressing, and the backing harmonies... aw hell, who ever was the first person to have the idea that collective backing harmonies actually belong in a hard rock song? Same problem is equally actual for 'I'm Your Gun', the third and last really decent song on here. In fact, I was even hoping it would be great after hearing the unexpected accappella introduction ('your mama thinks I'm filthy, your daddy calls me scum...'), but, of course, the keyboards, harmonies, big booming drums, and generic fly-to-the-sky guitar solos ruined that hope. But it's still impressive.

The only other number that's somewhat memorable is 'This Maniac's In Love With You', which could have been a highlight on an early Prince album (in an entirely different arrangement, of course) - this brand of sweaty robo-funk is right up the sexy boy's alley, much more so than Alice Cooper's. The rest of the songs I don't really remember, presumably they all ranged from hideous to mildly tolerable. Not that I care. Not that Alice himself cares, I presume, not today at least. If you wanna see real class on a hair metal album, go buy Extreme's Pornograffiti. This one's simply a very mediocre genre experiment, and hey, don't take my word on it. Take Mr Furnier's. He didn't call the record Trash for nothing. He's smarter than you think.



Year Of Release: 1991

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

A confused and compromised effort that, nevertheless, points to a revival.

Best song: WIND-UP TOY

Track listing: 1) Hey Stoopid; 2) Love's A Loaded Gun; 3) Snakebite; 4) Burning Our Bed; 5) Dangerous Tonight; 6) Might As Well Be On Mars; 7) Feed My Frankenstein; 8) Hurricane Years; 9) Little By Little; 10) Die For You; 11) Dirty Dreams; 12) Wind-Up Toy.

Alice's "commercial comeback" ended as abruptly as it began, although Hey Stoopid, on the wave of 1989's success, still sold vastly better than any subsequent effort. However, it happened to be released on the threshold of the "grunge revolution", and where the timing for Trash was just right, the timing for this album was definitely not. Too bad, cuz it's a much better one. In fact, it's hardly as much of a direct sequel to Trash as it is a colourful mix-up of styles of directions - featuring filler a-plenty and sucky power ballads among a bunch of really solid tunes and a real understated gem or two. And deep down inside, I have a strong suspicion that Hey Stoopid wasn't really intended to be a hit album - it definitely does not convey this atmosphere of slick calculatedness as much as Trash does. Rather I'd say that it is a transitional album, merging the slick hair-metal Alice of the mid-Eighties with the "return to darkness" that would soon ensue.

At least this one thing is evident: in every possible and impossible way, this is an improvement over Trash. In some spheres the improvement is grander, in others slighter, but even the absolute lows are higher. Sure, the two power ballads ('Burning Our Bed' and 'Die For You') suck the proverbial ass, but at least they don't have the entire collective of Aerosmith guesting on them. This means there's a little less bathos and a bit more meat on their lean wrinkled bones, and thus it's a bit easier to tolerate them as they block our way to the main course. (Throw 'em out, though, and you get a nice forty seven minutes for this record instead of the obviously overdone fifty six.)

The production is actually improved. Alice has swapped pretty much every single player of importance (no mean feat, considering the cast of thousands that came together to make Trash), and the new ones are all better! Even keyboardist John Webster's synthesizer tones are slightly more stylish, with more of that cold robotic simmer to them than the pseudo-emotional poison of the utterly generic tones of Alan St John on Trash. Guitarist Stef Burns definitely knows a thing or two about classic metal riffage, and as for guest guitarists, well, no other than Mr Joe Satriani himself plays his fingers out on no less than five tracks, which sure brings up the competence level. I wouldn't call Ozzy Osbourne's backing vocals on 'Hey Stoopid' an "improvement", though, but fortunately he's not very audible.

As for the material, well... The ballads are the worst of the lot. But at least Alice generally demonstrates throughout that he's no longer content with merely singing about sex (or lack thereof). There's some of the old bite returning again, especially in the first and last tracks. The title track is probably the most well-known on here (if any of the songs on here can be said to be "well known") - a word of admonition from Alice to all those braindead fans who are inclined to take the "shock" message of rock too seriously. Maybe he'd been scared out of his guts by all the suicides over rock lyrics and that kinda crap, and anyway, it's meaningless to castigate him for a bit of preaching here - after all, he created that world himself, he's got a dang right to send out a 'Warning! Too much scary rock music may be dangerous for your health!' kinda message. (The actual message is, of course, different, but I guess you got me). "'This ain't your daddy talkin'", anyway. It's a pretty good anthem in the classic Alice Cooper way, catchy chorus and all. A bit too straightforward for me to enjoy fully, though.

What is not so straightforward, however, is the one true Alice classic on the album: 'Wind-Up Toy'. I was so smoothed out and polished around by the gloss of the record that I didn't even pay much attention to it the first time around, but later on I was simply struck down by the song's brilliance. Somehow it manages to take everything - Alice's hair metal stylizations, Alice's classic early period power pop inclinations, Alice's confessional Dada-era outbursts, and even the psychonightmare aspects of Welcome... - and blend them into this masterpiece of a song. I really don't remember him coming out with such a classic sing-along pop chorus since at least 'No More Mr Nice Guy', and I don't remember him blending black sarcasm with sincere desperation so successfully since at least From The Inside. It's actually a re-visit of the 'Steven' theme (if you're too "stoopid" to grasp that, you will be directly reminded at the end of the song), and oh what a revisit. The transition from the "cheery" 'daddy won't discuss me, what a pain I must be' chorus to the paranoid "I'm just a wind-up toy! A wind-up toy! A wind-up, wind-up, wind-up toooooy!" coda is simply one of the most classy moments in the entire Alice catalog - that one moment where actual music clearly shows the thinness of the line between the ridiculous and the tragic. Needless to say, had he recorded this song in the Seventies, it would have made the grade, but on an obscure 1991 album, who's gonna look for it? Well - YOU are.

None of the other songs deserve the honour to lick 'Wind-Up Toy's bootheels, but, apart from the title track, there are still two rather obvious highlights I'd like to stress. 'Love's A Loaded Gun' milks the capacities of pop metal to a tee; if you've got a better non-riff-based pop-metal-rocker lying around, show me the stuff. I like how Alice structures the lyrics of this anthem to sociopathic jealousy by indirectly quoting 'Love In Vain', but I like even more how the chorus is so twisted and yet so catchy and gets the message across so fine. And I normally hate this kind of songs, but I can't say a thing when the expressed emotion so perfectly matches the music. I mean, there's no need to be scared of pop metal when you got real brains behind it, and there definitely is a lot of brains behind 'Love's A Loaded Gun'. 'Sometimes love's a loaded gun - and it shoots to kill!'.

