Alice Cooper

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – A Paranormal Evening With Alice Cooper at the Olympia Paris (2018)

ALICE COOPER – A Paranormal Evening With Alice Cooper at the Olympia Paris (2018 Edel)

You don’t so much ask if a new Alice Cooper live album is good; instead you just ask what songs are on it.

A Paranormal Evening With Alice Cooper at the Olympia Paris (what a mouth full) features “Hurricane” Nita Strauss on lead guitar, Chuck “Beasto Blanco” Garric on bass, drummer Glen Sobel, and guitarists Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen.  Guys like Garric and Roxie are the veterans, but Nita Strauss is a serious focal point.  She can really shred.

The setlist spans most of Cooper’s career.  The CD even opens with “Brutal Planet”, which was the set opener back in 2000 on the Brutal Planet tour.  The industrial-tinged song is less jarring live.  From there, onto the oldies:  “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, “Under My Wheels” and “Department of Youth”.  Alice’s band are capable backing singers and they tend to focus on the melody while Alice does his schtick with character.  I won’t tell you who Alice name-drops in “Department of Youth” (remember, it used to be teen idol Donny Osmond).  That’s a surprise.

Another surprise:  the fabulous “Pain” from Flush the Fashion.  The powerful dark pop is heavier live, enriched by three guitars in harmony.  Alice can still infuse the song with suffering, even decades later.  Back to an oldie for a moment with “Billion Dollar Babies” (absolutely massive with three guitars) and then another surprise:  “The World Needs Guts”.  Very few songs from Constrictor get played live, and this one is a live album debut.  There’s a certain nostalgia now for the Kane Roberts era, and “The World Needs Guts” thrills my gorilla on this album.  Then to another niche album, 2005’s garage rock of Dirty Diamonds.  It’s an underrated gem of an album, and so “Woman of Mass Distraction” is a welcome selection, though others would have been more interesting.

“Poison” is a perennial, and here it is again representing 1989’s Trash album.  Every Cooper lineup has its own touch with it.  This one isn’t the sleekest version but it’s the most thunderous.  To cap off the first CD, it’s “Halo of Flies” from “Killer”, almost 11 minutes in length.  This is the kind of deep cut you crave, complete and unedited.  Once again, the three guitars really enrich the sound.

Another regular, “Feed My Frankenstein”, is one I could live without.  But this one is a generational song.  Fans who grew up in the early 90s remember it from Wayne’s World.  It’s the song Mrs. LeBrain sang along to in the car.  Boring to some, a highlight for others.  Then it’s back to “Cold Ethyl” from Welcome to My Nightmare, a stone-cold classic (pardon the pun) highlighting the rock and roll side of Alice.  The trade-off guitar solos are a newer twist.  From the same album comes “Only Women Bleed”, and really the only slow song in the set.  Alice doesn’t need to take it slow!

It took this long to play the one and only new song, “Paranoiac Personality“.  It’s not always like this — in the past Alice has peppered his set heavily with new material.  For whatever reason, this time the focus is on the variety.  There are new songs that will unfortunately never get the chance to shine live.  Still, it’s hard to complain, especially when the next song is “Dwight Fry”, the second epic on the album.  A medley of “Killer” and “I Love the Dead” keep that same vibe.

“I’m Eighteen” is the beginning of the end, with “School’s Out/Another Brick in the Wall” ringing the final bell.  Listen to the band introductions for something that Alice rarely does.  Take a minute and appreciate how great Alice’s band is — and always has been no matter the lineup!

A Paranormal Evening With Alice Cooper at the Olympia Paris (say that three times) comes highly recommended.  Anyone who collects Alice Cooper will find something here that they’ve wanted to hear live.  Has any artist been as great as Alice for as long as Alice?  Very few, and this album proves he’s still the one and the only.

4/5 stars

 

 

 

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#728: Christmas Eve 2018

GETTING MORE TALE #728: Christmas Eve 2018

Way back in the 80s, my sister and I would get so hyped up for Christmas that we would actually “play” Christmas.  How do you “play Christmas”?  You pretend to go to bed, then one of you makes jingle bell sounds.  You run to the other’s room and tell them that Santa came!  Then you leap downstairs and pretend to open presents.  I swear to God, this is what we did.  “Oh look I got Atari Pac Man!”  Killing time was hard when you’re a kid on Christmas holidays.  We’d invent anything just to kill an hour.  Parents would have preferred that we help out instead of playing around.

