REVIEW: Alice Cooper – DaDa (1983)

ALICE COOPER – DaDa (1983 Warner)

DaDa is one of the most fascinating albums in the Alice Cooper catalogue.  So interesting in fact that this is the second time I’ve tackled a review of it.  The first, posted on Amazon years ago shortly after buying the album, was not flattering.  The entire thing is below:

 

This is what happens when you drink too much and can’t remember years of your life anymore.

This is what happens when your producer is nursing his own drug problems.

This is what happened to Alice Cooper in the early 80’s. Guitars, drums and bass have been jettisoned in favour of samples, keyboards, and programs. Songs? Non-existant. This album is worthless, filled with dreck that Cooper wouldn’t have even considered a decade earlier, or later. I defy anyone to explain the concept of the story to me. No songs ever played live, no tour.

One novelty track: “I Love America”, which is actually hilarious. It is also available on the Cooper boxed set. Pick that up, not this.

0/5 stars. The absolute nadir of the man’s storied career.

 

That’s what I said then, and I have to own it now.  I could delete it and pretend I never said it, but that would be dishonest.

Rich at Kamertunesblog did a fantastic Alice Cooper series a few years back.  When he got to DaDa, I said that “I still have not really penetrated [it]. I don’t know if I so much as appreciate it, rather than like it.”  When Rich said he found that surprising, I realized I must be missing something with DaDa.  So how does DaDa sit now, after a few years to let it absorb?

It’s different.  It’s creepy.  It’s funny.  It’s worth the time spent with it.

The story of DaDa itself is almost as interesting as the story of how one man can go from hating it to loving it.

Alice re-teamed with Bob Ezrin on this album, for the first time in years.  Dick Wagner came back for guitar, bass and songwriting duties.  Wagner claimed in his autobiography that Alice wasn’t that enthused about making this album, and confessed that contracts stipulated he had to.  Backing up Wagner’s claim is the fact that this was Alice’s last album for Warner, followed by a three year hiatus to finally get clean and sober for good.  There was no tour, in fact no band.

In lieu of a drummer, all beats are programmed.  This lends a stark early 80’s synthpop sound to DaDa.  It works exceptionally well on the title track, an Ezrin instrumental creation.  The echoey electronics sound as if from a frightening science fiction horror movie from the period.  Punctuating this is the mechanical repeating sample of a child saying “da da”…and heavenly new age keyboard melodies.  Talk about chills!  If that doesn’t get you, perhaps the spoken word conversation between a therapist and a patient will give you the shivers.  “I have a daughter too,” says the elderly patient.  “You don’t have a daughter,” responds the doctor.  “Yeah, I have a daughter,” insists the sick man.  “Sir, you have a son,” insists the doctor as the conversation gets creepier.  Alice Cooper is not even on this piece.  Perhaps that is one reason it failed to make an impression on me all those years ago.

Alice emerges on “Enough’s Enough”, changing to the perspective of the son.  “I just want to tell you, you’re a lousy dad, to hell with you!”  Dark but strangely upbeat, “Enough’s Enough” has some of those Bob Ezrin touches that you love, such as the perfectly arranged backing vocals.  The Dick Wagner guitars are the only real touch of rock and roll; the song otherwise lives in a punky new wave land.  The best song is much creepier:  “Former Lee Warmer”.  Alice alludes to the character of “Former Lee” on the previous song: “Why’d you hide your brother?”  “Former Lee Warmer” reveals that the body of the brother was locked in a chest in the attic.  “All the mops and brooms keep him company, misconceived of the family.”  Musically and thematically, this is just as good as Welcome to My Nightmare!  This is all done in Alice’s brilliant speak-sing style.

The concept becomes harder to follow on “No Man’s Land”, a good rock and roll song only weakened by the clanky electronic percussion.  Wagner is outstanding.  Similarly disconnected is “Dyslexia”, which sounds like Devo snuck into the studio.  Harmless fun; I wonder how many songs have been written about dyslexia in popular music?  It’s not clear who is on bass (probably Prakash John rather than Wagner), but the bass pulse is brilliantly subtle and perfect.  “Scarlet and Sheba” is an album highlight, electronically exotic and heavy too.  It’s perfectly dressed a with killer chorus and kinky lyrics, topped with a brilliant Ezrin arrangement.

“I Love America” is admittedly a novelty track, but I still like it today.  Taking on the persona of a redneck, Alice lampoons every cliche about his homeland.  “I love Velveeta slapped on Wonder Bread!  I love a Commie…if’un he’s good ‘n dead!”  The reason it works is because it’s Alice Cooper.  I don’t think anyone else could have pulled it off.  Ezrin provides suitably pompous backing music, turning it into a rock national anthem.  (My favourite lyric is the last one:  “I love my bar, and I love my truck.  I’d do most anything to make a buck!  I love a waitress who loves to ffff…flirt.  They’re the best kind!”)

Going into “Fresh Blood” you’ll notice the synth horns, not really a substitute for the real thing.  It’s actually a pretty good funky rock tune.  Alice sings melodically with layered vocals, and once again the bass sounds awesome if you pay attention to it.  The final track is another drama-laden burner called “Pass the Gun Around”.  The character (referred to as “Sonny”; perhaps the son from earlier in the album) wakes up in a hotel room after another blackout night.  It’s not a pretty scene but it ends the album on a suitably serious and musically complex note.  It’s actually one of the better Cooper tracks from any era, thanks in no small part to Bob Ezrin and Dick Wagner.

Interesting trivia:  Probably because Ezrin recorded the album in his native land (Canada), Lisa DalBello is credited on backing vocals.  Queensryche would later cover one of her singles, “Gonna Get Close to You”.  She was also a part of Alex Lifeson’s Victor project.