The other highlight is, of course, 'Feed My Frankenstein', featuring both Steve Vai and Joe Satriani - the teacher and the disciple both coming to pay homage to the shock rock guru. Whoever or whatever wrote the actual song, a track that features both Vai and Satriani just can't be bad. It's theoretically impossible. Fortunately, the song's hilarious as hell, and wipes out any wretched memories you might have had left about that other song with 'Frankenstein' in it. Perhaps the best musical idea on here is to have the melody crash-stop each time Alice sings 'feed my Frankenstein, meet my libido!' and then for a couple seconds go into that thrash-like scratchy chugga-chugga rhythm before arriving back with a vengeance. A slight, simple touch, but it revs up the enjoyability. Of course, you can't say no to "He's such a psycho!" and "LUNCH TIME!" either. But you prob'ly know what I'm talking about, having seen this stuff in Wayne's World. Didn'cha?

The rest of the songs aren't much to talk about - well, 'Might As Well Be On Mars' is a bit unusual, more of a pompous artsy epic a la early David Bowie (and not just because he had a song about Mars as well) than anything else, but definitely a bit overdone, especially considering the usual slick production. And the rest are just your average metal rockers: some better, some worse, none particularly memorable, but none particularly offensive either. This is definitely a record that goes for much too long, and a severe shake-up-and-trim wouldn't hurt it none. But it definitely showed that Mr Cooper was poised for a real comeback, as well as gave us the first glimpses of the man's former talent in eight years. Way to go!



Year Of Release: 1994

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Welcome to the eerie abode of Alice Cooper, the Guardian of Morality on this planet!


Track listing: 1) Sideshow; 2) Nothing's Free; 3) Lost In America; 4) Bad Place Alone; 5) You're My Temptation; 6) Stolen Prayer; 7) Unholy War; 8) Lullaby; 9) It's Me; 10) Cleansed By Fire.

The artistic comeback. But is this really a "comeback" or an actual "advance"? To tell the truth, this doesn't really sound like any previous Alice Cooper album. It is a complete departure from both the glitzy goofy glam-metal of 1986-87 and the slick commercial hair-metal of 1989-91, but one thing he has retained: the willingness to make the music ever so heavier and louder. It's almost as if, for the first time in his life, Alice Cooper finally expressed the wish to be taken seriously - and this is why the album often balances on the verge of becoming fake and inadequate, although, fortunately, the music is mostly good enough to refrain from crossing that border. And that seriousness means that, comeback or no, there is no Vegas stuff here. None of the lounge or Tin Pan Alley flavour that made his late Seventies albums so attractive for some and so unbearably corny for others.

Instead, what we have is a straightforward hard-, heavy- and, occasionally pop-rock album that almost could have been issued in, say, 1973. Almost, because there's definitely a strong grunge influence here, and a tinge of grimy, gloomy world-weariness that might have been suggested by Kurt Cobain and his croonies. What in the world gave Alice the nudge to make this abrupt shift from the slickness and flashiness of Hey Stoopid is not quite clear, but supposedly it was the same thing that made the Rolling Stones replace their slick vibe on Steel Wheels with the rawer, more ass-kicking vibe on Voodoo Lounge - in other words, Alice was still following the general trends, although this time he obviously liked the trend so much that he followed it up with two even heavier albums, released at a time when the trend was all but dead, despite a total lack of commercial success.

The Last Temptation is a conceptual album, and when it was released, it was accompanied by a comic book of the same name that told the story directly. Picking up right where 'Wind-Up Toy' left us previously, it tells us the gruesome story of Steven as he keeps living in a world of evil dreams until, frightened and paranoid, he actually makes a deal with the Devil... well, you know the basic plotline, right? It's basically a modern re-write of Faust with a little more emphasis on the inner psychological side of the business. It all ends well in the end, of course, with the Devil's ass kicked and the forces of Heaven triumphant, but it does get a bit unnerving somewhere in the middle. The most curious affair, of course, is that it's easily the most "moralizing" record Alice had ever done to that time - not content with merely being sarcastic, he actually adds the explicit message: 'Don't mess with the Devil, kids'. When you put this back to back with the lecturing on 'Hey Stoopid', you really start wondering...

But enough of that. The more important question is: if this is a "comeback", and if the album is stylistically monolithic and does not deviate much from the basic hard rock formula, can it be made as interesting and involving as the Coop's classic multi-style albums? Answer is: not quite, but more or less. The music is consistently good, if not consistently great, and when you speak of applying the basic, no-frills, hard rock formula as late as 1994, then "consistently good" easily equals "consistently great", as in "wow! I never knew you could still make that kind of music sound exciting in the Nineties". However, pretty much every song, no matter how hard it is, betrays Alice as the shameless pop-sucker he is: the material is good not because of the riffs, which are often highly derivative or just non-existing, but because of the vocal melodies and their general atmosphere. The Last Temptation is heavy, but at the same time it's not in the same league with Black Sabbath or even AC/DC. It's... it's pop-metal, but in a good sense. In a very good sense. The production is excellent.

In fact, the album doesn't start as a metal album at all. 'Sideshow' opens the album with a little bit of acoustic strumming and then a distorted, but hardly 'heavy' riff that sounds like a distinct tribute to the Who's 'Substitute' - after which what we get is an uplifting power-pop number. Cheap Trick might have written that one, but definitely not Sabbath. But what a cool Cheap Trick song! Tasty, fat guitars, a brass section that thickens the sound but doesn't seem too intruding, and a good, if not spectacular, anthemic chorus where "Steven" keeps complaining about his problems. And with the 'my head spinning 'round and 'round" we get a tasty little Sixties' psychedelic cliche nicely inserted into a typically Seventies song. Is this number "unoriginal"? Sure it is, but it tackles the elements together in such a way that you don't notice it all that much. Besides, it's amusing to know now about how deceiving that faux-cheerful introduction is!

Because already the second song is heavy, dark, and creepy. And one of the best on here. Alice The Prince of Corny Gloom hasn't been so successfully gloomy since 1975, at least. And don't we all like when Alice Cooper impersonates the Horned One? He does it with such gusto, so much hidden delight, that you'll have to appreciate it even if theoretically the idea seems like a waste of tape to you. 'Nothing's Free' moves from the slightly ominous verses to the slightly more ominous chorus steadily and without that much dynamics, but it's not the dynamics that matters here, it's the overall gloom and the light tinge of sarcasm in Furnier's vocals as he intones 'thirty pieces of silver and a deal's a deal'. 'Bad Place Alone' has that "dangerous" steel guitar line in the intro which soon gets propped up by one of the most powerful riffs on the album and a quirky change of signature smack in the middle which makes it adventurous. And 'Unholy War' has arguably the catchiest (and yet not the least complex) chorus on the entire record - woohoo!