It’s 2018 now and Sis is probably working hard getting ready to host dinner tonight.  Beef fondue again.  Always good.  If your meat isn’t cooked right, it’s your own fault!

I’ve been off for a couple days, trying not to work too hard.  This year, I decided to focus on playing vinyl during the Christmas break.  As I write this, to my immediate right is a bright clear pink disc spinning at 33 1/3 RPM.  It’s a vinyl exclusive, which quite frankly, is the best thing to enjoy on LP.  Live From the Astroturf is a very rare Record Store Day live album, featuring the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper Group reunited.  I’ve been ogling it ever since it arrived a few days ago.  I finally cracked the seal and placed it carefully on the platter. I had no idea what colour the vinyl would be until that moment.  There are 12 randomly inserted colours!  In addition, the photo on the label B-side is random (mine is Dennis Dunaway).  Let me tell you people, there is nothing like the original Alice Cooper band, playing the original songs.

Another wonderful sonic experience is playing a brand minty new record, so clean that you can’t tell it’s not digital.  Contrarily, it’s also unique to play an old record and hear the same pops and ticks that the previous owner heard too.  The first record I played this holiday was Jen’s mom’s old Buddy Holly Story soundtrack.  Got the movie, never heard the soundtrack.  It does exist on a pretty rare CD, but once the needle hit the groove I realized I’d rather listen to the same record her mom did.  It creates a connection, almost like a time machine.  (Even though I planned on taking it easy, I did write a review and you can look for that in the new year.)

I still have time to squeeze in a couple more records before the festivities begin.  I’m sure you’re busy and I won’t take up any more of your time!  For those working retail:  Hang in there and it will be all over soon.  At least until December 26.

It’s weird to be finishing this article while the original Alice Cooper Group sings, “School’s out for summer, school’s out forever”!  That’s how it worked out though, and it’s funny enough to mention.  To all of you, I wish a safe and happy Christmas.  It goes by so fast, try to savour the moments.

Merry Christmas readers and friends, and remember:  “School’s out for summer!”

 

 

#723: A Tribute to James

GETTING MORE TALE #723: A Tribute to James

Anyone who reads these pages regularly knows what I’m talking about.  Good friends who also love music are crucial to an ever-growing CD collection.  When you have friends in different parts of the world, it’s even better.  Today we’re paying tribute to one such friend who has done so much for my music collection.  That man is Regina’s own James Kalyn.

Funny thing:  I’ve never met James.  I know James through mutual friend Aaron.  (Together, James and Aaron are The KMA.)  Aaron talked about this guy who loves Sloan and music in general, and figured we would get along.  Shit got serious when Sloan started releasing limited edition fanclub live albums and boxed sets.  James would pick up three copies each time:  One for him, one for Aaron and one for myself.  Thanks to James I’m a proud owner of things like the Twice Removed box set.

In addition to Sloan vinyl, James has also acquired for me a number of Record Store Day limited editions.  Sometimes I can’t, or just can’t be bothered, to go.  James has an “in” with his local record store guy, and often knows what they’ll be carrying and how many copies.  Last year he scored me Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes’ Live at Jones Beach.  I couldn’t find one locally, but his guy had it.  A few days later, I did too, packaged with care by James.

There are few things that James failed to find for me.  As a collector, I put a limited scope on what I’m hunting for.  If there is a release with exclusive music on a physical format by an artist I collect, then I want it.  In 2016, Alice Cooper released a very limited Record Store Day single called Live From the Astroturf.  This was a single from a special concert featuring the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper group:  Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, and Neal Smith.  Sitting in for the late Glen Buxton was Ryan Roxie from Cooper’s current band.  It was heartbreaking for me, but even James couldn’t get me a copy.  Prices on Discogs were insane.  I guess I would just have to do without it.

Unexpectedly, 2018 offered a surprise:  a full album release of Live From the Astroturf!  Not just two songs, but the full set!  I collect the music more than the releases, so I would be perfectly satisfied with this.  Guess what happened?

James came through!

