REVIEW: Alice Cooper – From the Inside (1978)

ALICE COOPER – From the Inside (1978 Warner)

In 1978, Alice Cooper’s health had hit a low point.  His excessive drinking was causing bleeding ulcers.  Alcohol always seemed to help before, but now it was time for Alice himself to get help.  He found himself in one of the strangest places he’d ever been in his life:  a sanitarium.

Alice got sober, for a short while anyway, and hooked up with some new players.  He wrote the lyrics for his next album with Bernie Taupin (Elton John) and got David Foster to produce him for the first and only time.  The inspiration for his next concept album was the sanitarium.  The people he encountered there inspired the characters on his album:  Millie, Billie, Nurse Rozetta, Jackknife Johnny, and more.  He amalgamated their stories and and personalities into the characters on the record, and with Bernie Taupin wrote some of his most interesting lyrics.  The horror themes of the past have been replaced by the real life madness of being locked in that place.

Musically, From the Inside is a hard pill to swallow.  Like a dose of Thorazine, it’s a sedated and subdued form of rock and roll, mixing Disco production and David Foster’s soft rock tendencies.  The sound of the album is clean and clear, but it is a dated a product of its time, the compression being the dead giveaway.  From the Inside is far more interesting lyrically than it is musically.  Bob Ezrin used to add strings, orchestras and choirs to the Alice Cooper mix, but David Foster’s version of the same is much more saccharine; much more easy listening without the weirdness.  Few of these songs are still in the live set.  Last time I saw Alice in 2006, he played “Wish I Were Born in Beverly Hills” with his daughter Calico playing a Paris Hilton type character on stage.  The Disco-stompin’ title track, and one of the only hard rockers (“Serious”) have also been performed in recent years.  For the most part, From the Inside is too much of a departure for these songs to having any staying power in Alice’s incendiary live show.

The title track is Alice’s story, and there are subtle references to Alice’s drinking club the Hollywood Vampires.  “Proposed a toast, to Jimi’s ghost.”  There also seems to be just a touch of bitterness about his situation:

Y’all got your kicks from what you saw up there,
Eight bucks even buys a folding chair,
I was downing Seagram’s on another flight,
And I worked that stage all night long.
You were screaming for the villain up there,
And I was much obliged,
The old road sure screwed me good this time,
It’s hard to see where the vicious circle ends.

It’s actually a fun Disco-rock tune, but now it’s time to meet Alice’s friends from the sanitarium.   The aforementioned “Wish I Were Born in Beverly Hills” boasts a catchy chorus (“I wish I could drink as much as she spills!”) and some nice Dick Wagner guitar harmonies.  For haunting music, “The Quiet Room” fits the bill.  It’s clear that the sanitarium was a serious place, and Alice and Bernie paint it clearly.  “They’ve got this place, where they been keepin’ me, where I can’t hurt myself, I can’t get my wrists to bleed.”  The character in this song questions why he wants to kill himself, but laments that he can’t even try in this place, “my Twilight Zone”.  He has spent so long there, alone with his thoughts and memories that “the quiet room knows more about me than my wife.”  It’s a strangely affecting tune.  Alice’s character driven lead vocal is the highlight; musically it’s pretty safe stuff.

The funniest track has to be “Nurse Rozetta”.  The lead character, clearly a priest, seems to really have a thing for Nurse Rozetta.  “I’m suddenly twice my size, my pants are all wet inside.”  Or my favourite line, “She popped the buckle off my Bible belt.”  The perverted priest fantasizes about the nurse on a string-laden but unremarkable tune, once again overshadowed by the words.  Alice and Marcella Detroit duet on “Millie and Billie”, a standard ballad, about a killer “criminally insane” couple to close Side One.

The only really killer hard rock track on the album is “Serious”, commencing the second side.  Foster’s production adds carefully arranged backing vocals, which matches the sound of the album, but dates the music to the time it was recorded.  Ezrin had a way of pulling off similar tricks and making them sound weighty.  Foster turns it around and produces a celebratory, gleeful sound.  I prefer the Ezrin approach, but one time the David Foster style works was the single “How You Gonna See Me Now”.  Something about this schlocky ballad works. The character in the song is writing a letter home to his wife, accompanied by this cheesey 70’s AM radio ballad. That’s the perfect way to do it.