My personal two favourites, though, are 'Lost In America' and 'You're My Temptation'. The former is basically a joke-song along the lines of all the previous joke-songs Alice had previously (remember 'I Love America?'), melodically owing much of its charms to Judas Priest (if you ever had the chance not to shun from hearing 'You've Got Another Thing Coming', you'll know how this stuff sounds approximately), but lyrically and vocally one hundred percent Alice Cooper. 'I can't get a girl cuz I ain't got a car/I can't get a car cuz I ain't got a job/I can't get a job cuz I ain't got a car/So I'm looking for a girl with a job and a car' - if these lyrics don't crack you, your threshold of cracking could sure use some lowering. And 'You're My Temptation' borrows the same kind of Eastern stylistics that had been earlier introduced by Led Zeppelin ('Kashmir') and Rainbow ('Stargazer'), but with gruff wah-wah-enhanced riffs instead of cheesy keyboards. Tack on a catchy vocal melody, and you really got something special which really breathes B-movie Evilness right in yer face. Welcome to the flames of Hell, sonny!

I wouldn't say the album is a complete success: some of the songs overstay their welcome, and by the time 'Lullaby' comes along, I get a little weary of the samedness of approach, not to mention that I could definitely use a good hard speedy rocker somewhere along the lines - no chance. The particularly melodramatic numbers like 'Stolen Prayer' and 'It's Me', although a definite step up from the formulaic power ballad approach on the last two albums, try a bit too hard to hit you right in the soul as well; not a very good move, because, after all, this ain't no Dada, and I don't think I want to be "moved" by this album, which, after all, is just a musical illustration to a comic book. In short, it's not a flawless release. But that doesn't change the fact that, for all he's worth, Alice Cooper is back as a creative force to be reckoned with, and that this record is easily recommendable even for those who gave up on the guy in the late Seventies.



Year Of Release: 1997

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11


Best song: I'M EIGHTEEN

Track listing: 1) School's Out; 2) Under My Wheels; 3) I'm Eighteen; 4) Desperado; 5) Lost In America; 6) Teenage Lament '74; 7) I Never Cry; 8) Poison; 9) No More Mr Nice Guy; 10) Welcome To My Nightmare; 11) Only Women Bleed; 12) Feed My Frankenstein; 13) Elected; 14) Is Anyone Home.

Twenty years after the universally panned Alice Cooper Show record (not by me, though! Bring it on!), Alice decided it was time to put out something that would totally destroy the memory of that - according to him - unfortunate attempt at reproducing the aural equivalent of a real A.C. performance on record and replaced it with a more decent offer. Indeed, a "replacement" this is: at least half of the tracks on Fistful duplicate the listing on Show, and both read very much like a 'Greatest Hits Live' package.

This is my main accusation towards the album, actually: that it doesn't come across like a real Alice Cooper show should. In fact, it wasn't recorded on the actual '97 tour: instead, Alice made special arrangements at a Mexican club called Cabo Wabo, owned by none other than Sammy Hagar (who actually makes a cameo for 'School's Out' - fortunately, merely as a guitar player), where, over two nights, he recorded all of those songs. I suppose it was just the music, too, without any of the usual 'show' elements. But it's not that I miss the show elements - after all, how would those be captured on record? By amplifying the sound of the guillotine as it cuts through "Alice"'s neck? or the snake hissing? - it's just that Alice's shows usually boasted a delicious conceptuality and, despite the diversity of material, were structured as a monolithic unity. Fistful Of Alice has none of that. Just a bunch of hits run through the live machine. As a result, the only comteporary song we get is 'Lost In America', and out of the entire post-76 period we only get 'Poison' and 'Feed My Frankenstein' (the lucky people who managed to grab the Japanese edition of the album, instead of the European one, like I have, will get a version of 'Clones', though! The Japanese really are the chosen people - even if their CDs are actually so expensive they're only bought by multi-millionnaire record collectors).

Anyway, this is rather unfortunate... had this album come out, say, in the late Eighties, no contemporary material would have been a blessing, but as it is, I'd sure like to hear more of the Last Temptation stuff live. Especially because this rendition of 'Lost In America' is really good. Not only does Slash guest on it, adding terrif classic rock solos throughout, but it's also moderately sped up, resulting in the album's most energetic outburst. On the other hand, 'Feed My Frankenstein' is a minor disappointment. Rumours have it that Vai and Satriani were supposed to guest on the album as well, but apparently they did not manage to make it, and although Alice's guitarists on here are pretty competent, they obviously can't do those great soloists justice. Worse, for some reason Alice thought it cool to invite Rob Zombie to duet with him on the song - but one thing 'Feed My Frankenstein' does not need, so as not to look as a dumb self-parody, are those half-assed Cookie Monster vocals (replete with the fact that Mr Cummings has obvious problems with staying in tune).

That said, it's still a pretty darn good live record. After all the "could have been that, could have done this" remarks have been voiced, it's still a gas to hear all the golden oldies played just the way they should be played - with a lot of crunch, oomph and pizzazz, and with a vocalist whose voice is apparently one of those types that never get worse with age. Well, of course, when it's necessary to raise it to a falsetto on some of the ballads ('only women ble-EEEEEED!'), it shakes and quivers, but hey, it did likewise in 1975; high notes were never Mr Furnier's forte. Low ones were, and still are. When we open with 'School's Out', the mighty multi-guitar roar sort of overshadows the singer, who looks like he's rushing through the lines too fast, but already by the time 'Under My Wheels' comes along, he's in total control, and 'I'm Eighteen' sounds as fresh and desperate as if he'd just written it, the fifty-year old noser.

Other highlights include: 'Teenage Lament '74', a song quite unexpectedly unearthed and presented as the glam-pop mini-masterpiece it is (I sort of miss Liza Minelli, but I can live with that); 'Welcome To My Nightmare' - preceded by a pompous introduction quoting 'Steven' and showing off all the spider-like qualities of the Coop, with the only drawback being that he didn't want to enlist a real brass section and had to resort to a keyboard imitation of the famous trumpet riff; and the closing sturm und drang of 'Elected'. No show is complete without a heartbreaker and a tearjerker, of course, and so lengthy, satisfactory renditions of 'I Never Cry' and 'Only Women Bleed' are here (not 'You And Me', though, thank God for that). They sort of muck up the classic "soaring" riff of 'No More Mr Nice Guy' (the second one, I mean, not the opening 'Substitute'-like one), but, alas, that's what extra studio polish is for - you can never vouch for a live show in these matters. On the positive side, I'd much rather take the live rendition of 'Poison' over the studio one: a few well-tuned crunchy guitars can work wonders with even the slickest production. Now be a good lad and sing that chorus without the backing vocals, Alice, and I might even think of that one as a good song.