It wasn’t cheap.  It was $80, but James tells me “there’s stuff inside” (a poster and a 16 page booklet).  Plus the record inside will be one of 12 random colours!  “Collect all 12,” says the ad on the front.  Let’s do the math on that.

12 x $80 = …holy shit.  $960 bones!  And that’s if the random inserted vinyl colours don’t happen to be the same.  You’d blow through a thousand bucks and more trying to collect all 12!  But somebody out there has done it, I’m sure.

I haven’t opened mine yet.  I’m just going to stare at it a while.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll open it.

Thanks James.  You are truly a man among men!

Recorded October 6 2015 at Good Records, Dallas

Tracklist:

  1. Caught in a Dream
  2. Be My Lover
  3. I’m Eighteen
  4. Is It My Body
  5. No More Mr. Nice Guy
  6. Under My Wheels
  7. School’s Out
  8. Elected

2018 Good Records

#707: Alice Cooper…Live!

GETTING MORE TALE #707: Alice Cooper…Live!

I’ve seen Alice Cooper twice.  Unfortunately, I didn’t write a review either time.  I certainly should have.  Both shows were special and perhaps unique in unexpected ways.  I have a couple stories to tell you.

The first time I witnessed the Alice Cooper show was on his Rock N’ Roll Carnival tour (no opening act), August 28 1998.  We were lucky enough to get the lineup with Reb Beach (Winger) and Eric Singer (Kiss), who had recently rejoined the band.  It was the now legendary Lulu’s Roadhouse featuring the world’s longest bar.  Thanks to the internet, we know the entire setlist.

  • Hello Hooray
  • Sideshow
  • Billion Dollar Babies
  • No More Mr. Nice Guy
  • Public Animal #9
  • Be My Lover
  • Lost in America
  • I’m Eighteen
  • From the Inside
  • Only Women Bleed
  • Steven
  • Halo of Flies
  • Nothing’s Free
  • Cleansed by Fire
  • Poison
  • Cold Ethyl
  • Unfinished Sweet
  • School’s Out

Encore:

  • Jailhouse Rock
  • Under My Wheels

I went with Lyne (one of our store managers) and her husband. A little while later Lyne was bullied right out of the organisation and went to work for HMV instead.  (I used to call her “Lynie Lynie Boing Boing” for some reason.)  We had an amazing time and I remember being impressed that Alice was still playing material from 1994’s The Last Temptation.  “Sideshow”, “Nothing’s Free” and “Cleansed By Fire” were unexpected treats.  It was also a pleasure to hear so many Nightmare-era songs.

At the end, as per usual, Alice introduced his band, and then himself.  He tore open the front of his jacket to reveal a T-shirt that said “Alice Spice”.  Yes, 1998 was the time of Girl Power and Spice Girls were the biggest thing in the world.  It got the required laughs.

One weird memory stands out.  A few tables ahead of us was a girl who was missing an arm below the elbow.  But that didn’t stop her from getting into the show, air guitar and all.  The missing arm was her strumming arm and she was just pumping it and going for it.  It was an unusual thing to see but she had a great time and that’s all that matters.  An unforgettable night.

The thing about the late 90s period of Alice Cooper:  It was a remarkably unproductive time as far as new material.  From 1994’s The Last Temptation to 1999’s A Fistful of Alice (a live album), there was nothing new.  In 2000, Alice cranked the machine again for a rapid-fire series of new albums starting with Brutal Planet.  The live setlist had changed dramatically too.  When I saw Cooper in 2006 with my new girlfriend (now known as Mrs. LeBrain), we got a very different show.

My mom had early access to tickets at the Center in the Square and surprised us with second row seats. On May 9, Alice rolled into town with his new band and new show. On drums once more: Eric Singer of Kiss. Opening act: Helix! Another favourite of mine in a hometown setting! Alice’s latest album was the excellent Dirty Diamonds and we got to hear the title track plus “Woman of Mass Distraction”.  In addition Alice rolled out a few forgotten oldies like “You Drive Me Nervous”, and “Wish I Were Born in Beverly Hills” which was dedicated to Paris Hilton.

