The early 80s were a tough time for the Coop. His previous record, From the Inside, was written about getting clean in the loony bin. Staying clean wasn’t easy and so we enter the “lost years”: the records Alice doesn’t remember making due to being blackout drunk. Flush the Fashion is a divisive album, with some fans loving its straight-ahead new wave direction, while others despaired Alice’s temporary abandonment of rock. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. It was the 80s and if that wasn’t obvious by the “ALICE COOPER ’80” title at the top, it definitely was clear by the keyboards and programming. Roy Thomas Baker of Queen and The Cars fame produced.
With song titles ripped from the National Enquirer, Flush the Fashion contains a number of short, fast, punky new wave songs beginning with “Talk Talk” at barely two minutes long. You will either love this tough nut of a guitar-driver, or you will be indifferent to it for being light on hooks and brittle in sound.
“Clones (We’re All)”, which was written by outsider David Carron, is the clear album highlight. It was later covered by Smashing Pumpkins on the B-side to “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”, and has seen action in Alice’s live set occasionally over the years. This fun, keyboard-heavy new wave song really nails the 80s sound Alice was going for. Programmed beats, a bouncy keyboard, catchy words and you have a keeper. It went Top 40 and evokes a smile and maybe even a little bit of fist pounding.
The ballad “Pain” is the second in a pair of keepers. A piano-based mourner with a powerful pound, “Pain” possesses tremendous appeal. Alice’s interesting lyrics provide a number of metaphors for your own internal pain. “The loudest one laughing at the saddest wake,” for example, and “the lump on your head when you step on a rake.” Not overly serious, but suiting the character of Alice the masochist. There’s a simply wonderful dual guitar harmony in the middle that is worth rewinding several times on its own.
“Clones” and “Pain” together are seven solid minutes of Alice that you simply cannot help but sing along to. The songs will burrow into your mind until they are a permanent part of your grey matter. They are the proverbial keepers. The same cannot be said for the rest of the album, which defies memorability at almost every turn. Fortunately, all these songs are short.
“Leather Boots” isn’t a great song, but it is at least a fun twangy rocker. Similarly, “Aspirin Damage” is fun if forgettable. Regardless of the music, Alice’s lyrics always offer some interesting twist or perspective. There’s probably something autobiographical happening in the back of his mind here too.
That’s side one in a nutshell, under 14 minutes of music. Side two is over and out in under 15. These are short songs! “Nuclear Infected” has some unremarkable guitar crunch. “Grim Facts” is cooler. This steadfast stomper has a certain Cars-like vibe courtesy of Baker. “Model Citizen” leans a bit more into a punky direction, until the chorus which is kitschy Alice with lush backing vocals while Alice does his sinister speak-sing. For a more traditional Alice song, there’s “Dance Yourself to Death”, which would probably be a third keeper if you were willing to extend it that honour. No new wave trappings here, just traditional rock like the Alice Cooper Band of old. It just…it doesn’t stick. It’s notable for being one of those good second-last tunes though. The final song is “Headlines”, which has a variety of different sections and tempos, and one cool riff.
Another listener could probably make a case for a solid 3.5/5 star album. Others will enjoy isolated moments, but will struggle through. Which are you?