There's even a hidden "bonus" at the end, a new studio song ('Is Anyone Home') - for some reason, announced in Spanish by a "Radio Cabo Guabo" announcer (I hope it wasn't Sammy Hagar practising his Spanish himself), but it's not very good. Well, it's kinda decent, but it's a strangely cheerful-sounding half-power pop, half-power metal anthem which is just not the kind of territory Alice explores all that well, with occasional exceptions like 'Wind-Up Toy'. It's very loud and ultimately overproduced. There's even a strings quartet intruding halfway through. It's almost as if they caught Phil Spector driving by that Mexican club (speaking of which, pretty much every mention of Mexican clubs for some reason associates the proceedings with From Dusk Till Dawn to me - and this one in particular, since it's Alice Bludsuckin' Cooper we're talking about) and forced him to produce a song in between the shows. Weird.

All in all, a solid live recording, but no more than that. In any case, looks like the best current bet for an Alice Cooper live album would be neither this one nor Show, but rather the bonus disc in the 2-CD edition of Billion Dollar Babies, which actually, guess what, has the original Alice Cooper band on it. Yep. Get that one.



Year Of Release: 1999

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Too many crimes for my taste. I'd have preferred a little more life.

Best song: on a boxset? Shoot me.

Track listing: DISC I: 1) Don't Blow Your Mind; 2) Hitch Hike; 3) Why Don't You Love Me; 4) Lay Down And Die, Goodbye; 5) Nobody Likes Me; 6) Levity Ball (studio version); 7) Reflected; 8) Mr And Misdemeanour; 9) Refrigerator Heaven; 10) Caught In A Dream (single version); 11) I'm Eighteen; 12) Is It My Body; 13) Ballad Of Dwight Fry; 14) Under My Wheels; 15) Be My Lover; 16) Desperado; 17) Dead Babies; 18) Killer; 19) Call It Evil; 20) Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets; 21) School's Out;

DISC II: 1) Hello Hooray; 2) Elected (single version); 3) Billion Dollar Babies; 4) No More Mr Nice Guy; 5) I Love The Dead; 6) Slick Black Limousine; 7) Respect For The Sleepers; 8) Muscle Of Love; 9) Teenage Lament '74; 10) Working Up A Sweat; 11) Man With The Golden Gun; 12) I'm Flash; 13) Space Pirates; 14) Welcome To My Nightmare (single version); 15) Only Women Bleed (single version); 16) Cold Ethyl; 17) Department Of Youth; 18) Escape; 19) I Never Cry; 20) Go To Hell;

DISC III: 1) It's Hot Tonight; 2) You And Me (single version); 3) I Miss You; 4) No More Time For Tears; 5) Because; 6) From The Inside (single version); 7) How You Gonna See Me Now; 8) Serious; 9) No Tricks; 10) Road Rats; 11) Clones (We're All); 12) Pain; 13) Who Do You Think We Are (single version); 14) Look At You Over There Ripping The Sawdust From My Teddy Bear; 15) For Britain Only; 16) I Am The Future (single version); 17) Tag You're It; 18) Former Lee Warmer; 19) I Love America; 20) Identity Crisises; 21) See Me In The Mirror; 22) Hard Rock Summer;

DISC IV: 1) He's Back (demo version); 2) He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask); 3) Teenage Frankenstein; 4) Freedom; 5) Prince Of Darkness; 6) Under My Wheels; 7) I Got A Line On You; 8) Poison; 9) Trash; 10) Only My Heart Talking; 11) Hey Stoopid (single version); 12) Feed My Frankenstein; 13) Fire; 14) Lost In America; 15) It's Me; 16) Hands Of Death; 17) Is Anyone Home; 18) Stolen Prayer.

As far as boxsets go, this one's pretty lousy, ladies and gentlemen, and it gets lousier and lousier the further down you are. Now, I won't even extend the usual grudge - that this is the classic "superfluous" boxset where there's three fourths material already well known by the fans and one fourth previously unreleased tracks, which makes it severely overpriced for just about anybody interested (and that, my friends, is the main purpose of these boxsets); after all, I didn't pay money for it. (In the process, I'm naturally missing the super-duper booklet that supposedly tells everything about Alice Cooper that you should know and a couple thousand things whose sole purpose is to squeeze out any trigonometry reminiscences you might still have left - well, after all, I'm reviewing the music, not textual information. In any case, no factual information in that booklet needs to be rated, and any non-factual information in that booklet will be hogwash).

However, even when you're looking at the boxset with a completely unbiased approach, it's still hardly satisfying. The stinkiest thing about it is that it pretty much confirms the classic status of The Alice Cooper Legend: Alice Cooper were great as a band, then Alice Cooper as a solo artist did one great album (Welcome To My Nightmare), then he totally fizzled out, and then he made a triumphant comeback in 1986 and an even more triumphant one in 1989. It is hardly surprising that the biggest number of previously unreleased/rare non-album tracks can be found on the third disc, the one that deals with the 1977-83 period; it's almost as if the compilers intentionally shunned the officially released songs from that particular age. Thus, Disc 3, while not bad per se, is severely "misrepresentative" for Alice - while Disc 4, concentrating on his late Eighties sellout, is bad per se. Were it in my power, I would have switched their functions - that is, tried to use as many 1977-83 album tracks as possible and as few 1986-91 tracks as possible, and then you could have eaten me alive if this didn't work out.

Well, at least the first two discs are moderately successful - although even here I've got a naggin' question: why the hell did they have to use so many single versions of classic tracks? To save space? To give a boost to collectors? Who the fuck cares if 'Welcome To My Nightmare' is totally ruined as a three-minute single - chucking all the careful tension buildup right out of the window? I cringe every time I hear these formerly awesome horns spliced together with the end of the chorus. What's the deal with this rush?

Anyway, here is a brief runthrough of points that might make this boxset attractive for fans (newbies shouldn't even begin to bother: get Greatest Hits or something like that instead, and as far as I know, there is no satisfactory collection of post-75 Cooper available anywhere in sight, so the albums are your only choice).

Disc I is the "Rise To Glory" years, from the band's humble mid-Sixties beginnings to their first major artistic triumphs of 1971-72. Furnier's first band, The Spiders, was just a typical, rather ordinary garage band, like millions of others, and their first singles like 'Don't Blow Your Mind' sound like they belong on Nuggets or something, although I sure wouldn't award any of them more than a B-. Of these, the rockabilly 'Why Don't You Love Me' is probably the most primally exciting, if not outstanding, and 'Hitch Hike' is probably the blandest - the Stones did a much greater job with the song. Seriously better is the early version of 'Lay Down And Die, Goodbye', made by the band when they called themselves the Nazz (not to be confused with Todd Rundgren's band): here it is a rough (and short - unlike the extended version on Easy Action) acid romp that - maybe even better than anything else on the band's first two albums - showcases their being seriously influenced by those same hippie bands like Jefferson Airplane whose impact on the public they would already be breaking in less than one year! There's also a curious, and early, piece of "vaudeville" called 'Nobody Likes Me' (with Alice and a group of backing vocalists doing the kind of classic call-and-answer vocals he'd be doing with himself later on his own solo albums); a cleaner studio version of 'Levity Ball'; and an unreleased muddy demo of a song called 'Call It Evil' (good screeching guitar, can't make much sense of anything else).