  • Department of Youth
  • No More Mr. Nice Guy
  • Dirty Diamonds
  • Billion Dollar Babies
  • Be My Lover
  • Lost in America
  • I Never Cry
  • Woman of Mass Distraction
  • I’m Eighteen
  • You Drive Me Nervous
  • Is It My Body
  • Go to Hell
  • Black Widow Jam
  • Feed My Frankenstein
  • Welcome to My Nightmare

Medley:

  • The Awakening
  • Steven
  • Only Women Bleed (with Steven reprise)
  • Ballad of Dwight Fry
  • Killer
  • I Love the Dead
  • School’s Out

Encore:

  • Poison
  • Wish I Were Born in Beverly Hills
  • Under My Wheels

There’s no record of Helix’s setlist, but they were able to play a number of songs including a brand new one: “Get Up“.  I was sad to see that a few people in the front row didn’t bother coming early enough to see Helix, but that made it easier for Brian Vollmer to see me in the second.  I pumped my first and sang along to every song — including the new one, once I got the hang of the chorus.  Vollmer obviously noticed the one guy singing every song, and came down to shake my hand.  Vollmer is one of the most fan-friendly artists in rock, bar none.   This was only the first of several times he’d shake my hand.

(Back) Brent “Ned” Niemi, Alice Cooper, Brian Vollmer, Rainer Wiechmann
(Front) Jim Lawson, Jeff “Stan” Fountain, Cindy Wiechmann – May 9 2006

From Planet Helix

 

As good as Helix were that night, nobody puts on a show like Alice Cooper.  Kitchener was no exception.  Mrs. LeBrain found herself swooning over guitarist Damon Johnson.  (I thought bassist Chuck Garric would be more her style, based on a previous Tommy Lee crush.)  Guitarist Eric Dover and the aforementioned Eric Singer rounded out the band, with Alice’s daughter Calico playing numerous roles as stage dancer!  (“Put some clothes on!” said her dad after introducing her.)

I remember two things about the show very clearly.  At one point, right in the middle of a song, a woman walked up to the front of the stage and held up a CD for Alice to sign.  I didn’t get it…you expect him to sign your CD while he’s performing?  While he’s in character as Alice Cooper?  Who did she think she was?

Alice ignored her until he was obviously fed up.  Swinging his cane in the air, he smashed the CD out of her hands.  The sour looking woman returned to her seat dejected.  You don’t interrupt Alice when he’s doing his show.  “What a self-centered idiot,” was all I could think.

Alice’s action with the autograph seeker was made all the more noteworthy later in the show.  Contrasting his attitude towards the previous woman, Alice paid special attention to a young girl in the front row.  Wearing proper ear protection, the young girl was with her dad, possibly seeing her first ever rock concert.  Recognising this, Alice personally handed her some of the fake Alice money lying on stage after “Billion Dollar Babies”, and some of the plastic pearls from “Dirty Diamonds”.  The little girl was the only person in the audience who got special attention from the performer.  Cooper, the consummate showman, plays for everyone not just the front row.  That girl will never forget Alice Cooper as long as she lives, and he made sure of it.  I couldn’t help but think Alice was also making a statement.  “Treat my show with respect and this kind of stuff happens.  Don’t interrupt me mid-song for an autograph.”

Whether I’m right or not, that’s one outsider’s impression of the events of the night.

Whatever I happen to think, there would be no argument that Alice Cooper puts on some of the best concerts in rock, and you should try to see him.  Make it a bucket list goal.  The lineups change, and the setlists evolve.  You’ll always get “School’s Out” but chances are you will also hear a smattering of special classics that don’t get rolled out very often.

Go see Cooper and come back with your own stories to tell.

 

#683: I (Don’t) Wanna Be Elected

GETTING MORE TALE #683: I (Don’t) Wanna Be Elected

It’s election season again!  The climate today is nastier than ever, even here in Ontario, Canada.  We don’t have Trump, but we do have something called Doug Ford.  The last name should be familiar to you.  He’s the brother of the late crackhead Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Remember that guy?

The important thing is getting out to the polls and having your say.  If you do not vote, then I don’t want to hear a peep outta you later on.  Not a peep.

Voting is paramount, but unlike Alice Cooper, I do not want to be elected.  I can’t imagine what it’s like to put your name out there, only to have the media dig for all your old skeletons.  We’re seeing candidates apologizing for things they said and did a decade ago.  At least the media wouldn’t have to dig far for my dirt.  One look at Record Store Tales Part 7: A Shitty Story, and they’d hang me out to dry with the laundry.

