Both Alice Cooper and Bob Ezrin had a lot to live up to with their latest collaboration Paranormal. Excluding 2015’s covers album Hollywood Vampires, their last record together was the remarkable Welcome 2 My Nightmare in 2011. Bob Ezrin has already produced one of the more impressive rock albums of 2017, Deep Purple’s InFinite. Considering this recent track record, one might say we expect the goods this time too.
Paranormal is a great album, loaded with fantastic Alice Cooper material of different rock and roll styles. It is not up to the level of brilliance of Welcome 2 My Nightmare. That album (a concept album sequel) was dense with ideas and composition. Paranormal is a step towards something less conceptual and more like a traditional album. The big surprise this time out is the drummer: U2’s Larry Mullen plays on 9 of the 10 core songs, and you’d never guess that without reading the credits.
The title track is impressive on its own. It has a haunting guitar hook and vocal, and is built a bit like Alice’s horror material from the 80s. That’s Ezrin’s pal, Roger Glover from Deep Purple on bass. Back to the early 70s, get down with some hard rocking “Dead Flies”, but don’t let your guard down. Relentlessly, “Fireball” blazes down the terrain, kicking aside everything not nailed down. Alice doesn’t have anything that sounds like “Fireball” on any of his other albums.
The lead single “Paranoiac Personality” (a single worth tracking down for an exclusive live B-side) is similar to “Go to Hell” (from 1976’s Alice Cooper Goes to Hell). It’s the kind of magic that happens only when Alice Cooper and Bob Ezrin work together. Memorable Alice Cooper rock, accessible enough for radio play, but within the personality of Alice.
Moving on to sleaze rock, “Fallen in Love” is a strong entry. If it sounds a little greasy, that’s probably because Billy Gibbons is on it. It’s followed by a speedy trip called “Dynamite Road” with a neat spoken-word style vocal. It suits Alice’s storytelling lyrics. After a couple of heavy bashers, it’s good to get back to a groove on “Private Public Breakdown”. These are some impressive songs, each different from the other but fitting the whole.
A kickin’ horn section joins Alice on “Holy Water”, a fun and unorthodox rock and roll sermon. Then there’s a good old fashioned punk rocker called “Rats”. It might remind you of Michael Monroe’s classic “Dead, Jail or Rock ‘N’ Roll”. It’s the only song on disc one that Larry Mullen doesn’t play on. “Rats” has the surviving original Alice Cooper band: Michael Bruce, Neal Smith, and Dennis Dunaway.
Going for a haunting close, there is an understated song called “The Sound of A” to end the album proper. This truly recalls Welcome to (and 2) My Nightmare. Original bassist Dennis Dunaway co-wrote and plays bass on the track. Although he was not in the band during the Nightmare era, that is what immediately comes to mind. This is the kind of song that has the potential to become an Alice classic a few years down the road.
Cooper has been generous with bonus tracks on his last few albums, and Paranormal has a fully loaded second CD. There are two more brand new songs featuring the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper band. Steve Hunter is also on board with some slippery slide goodness. “Genuine American Girl” is a transgender celebration, the kind of thing that would have been cutting edge in 1972, but today is just timely. Smith co-write this with Alice and Ezrin, and it’s a remarkably catchy little tune. “This is no-man’s land and I live here every day” sings a gleeful Alice. It does sound like something the original band could have played back then. “You and All Your Friends” (Cooper/Dunaway/Ezrin) is more of an anthem. A crowd could definitely sing along. These two tracks serve as reminders to what great players the original band members are. Neal Smith is absolutely a drumming maniac and Dennis Dunaway is still one of kind.
There are six more bonus tracks, all live cuts from 2016 featuring Alice’s stellar live band. It’s good to have these, because really the only thing missing from the new songs is guitarist Nita Strauss. She’s a monster player. For those hoping to hear Nita on Alice’s new album, at least she’s on the bonus tracks. The live cuts are a fairly standard selection of 70s hits (all but “Feed My Frankenstein”). You know what you’re getting: expertly performed Cooper classics by his gang of professional rock and roll misfits.
Paranormal is yet another late-career triumph by Alice Cooper. It’s just a hair shy of mind blowing.