Disc II, apart from a few botched single versions, only has four tracks of particular interest: the UK-only single (A-side? B-side? C-side? Who cares?) 'Slick Black Limousine' is a curious "experimental" piece of rockabilly, and not just because of the 'astral' guitar solos, but also because midway through the song suddenly changes signature, time, and everything else, and becomes a Bo Diddley-tribal-beat led psychedelic freakout which, as we thought earlier, the band hadn't been doing since 'Killer', but hey, were we ever wrong. It's short, though. Then there's 'Respect For The Sleepers', a rawer early version of 'Muscle Of Love' (and if you doubted that, the final version is sitting right beside it), and two cheesy Seventies rockers Alice did for an equally cheesy Seventies movie about Flash. Not that 'I'm Flash' and 'Space Pirates' aren't catchy in their own perverted way - plus, they sound relatively raw and heavy, surprisingly considering that was Alice's first year of working without the band.

Now, with Disc III, problems start. Instead of at least trying to demonstrate the really strong sides of Alice during that period (where's 'Skeletons In The Closet?' where's 'Grim Facts'? where the heck is 'Pass The Gun Around'?), we get treated with really unbearable corn like, for instance, Alice's version of 'Because' from the infamous Sgt Pepper soundtrack - I'd sure as hell prefer the Muppets do that song, because its purpose would at least be understandable, or 'No Tricks' - the unmemorable, unconvincible "soul" workout in a duet with Betty Wright. Leave this crap to Elton John who would at least be able to do this professionally. There's a real funny sped-up version of 'Road Rats' from a movie soundtrack, and two entertaining outtakes from Zipper Catches Skin, one of which - 'Look At You Over There, Ripping The Sawdust From My Teddy Bear' - perfectly matches the demented atmosphere of the former both with its title and its melody, but could have been rejected for sounding a little bit mushy and hookless - and the other, 'For Britain Only', true to the title, actually was a UK single, but isn't really one of Alice's best rockers. The three songs at the end of the disc are also rather non-descript, not to mention very poorly produced... presaging the production disaster of Constrictor?

That one is seriously audible on Disc IV, the most expendable of all: Alice as The Godfather of Hair Metal. The only decent songs from that period that are included are 'Trash', 'Freedom', and 'Feed My Frankenstein' - and it's obvious that the rest were included mainly due to hit value or novelty value (why 'Only My Heart Talking?' Isn't that the worst song on Trash? Why, because that's the one that has Steve Tyler on it!). 'He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask)' is presented in no less than two versions, one regular and one 'demo' which relies less on keyboards and sounds... well, just like any other regular Kane Roberts-dominated track on Constrictor. Burp. So pretty much the only worthy "rare" stuff on there is the live version of 'Under My Wheels' with Axl Rose guesting, a faithful, but not too necessary cover of Jimi Hendrix' 'Fire' (the original was one of Jimi's most perfect rockers ever - who does Alice think he is?), and, for hardcore death metal fans, a spooky tune called 'Hands Of Death' recorded with Rob Zombie. Me, I'd rather listen to Ween's 'Can You Taste The Waste' instead. Oh, a particular boo for selling The Last Temptation short - what the heck is 'It's Me' doing on there when neither 'Nothing's Free' nor 'You're My Temptation' made the grade? Considering that 'Lost In America' (which did make it) is a good, but "lightweight" rocker, the boxset thus gives virtually no hints at all about Alice's true comeback. Now that's inexcusable.

All in all, pretty shoddy work, guys. Granted, the Coop is still going strong and chances are some day this boxset will get exterminated and something better will be offered, but currently that's just a fool's dream. I still give it a "good" rating because, well, the "unknown" stuff on here mostly deserves "good" status, and there's plenty of unforgettable hits and rare exciting album classics as well, but a "good" rating for a massive summarizing boxset is nothing short of "real shame". Don't buy it unless you just wanna read the booklet. Or unless you like the cover art.

PS. Almost forgot - the third disc also has one song by the former Alice Cooper band, after Furnier dumped them and they renamed themselves Billion Dollar Babies in a vain attempt to retain their arena following and get press. And it's a decent one! It's called 'I Miss You' and is a simple, but catchy, conservative garage rocker a la 1971, even if they recorded it in 1977, when it was hardly cool to do these things and early Seventies garage could already be considered "retro" in the light of the punk explosion. A pretty nice gesture from Mr Furnier, too, although still only a gesture, you know. They had an entire album called Battle Ax or something like that, but supposedly it's impossible to find and all, and even then, only recommended for fanatics, I guess.



Year Of Release: 2000

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Consistent, but way too brutal indeed. A little subtlety couldn't hurt - although it sure would detract the Coop from reestablishing his reputation.


Track listing: 1) Brutal Planet; 2) Wicked Young Man; 3) Sanctuary; 4) Blow Me A Kiss; 5) Eat Some More; 6) Pick Up The Bones; 7) Pessi-Mystic; 8) Gimme; 9) It's The Little Things; 10) Take It Like A Woman; 11) Cold Machines.

It is sort of funny, come to think of it, that Alice Cooper is always referred to as a "hard rock" artist, but that it actually took him more than thirty years into his recording career to release his heaviest album. However, a little bit of reasoning and the causes for this unexpected "anachronism" actually become obvious: in 2000, releasing a very very heavy album was cool - or at least, Alice thought it would be cool. With the commercial onslaught of "nu-metal" bands, on one hand, show-off-ey scarecrows like Marilyn Manson, on the other, and ironman German music of the Rammstein type, hard, heavy, and gritty obviously seemed like the new plate du jour. And one thing you can't say about Alice is that Alice doesn't pay attention to where the wind blows.

That said, one other thing you can't say about Alice, or, at least, can't regularly say about Alice, is that Alice likes to follow trends blindly, with no regards to good taste. Since at least Hey Stoopid, the man was careful enough to watch his melodies, lyrics, and atmospherics carefully, and he always made sure that the final product would look like the character of Alice Cooper soaked in outside influences, not like outside influences with a tiny whiff of the character of Alice Cooper. Brutal Planet follows the paradigm. You can complain about the Coop now taking lessons from Korn, Rammstein, and Marilyn Manson when he used to give lessons to similar acts, but you can't complain about the actual material. If anything, he's still the master - only a master intelligent enough to not let his pride refuse the best achievements of his disciples.