Today’s rating:  4/5 stars, but only after a long journey.  And the concept still seems to derail halfway through the album.

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21 comments

  1. I remember you commenting on Rich’s post about this… I was pretty surprised you didn’t like it too. I wouldn’t say it was top-tier Coop but it’s a good, overlooked album of his. Weird you were so wrong about it. It’s almost like you might be… deaf or something? Hehe

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow, what a story. This is one of my favourite reviews on here. Not only do you get Alice’s story and the oddity that is this record, and a heap of trivia, but you also get the transformation of Mike’s thinking on it and its place in the Cooper catalogue. This is storytelling right here, folks, multiple elements coming together to make a new and interesting whole. Hot damn. 5 Stars!

    Man, after that other recent one where he spent time in an asylum (and a zillion other things besides, surely) Alice sure has had an interesting life. Imagine making a whole record and not remembering it at all? He must’ve been GONE! Haha whoa. And from the sounds of it, it’s equally weird and creepy. What a thing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww, look at this guy! Come here you big lug, give us a hug. Man, that was so kind. I really appreciate it.

      Since you guys like the then/now review style, you’ve given me the courage to post my original review of the Transformers movie from 2009. I’ll do it then/now style too, and you guys will probably find it a hoot :)

      Really interesting life. Here is a guy who counted Grouchy Marx and Jimi Hendrix among his friends. Look at everything he’s seen and done…and survived intact! Going strong today! All the while remaining an artist.

      Like

  3. Also, do with this as you see fit (just for info’s sake). From Wiki:

    Dada was an informal international movement, with participants in Europe and North America. The beginnings of Dada correspond to the outbreak of World War I. For many participants, the movement was a protest against the bourgeois nationalist and colonialist interests, which many Dadaists believed were the root cause of the war, and against the cultural and intellectual conformity—in art and more broadly in society—that corresponded to the war.

    Many Dadaists believed that the ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ of bourgeois capitalist society had led people into war. They expressed their rejection of that ideology in artistic expression that appeared to reject logic and embrace chaos and irrationality. For example, George Grosz later recalled that his Dadaist art was intended as a protest “against this world of mutual destruction.”

    According to Hans Richter Dada was not art: it was “anti-art.” Dada represented the opposite of everything which art stood for. Where art was concerned with traditional aesthetics, Dada ignored aesthetics. If art was to appeal to sensibilities, Dada was intended to offend.

    As Hugo Ball expressed it, “For us, art is not an end in itself … but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in.”

    A reviewer from the American Art News stated at the time that “Dada philosophy is the sickest, most paralyzing and most destructive thing that has ever originated from the brain of man.” Art historians have described Dada as being, in large part, a “reaction to what many of these artists saw as nothing more than an insane spectacle of collective homicide.”

    Years later, Dada artists described the movement as “a phenomenon bursting forth in the midst of the postwar economic and moral crisis, a savior, a monster, which would lay waste to everything in its path… [It was] a systematic work of destruction and demoralization… In the end it became nothing but an act of sacrilege.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m grinning like a proud papa knowing that my post on this album inspired you to give it another shot, and I’m thrilled that you feel so strongly about it now. This is one of the reasons I usually focus on one artist at a time, revisiting their discography in its entirety, so I can hear each album in the context of its time and where it fits in his/her/their catalog. I’m sure your post will inspire others to check out “Dada” and, as long as they have open minds, they should find a lot to enjoy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This one was for you buddy! Context is so important. Sometimes you really have to listen from a different point of view and let things click. This one did, in a “eureka!” moment. It was fairly recently. I was sitting there and I said, “THIS is the album I gave 0/5 stars to? Why the hell did I do that?”

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh ya, Mike. 0 to 4 is a great journey.
    I reckon I’d quite like this odd album. The Dada / Father thing is kinda Cooper-ish for smart-arse pseudo-intellectuals like, er, no-one I know (whistles at ceiling in totally nonchalant fashion).

    PS. Always wanted to write a song about dyslexia called “Dylsexia”.

    Like

  6. Wow. 0 to 4. I don’t think I’ve ever revisited an album that I would give a big fat zero, so I tip my hat to you for going back to it with an open mind! The fact that you owned your zero rating deserves another hat tipping!

    Sounds like a curious album, though. The Coop really made some intriguing records!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great write-up, Mike. I think you’re really spot on with this review. I have loved this album since the first time I heard it and I just can’t get it through my skull why it have gotten so much crap throughout the years. I mean, sure, it have its fair share of electronica, but the melodies and arrangements are all classic Coop. Scarlet And Sheba is one of Coop’s best songs ever and Fresh Blood, Former Lee Warmer, Pass The Gun Around, I Love America and No Man’s Land are all killers. Enough’s Enough and Dyslexia are the only tracks on here that haven’t really stuck on me, but they’re not bad.

    Another thing about this being his last album for Warner Bros, Former Lee Warmer is a little kick in the butt to that company. Formerly Warner… Geddit? ;.)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The succesfull years of Alice are pretty much over at this time, but DaDa is a very good album.
    I think there’s a lot of freshness in it.
    Of Course there are the usual shock songs ( titletrack and Former Lee Warmer) but also songs with nice electrorock that is perfect for a ride in the summer with an open roof.
    Overall the production is not great. Ok, it was 1983, but Alice Cooper albums must have a great sound.
    Not all of that. But still a underrated piece.
    The Weakest song is clearly I Love America, but the humor in it makes it acceptabel.

    Alice was in a very bad shape at this time and short after the recording he was almost a dead man.
    It’s a miracle that DaDa is such a good album.
    It takes 3 years for Alice to recover and it was good to notice he was in a good condtion and sober.

    Like

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