No thanks!

Some rock stars have thrown their hats in this brutal ring.  Kid Rock has recently floated the idea.  We’ll see if he ever puts his money where his mouth is.  Not all who tried can rely on their fame for an easy win.

Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic gave elections a shot in 2009.  He didn’t win, but he did run for Wahkiakum County Clerk to make a point.  The state of Washington’s laws allow you to run for office for any political party — even fictional ones.  Krist made one up and ran.  We hope being in Nirvana was good enough for the bassist.

Wyclef Jean wanted to run for President of Haiti in 2010, but wasn’t taken seriously because he doesn’t live there or speak the local languages well enough.  He put in the paperwork, but did not qualify.  A former American Idol, Clay Aiken, got a little further.  Aiken ran for congress in North Carolina.  He won the Democratic primary by a hair with 40% of the vote, but did not win the seat.  Can’t fault the guy for trying.  It takes guts!

Yet, there are a handful of success stories.

In 2005, Martha Reeves (of the Vandellas) ran for and won a seat on Detroit’s city council. Jon Fishman of Phish got himself elected to city council of Lincolnville, Maine, making him perhaps the only rock drummer ever to win an election.

The most successful musician turned politician in history would have to be Sonny Bono, hands down.  He was elected mayor of Palm Springs in 1988, and was even mentioned as the mayor in a Beavis and Butt-head music video with Cher!  (“We need a chick that used to be married to some dork, and now she’s all wild and stuff.”)  After this, he served in the US House of Representatives, from 1994 until his death in 1998.

Unfortunately, Alice Cooper has never run for political office.  That’s a shame.

There are more, but politics are not for everybody.  At least we all get to vote.

But how?  Where do you toss your one vote?  Some feel the best way to stop “Ford Nation” from turning Ontario into a mini-Trumpistan is to vote for the New Democrats (or NDP) party.  Others feel Doug Ford is the only choice for an economically troubled province, laid to waste by 15 years of Liberal mismanagement, handouts and scandals.

Choose wisely.

When I turned 18, my first election was provincial.  I had been working my first retail job at a grocery store, and the issue that I chose to cast my vote on was Sunday shopping.  Working at the store, Sundays were the only guaranteed day off and I wasn’t eager to start working them.  The NDP party led by Bob Rae promised they would not allow Sunday shopping in Ontario.  I voted NDP for the first and so far only time.  Rae won, and almost immediately, made Sunday shopping legal.

Fool me once…shame on you?

We have some excellent candidates in my riding, including Amy Fee (wife of Craig) on the Progressive Conservative side, and former boxer Fitz Vanderpool for the NDP.  But the truth is, I can’t wait to cast my vote and get it over with.  Do you know how many political calls we had last night?  Had to be at least 10.

I’m sick of elections.  Wanna be elected?  No friggin’ way.

 

 

#662: Wingers of Destiny

DOUBLE FEATURE! Check out Deke’s Winger story at Stick It In Your Ear!

GETTING MORE TALE #662:  Wingers of Destiny

A highschool guy named Rob Petersen recommended Winger to me. Rob was one of the only kids with long hair. I was so jealous of him. He had the Rick Allen curls and everything. Girls thought he was cute. I thought maybe some of his cool could rub off on me. Luckily I sat next to him in Mr. Lightfoot’s history class.

The year was 1989 and the easiest way for me to check out new bands was via the Pepsi Power Hour on MuchMusic.

I recorded the music video for “Seventeen”, which was OK, but didn’t particularly stand out.  Kip Winger’s abs did.  Towards the end of the video, he did this weird thrusty-dance with his bass.  This is memorable to me because the tape that “Seventeen” was on, was also used for a school video project.  I made a music video for “Nothing But A Good Time” by Poison with friends, for a school award.  I recorded my copy on the same tape as “Seventeen” — immediately after it, actually.  When we presented the video to the film teacher, she caught the tail end of “Seventeen”, and Kip’s thrust.  “Oh,” I heard her comment, and I sensed it was more disgust than titillation.