Besides, just as much as Brutal Planet heralds a progressively new era for the Coop, so is it at the same time a retrospective album. For the first time since Dada at least, we're treated to a real "Alice Cooper Show", and I don't mean just a concept album; Last Temptation was a concept album as well, but it was essentially a raw collection of well-recorded hard rock tunes. This one is spooky, with classic "mild-Goth" overtones that were once Alice's trademark, and - get this - with no one other than Bob Ezrin back at the producing wheel. In short, this is Alice Cooper, Prince Of Darkness, who's really and truly back, and this time, not in a self-parodic, overtly cartoonish way, but with a real scary outlook and a serious message to boot. And occasionally, a bit of clear-cut nostalgia - check out the lyrics, some of which make direct references to past songs (like the 'welcome to my nightmare, no more Mr Nice Guy' line in 'It's The Little Things' or, a little less obviously - 'I really hate to repeat myself, but nothing is free' in 'Gimme').

Brutal Planet is said to be either the first or the second album in Alice's "sci-fi trilogy" dedicated to the evils of life, but, frankly speaking, there's not any more particular continuity between it and either the following Dragontown or the preceding The Last Temptation than between it and any other of his "social-critique-oriented" records. It's not like Alice never sang about the viciousness and hypocrisy of modern society before, you understand. The only difference is that all of the songs on here, with the sole exception of the sole ballad, are hitting at that one spot, and while some hit harder and some hit softer than the others, this does give the impression of Alice being way, way pissed off, the way he never really was before.

I wouldn't say the lyrics are very good, though. Many of them are way too straightforward and cliche-ridden even for the never-too-shy Alice, although, to be fair, for some reason I very rarely get offended by this straightforwardness - maybe because Alice always says exactly what he wants to say and his lyrics aren't supposed to mean anything they don't mean in a direct way. And what does he say? Well, three guesses? The world is a sinful shithouse (title track), where all the people are either hateful sick-minded skinheads ('Wicked Young Man') or faceless automatons, deprived of personality and private thoughts ('Sanctuary'); everywhere there are traces of mindless unwarranted violence ('Blow Me A Kiss'), ridiculously overblown gluttony and egoism ('Eat Some More'), and atrocious genocide ('Pick Up The Bones'). As a result, the natural reaction to this chaos is either hopeless paranoia ('Pessi-Mystic') or brainless reveling in all its excesses ('Gimme'). People get pushed over the edge over mere trifles ('It's The Little Things'), abuse their partners ('Take It Like A Woman'), and basically behave like soulless robots ('Cold Machines'). That's the paradise of Alice Cooper.

But, of course, this would be nothing but a bunch of generic complaints heard the six billionth time by anybody whose listening experiences extend just a wee bit above Christina Aguilera - if not for the awesome music that reinforces the lyrical message. And here, as usual, good ol' Alice doesn't fail us. Not only are the guitar riffs heavy and truly brutal in the classic Master Of Reality Sabbath vein (at one point, I seriously suspected Alice might have secretly teamed up with Tony Iommi for this record), they're also memorable, and the same can be said about the vocal melodies. The title track sets the tone practically at once: without much delay, with no attempts to make a lengthy 'build-up', the backing band kicks straight into the song. However, Ezrin's production is made visible from the very beginning as well: the guitars are gloomy and echoey, there's something really nasty and ugly wailing in the background (can't make out what this is, but Ezrin likes to pull these little tricks), and then there's this haunting female backup vocal, singing in dire contrast with the Coop about how 'this world is such perfection, it's just like paradise'...

We all know that when it comes to creating a basic hard rock album, Alice doesn't worry much about diversifying the formula - all of these songs follow the intro/verse/bridge/chorus/solo/coda structure pretty closely, and I have absolutely no problem with it whatsoever provided all these elements work. And they do. If I were to complain about anything, I'd complain about the flow. After luring us into the depths of his sick conscience with rip-roaring numbers such as the title track, 'Wicked Young Man' (scary! too bad it came out too late to be used in the American History X soundtrack), the thrashy 'Sanctuary' and the "funky" 'Blow Me A Kiss', Cooper then leaves us stranded in a sea of really slow, draggy numbers, all of which are well written - no complaints here - but which eventually drag my attention span down. Which is too bad, because it's been a long, long time since Alice wrote a song as genuinely upsetting as 'Pick Up The Bones', said to be inspired directly by the slaughter in Kosovo. Later on, the pace gets picked up again with 'Gimme' and the one somewhat hilarious song on the album - the pseudo-autobiographical 'It's The Little Things' - but the perfect flow is already broken down. If I were in Alice's place, I would interpolate the faster numbers with the slower ones rather than "subgrouping" them in such an uncomfortable way.

Still, that's nitpicking. A slightly more serious misfire is 'Take It Like A Woman' - for some reason, Alice must have thought that if he was really making a 'comeback', he might as well include a sequel to the 'Only Women Bleed/I Never Cry/You And Me' trilogy, and while this particular song is nowhere near as generically sappy as 'You And Me', I'd still place it seriously below the other two. The good news is that it doesn't feature Steve Tyler on backing vocals, offers a brief 'breather' in between the copper-and-iron stuff, yet does not conclude the album.

Other than that, well... let me just point out that, while Brutal Planet is more consistent than The Last Temptation, its highest points never scale the heights of songs like 'You're My Temptation' and 'Nothing's Free', and here's why: with the high points of the 1994 album, Alice proved that he could still create effective, hard-hitting, and atmospheric compositions without resorting to extra heaviness and theatricality. 'Nothing's Free' does not need overamplification or Bob Ezrin to conquer my soul; all these songs on Brutal Planet do need both. In other words, if there's anything this here record lacks, it's subtlety. It never really grew on me - just hit me like a ton of bricks upon first listen (and I challenge you not to be hit by it like a ton of bricks - just be sure to have your volume knob turned real high before pushing play). It never grew off me, either, though, which is good. Like I said, I rate it higher because it is more consistent, but if I were to rate just the three or four best songs, I'd swap these ratings around without giving it a second thought. But buy the hell out of both of 'em!



Year Of Release: 2001

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Isn't it an honourable profession to put the humour back in the darkness? Suck on this, Robert Smith!


Track listing: 1) Triggerman; 2) Deeper; 3) Dragontown; 4) Sex Death And Money; 5) Fantasy Man; 6) Somewhere In The Jungle; 7) Disgraceland; 8) Sister Sarah; 9) Every Woman Has A Name; 10) Just Wanna Be God; 11) It's Much Too Late; 12) I Am The Sentinel.

When we roll, we roll. Granted, Dragontown was recorded and released so dang quickly after Brutal Planet I have a hard time imagining Alice had not written most of these songs by the year 2000 already - as such, Dragontown is just the inescapable second half of its predecessor, linking to it both musically and conceptually (in terms of concept, 'Dragontown' is sort of like the capital city of 'Brutal Planet', although where 'Brutal Planet' was a pretty realistic place, 'Dragontown' is more like Alice's distorted perception of Hell); thus it isn't hard to presuppose that Dragontown would be more or less in the same vein and more or less of the same quality as Brutal Planet.