“For Veronica’s Sake” and “Jackknife Johnny” are both good but unremarkable, although it seems Alice and crew really tried! They get an “A” for effort, but this brand of late 70’s adult contemporary rock has not aged well. The playing is the highlight, organ and guitar both. What the album was really missing up to this point is a suitably psychotic Alice Cooper song, but the final track “Inmates (We’re All Crazy)” scratches that itch. With all the pomp and circumstance necessary, this song delivers the dose of drama and strangeness that you need on an Alice Cooper album. It’s a disturbing lyric, too. “It’s not like we did something wrong. We just burned down the church, while the choir within sang religious songs.” Another inmate derailed a train. Then, the child-like sing-song chorus of “We’re all crazy, we’re all crazy, we’re all crazy…(Lizzy Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks)…” Such a contrast, the child-like innocence and the horrendous deeds, but this is nothing new for Alice. The picture is now complete, and the album is over.

The cover art really pops on LP. Alice’s face is painted on hospital doors, which fold out to reveal the characters inside. Too bad all I have here at LeBrain HQ is a little CD booklet.

Alice, Bernie Tauper, David Foster, Dick Wagner, and the rest of them made an accomplished album with From the Inside. It’s a left-of-center artwork that isn’t immediately appealing, but does have the knack of drawing you back for another listen. I recommend doing just that.

3/5 stars

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27 comments

  1. I had the LP sleeve when I was in high school, but not the album. I was seriously disappointed in the music, but I have to agree that everyone gets an A for effort. Awesome idea, but poor execution.

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  2. Excellent review, Mike. I think we have similar feelings about From The Inside although I might like it a little more than you do (if I gave numerical ratings it would be a 3.5/5). Glad you highlighted two of my favorite songs, “Serious” and “How You Gonna See Me Now?” I described the former as “a driving, dramatic rocker that sounds like a cross between Sammy Hagar, The Tubes, Rick Springfield & Foreigner” in my post about this album. Wonder if you agree with that assessment.

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  3. I’ve always loved “From the Inside.” I know it’s not one of his hardest rocking albums but the lyrics in the songs are very catchy and amusing. However, you got the music down pat. Saying that, maybe, I’m showing my age here but even though the music clearly screams, ‘late 70s,’ I still like it. On another note, when I left the service, I somewhat identified myself with Jackknife Johnny.

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    1. The thing about the Alice stories is, the truth is weirder than most of the stories about him.

      This album leads into a long “blackout” period of albums he does not remember making. Flush the Fashion, Special Forces, Zipper Catches Skin, DaDa…he has no memories of them. They are interesting albums though. He barely toured during that period.

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        1. Well you’re in luck Jon. Just so happens that’s on deck for review. Funny thing…I reviewed it about 10 years ago and gave it 0/5 stars. HOWEVER I have really changed my mind since then. Not sure how I would rate it but it’s coming for sure.

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  4. Ok, I’ll stick my chin out here for a bit. I rate this album as Alice’s best ever. I have loved this album whole heartedly since the first time I heard it. Sure, the music might not be what people might expect from him, but then again, when did Alice actually record anything predictable back then?
    To me, many of his older classic albums had the tendency to be somewhat uneven, with at least a couple of fillers on each one, but on this album, every damn song is brilliant. And most of them are very different to each other.
    That said, The Quiet Room, Millie And Billie and Inmates are all classic Coop, i think and the same with Serious, a classic Alice rocker.
    Great review, anyway, Mike. I always wonder why on Earth you’re not a professional writer. You could – and should – be.
    To wrap this up, I’d give From The Inside 10/10 without any hesitation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jon, I love this comment. I love when somebody is so passionate about a favourite album. I love when a favourite album is generally an “underdog” record.

      Alice has never really been predictable — except perhaps the Trash/Hey Stoopid period.

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        1. Really? I think Trash is awesome. It might not sound like classic Coop, but there are lots of brilliant tunes on that album. Hey Stoopid is uneven, but that one have great songs like Wind-Up Toy, Might As Well Be On Mars and Burning Our Bed. And Feed My Frankenstein.
          Raise Your Fist And Yell? That’s crap in my book.

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