However, the astonishing thing about it is that it ain't one ounce worse than Brutal Planet. In cases like these, my only counterargument usually sounds like 'do we really need a carbon copy of the preceding album?' and occasionally it pops the album's rating down a bit. Here, though, Alice the Fox took good care to make Dragontown... well, not too different, but different enough so that smart people would be able to notice. Where Brutal Planet, with the exception of the lonely (and not very good) ballad, was just one big sadistic blow on the head, Dragontown is more diverse as far as sonic texture and genres are concerned. Not only are there three or four different guitar tones involved on here (as opposed to The All-Encompassing Iommirumble), there's also a clear-cut piece of power-pop, a clear-cut piece of rockabilly, and a few dabblings with industrial - not counting the obligatory lonely (and not very good) ballad, of course.

And once again, I wouldn't want to give this such a high rating, but it's beyond me when the songs are all good. And not just good - really dang good. It's not just a guy who writes a metal riff and a catchy vocal melody. They all have pizzazz to them. A nifty guitar tone here, a curious vocal encoding technique there, some real funny lyrics at the top, a mind-boggling coda at the bottom, an ingenious transition from main verse melody to middle eight on the left, a breathtaking chorus resolution to the right... nothing epochal, you understand, but solid, solid, solid. And, above all, very much alive. Among the mixed reviews wondering what to make of this I've spotted quite a few that called this record "uninspired". Well, believe you me, it may be cheesy, boring, annoying, dumb, derivative, whatever, but one thing that it definitely isn't is "uninspired". Just listen to it closely and tell me Alice isn't having fun. Fuck it, he's like a little naughty child reveling in his naughtiness - throughout! Playing with special effects, gleefully impersonating his obligatory row of characters... the show is still going on, very much so, baby.

Which shouldn't, of course, suggest that it's simply glitz and glam all over again and there's no substance to it. What can be more substantial than a song dedicated to the Rwandan genocide? Alice reprises his "prophet of doom" role from Brutal Planet's 'Pick Up The Bones' and once again goes to show us how thin is this little line that separates the theatrical "playing the Devil" image from The Real Thing. I mean, had the song been a bit less explicit and more abstract, it wouldn't have nearly the same impact. In fact, hey, the lyrics to 'Somewhere In The Jungle' pretty much suck from an unbiased point of view - these simple, straightforward lines could have been thrown together in two minutes (probably were), but in this particular case, I wouldn't really trade them in for high-quality poetry because they have a concrete point to make and, coupled with the gritty music, they totally drive it home.

Apart from that one, the scariest moments on the album are 'Deeper' and 'Dragontown' - the first one of these invites you to make the actual journey, the second one simply welcomes you to your final destination. Slow and brooding, they are overall more theatrical than their colleagues on Brutal Planet and thus more effective - this is Alice Cooper, after all, so the somber Goth chanting on 'Deeper' is performed with enough conviction and the Eastern overtones in the chorus are perfectly in place. And the title track? Well, if this ain't the real musical incarnation of Hell, then, ladies and gentlemen, we know pretty little of that place. Mind you, it's not some ultra-complicated post-modernist vision we're talking here. We're talking really, really simple things; simplistic, if you want, but then again, isn't the usual conception of Hell - the average Joe's conception - simplistic? Alice Cooper isn't writing material for modern day Spinosas; he's writing material for simple God-lovin' people, and if simple God-lovin' people aren't gonna be scared out of their crosses by songs like 'Dragontown', heh, that sure is a cynical world we're living in.

These are the album's most gruff Scarecrows, but pretty much every single track deserves mention. It took me a long time to get used to 'Triggerman', mainly because - and I still insist on it - Alice made the mistake of burying his voice way too low in the chorus in the final mix, but it's still a first-class rocker, with all the elements of a first-class rocker in place - not one, but two good riffs; crescendos from verse to middle-eight to chorus; weird voice encoding on the verses; good rock'n'roll solo; and even a funny speeding up of the tempo at the end. On 'Sex Death And Mercy' the man experiments with the "freezin'" death metal guitar tone (see 'Hands Of Death' on the boxset), which helps "obscure" the oh so poppy and memorable vocal melody and, of course, the hilarious lyrical message of the song - narrated from the point of view of a holier-than-thou shocked at onscreen pornography.

Then there's what? 'Fantasy Man', more great mid-tempo "autobiographic" rock'n'roll ('I hate opera, I hate Oprah' is classic and should be taught in colleges to let people understand the phonetic differences between the two); the fact that the song owes a few things to generic hair metal doesn't bother me as long as I get to hear that fantastic 'you just want to squeeze MY MASCULINITEEEEEE!' climax again. Everybody and his greatgrandmother have probably heard a thing or two about 'Disgraceland' and Alice's impersonation of The King, which is pretty neat as long as he doesn't try to actually raise that voice; and the quasi-anthemic 'It's Much Too Late' is supposedly dedicated to John Lennon (also a resident of Dragontown, although still wondering how the hell he managed to get there), although I didn't realise that until I actually read it - it was only then that I started to recognize a bit of "Lennon-imitating" in that song.

My absolute favourite on here is probably one of the more derivative numbers - after all, "rap metal" never was Alice's invention - but apart from the basic musical structure, it's classic Alice by numbers: a cocky, gortesquely overexaggerated show-off where Alice impersonates none other than you-know-who, of course, and clearly intones that 'I Just Wanna Be God'. Wait, actually, it's more than this. It's just so funny to hear him give these typically teen-angst-ey notes you'd expect from your average glue-sniffin' motherfucker to the horned one himself: 'I'm just tryin' to be God! I only wanna be God! I just wanna be God! Why can't I be God?'

In short, it's just one more fun ride through everybody's favourite twisted mind. The ballad predictably sucks ('Every Woman Has A Name' - yeah, Alice, I AM glad you're not indulging in cheap sexism like so many of your brethren but enough with the overcompensation already), and as powerful as 'I Am The Sentinel' is, I think the album could have boasted a stronger coda, but apart from these minor quibbles, Dragontown stands mostly unbreachable - a perfect mix of genuine creepiness, tongue-in-cheek creepiness, and campy creepiness.



Year Of Release: 2003

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Alice Cooper revisiting the days of his youth? Say, when did he get old in the first place?

Best song: impossible to say. A very even album.

Track listing: 1) What Do You Want From Me?; 2) Between High School & Old School; 3) Man Of The Year; 4) Novocaine; 5) Bye Bye Baby; 6) Be With You Awhile; 7) Detroit City; 8) Spirits Rebellious; 9) This House Is Haunted; 10) Love Should Never Feel Like This; 11) The Song That Didn't Rhyme; 12) I'm So Angry; 13) Backyard Brawl.

What a nice little record! Er, well, I mean you're actually supposed to love it or to sneer at it, not call it 'nice', but it's one of those cases where I prefer to hop on my local fence. Once again, Alice Cooper demonstrates that he sure don't need no weatherman to know which way the wind blows; and currently, the wind is blowing towards those smelly old garages where optimistic young kids once tried to mutate into the next Beatles or Rolling Stones - with all these "Nu-Garage" strokes of white-striped hives of vines. Now lemmesee, who was the original Garage Band Par Excellence? Why, Alice Cooper, of course! 'I'm Eighteen' and all the stuff! Oh, okay, they weren't all that original, but they sure used to have a good time reveling in their unpolished detroitness.

So why not bring back the old days for a change, considering they're going back into fashion and all? And thus the ever-adaptable Sir Furnier assembles a new band, consisting of people I ain't never heard about, mainly because I guess they're all just hanging around Alice's backyard, hastily writes a handful of sloppy, simplistic rockers, and records the results in something like a couple of weeks, doing all the material live in the studio with next to no overdubs. Like the good old days, ja? The only problem I see is that he definitely should have reconvened with at least some of the old members of Alice Cooper, provided any of them are still alive, of course. Instead, the only true veteran here is former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, dropping in on the appropriately titled 'Detroit City' to jam with his old pal. Well, then again, maybe there are limits to nostalgia, I dunno.

Even in the very "eyes of Alice Cooper", this record is no big artistic statement - in some of the recent interviews, he clearly admitted that it was little more than a pleasant break from the sci-fi trilogy (as you remember, the third part of Brutal Planet/Dragontown has not yet been created), fuelled by today's garage-rock revival. That's easily understood. These songs really give the impression of being written in about thirty seconds each - the riffs are simpler than a rotten carrot, the lyrics, for the most part, explore the well-worn teen angst cliches, and the arrangements... wait, what arrangements? - this is all live stuff played by a four-piece band, what am I talking about here? There's no basic concept (unless you mean the overall style), no big social message, and none of the trademark Alice Cooper Atmospheric Punch. In short, this is a playful diversion.

But if so, it's one of the best playful diversions made by Important Old Geezers that I've ever heard, maybe only a notch below Dylan's masterful Love And Theft and definitely way, way more successful than something like Paul McCartney's Flaming Pie. As is the usual way with Alice Cooper, these songs are underwhelming upon first listen ("what the heck is this dumb simplistic crap?"), tolerable upon second listen, and, well, then you just go ahead and realize that you can't live without having at least two of them playing in your head at once all the time. Because, as usual, Alice proves himself master of the Simple Hook, and without being too gross and too offensive offers us thirteen slabs of enjoyable, hummable, and energetic rock'n'roll that is at least not any worse than any concurrent Strokes or Hives records, and if you ask me, is actually better. Well I'm a friggin' rock conservative anyway.

Discussing the actual songs is rather useless, because all of them are based on formula and most of them sound the same. Nowhere near as brutally heavy as on the preceding two records, of course, but still heavy enough, with jarring riffs and two guitars duelling with each other and the Coop singing in just the same energizing way as he did thirty years ago (now here's one old rocker who really doesn't seem to be in any trouble about losing his voice). Recording technology and unabashed, all-out rockin' playing in the studio actually show that we're in 2003, not 1971, and so do the lyrics (like in 'What Do You Want From Me?', where Alice complements the usual list of babe gifts with 'zirconium diamond rings' and 'DVDs from QVC'), but that's actually a good thing; once again - a little too much nostalgia and this might turn some people off. Even those who like nostalgia.

As usual, some of the songs are more power-pop than rock - 'Man Of The Year' particularly comes to mind - and oh was I so dreadfully afraid to see a song title like 'Love Should Never Feel Like This', because everybody will agree with me it sounds very much like a suitable monicker for a particularly nauseating Eighties power ballad, but no, it's a perfectly adorable power-pop number that would do honour to a late Seventies Cheap Trick record. But the real meat of the album, of course, are the jarring rock numbers like the already mentioned 'What Do You Want From Me?'; 'Detroit City', with Wayne Kramer guesting on lead guitar and Scott Gilman adding extra pizzazz with his saxophone part; and particularly the monster explosion of 'Backyard Brawl' that closes the album - say what you will, but the original Alice Cooper band was never capable of this kind of sound. For some reason, it reminds me of the Del-Vetts and their phenomenal 'Last Time Around' nugget - I'm a-guessin' it must be because of that descending guitar riff that appears during the climaxes of the tune.

Out of the thirteen numbers on here, only three are "surprises" - and all three are good ones. First, this is the obligatory sentimental ballad ('Be With You Awhile'), which is - get this - easily the best Alice Cooper ballad since at least 'I Never Cry', meaning... lessee... yup, his best ballad in twenty-seven years. Wow, how quickly the time flies. It's not that its melody is significantly better than whatever he's done in the sentimental genres over these 27 years, it's just that the arrangement is so fresh and tasty and tasteful, with that terrific tremolo-enhanced guitar carrying the melody, and the overall delivery is so honestly naive and simple, without the puffed up feminist ideals of 'Only Women Bleed'-like material, that you really can't help but like it. Then there's one - count this - exactly one "horror song", the quiet, half-Goth, half-nursery rhyme, acoustic number 'This House Is Haunted', which hearkens back to things like the 'Steven' suite off Nightmare, and succeeds because of the usual Cooper mix of the sad, the scary, and the humorous. There's a surprise midway through, too, but I'm not gonna let you in on this.

Finally, there's 'The Song That Didn't Rhyme', which is just good for a hearty laugh - an acoustic ballad about how Alice 'wrote a song, it was wrong from its very first conception' and whatever came out of it. Some have read it as a sly condemnation of modern subpar MTV-ready musical material, but there's really nothing in the lyrics to support that reading except for maybe the one single line about how 'the first time we played it live, all the record guys got fired, the president retired, but somehow the song survived'. Perhaps the greatest moment is when Alice is singing this tender chorus to these gentle guitar lines and that moody accordeon backing and the chorus actually goes 'oh the meeeeeeeelody blows...'. Tee hee.

Anyway, the only reason this doesn't get a 12 is that it is, formally, a throwaway, and while it is very consistent (not a single true duffer in sight!), not many of the songs have a particularly memorable personality / individuality of their own. Plus, it does feel a bit strange to rank The Eyes on the same level with stuff like Love It To Death, which it openly apes, be it only a nasty prejudice or not. But if only every throwaway sounded like this, then I guess we'd be doing nothing but listening to music all day and all of the night, and the world would have presently gone totally off its rocker. So take this eleven as a punishment, Alice Cooper! How dare you derail our little globe like that? Now get back to serious business!


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