Kip Winger mid-thrust

Despite their image, Winger possessed a rare rock pedigree.  Classically trained bassist and singer Charles “Kip” Winger was fresh from Alice Cooper’s band, as was keyboardist Paul Taylor.  Kip also performed on Twisted Sister’s Love is for Suckers LP in 1987, with future bandmate Reb Beach.  Most impressively, drummer Rod Morgenstein was an alumnus of Steve Morse’s Dixie Dregs.  Yet all these massive players went and made a commercial hard rock album with, let’s face it, pretty juvenile lyrics at times.

It’s hard not to be critical of Winger for this.  Knowing what these guys are capable of, the debut album Winger seems like pandering.  They did sneak in a few progressive hints, such as a string quartet on “Hungry”, but the impression was that they were just another hard rock band with big hair and candycane hooks.  They were underachieving, from a certain point of view.

Winger was in the batch of the first CDs I ever got, for Christmas of 1989.  This was based almost entirely on Rob Petersen’s raving.  Another reason I chose it was the “CD bonus track”!  One of the incentives for buying a CD player was to finally get songs that were only on the CD release.  I had mixed impressions.  The first “side” was decent but the second was a little filler-heavy.

I’m sad to admit this, but Winger’s version of “Purple Haze” was the first time I ever heard the song.  Ozzy’s version was the second.  Go ahead, judge me.

Winger could have taken it further on their second album.  In a way, they did:  progressive songs and complex rhythms stood alongside the pop rock tracks.  While they advanced in that regard, they took a step backwards in another.  Some songs were even dumber:  “Can’t Get Enough” for example, was a transparent re-write of “Seventeen”, and the ballads were dreck.  Worst of all was Kip’s very unnecessary rapping on “Baptized by Fire”.

Two songs, “Rainbow in the Rose” and “In the Heart of the Young” (the title track) were so far above and beyond the pack, they could have come from a different album.  These two epics drip of the kind of progressive rock you know these guys can play.  Yet they kept it radio accessible, somehow, even while Rod Morgenstein is playing rhythms my brain can barely compute.

While Winger II charted higher and sold as well as the first, 12 months later it was hopelessly outdated by the birth of grunge.  Winger then fell victim to two of the 90s greatest antiheroes, Beavis and Butt-Head.  A black Winger shirt was worn by nerd character Stewart, and the band were repeatedly mocked.  This eventually killed Winger off as a business.  Gigs dried up.  Fortunately for fans, Kip Winger and Mike Judge of Beavis and Butt-Head recently had a make-up session. Even Kip admitted, “Winger was a band that was popular for some of the wrong reasons, man.”

The third album, Pull, is a reference to skeet shooting.  Kip knew that for all the chances they had, they may as well throw the album into the air and take shots at it.  “Pull!”

It was a lose-lose situation and both Winger and the public lost by Pull‘s commercial failure.  Keyboardist Paul Taylor had left, and so Pull features less of the instrument and a far heavier sound.  Taylor was eventually replaced by John Roth, a guitarist.  The message was pretty clear.  Pull featured some of Winger’s best tracks:  “Down Incognito”, “Blind Revolution Mad”, “Junkyard Dog”, and “Who’s the One”.  Had Pull come out in 1990 instead of 1993, things would have gone very differently.  Instead, Winger broke up.

The happy news is that like many bands, Winger reunited (the John Roth lineup occasionally with Paul Taylor as a fifth member), and started putting out albums again.  Good ones, too.  Their last Better Days Comin’ is pretty great.

As further proof of Winger’s greatness, Reb Beach went from there to Alice Cooper, completing the circle.  Winger, after all, was originally founded by two ex-Cooper players.  He was then picked to replace George Lynch in Dokken.  And Kip?  His 30 minute symphony “Ghosts” should speak for itself.

Those who are curious but sceptical should check out Winger’s Pull, and the albums that followed.  Go ahead and wing it!

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Sound of A (2018 EP)

ALICE COOPER – The Sound of A (2018 Ear Music EP)

“The Sound of A” is in the air…but it took 50 years to get there!

Alice Cooper’s Paranormal was one of the most delightful rock releases of 2017, which really came as no surprise.  Alice has been consistently awesome for several albums in a row.  Any time he works with producer Bob Ezrin, you can count on quality.  The new five track Sound of A EP is quality.

The song “The Sound of A” was written in 1967 by Alice and bassist Dennis Dunaway.  When Cooper reunited with members of the original band for some songs on Paranormal, Dunaway suggested revisiting “The Sound of A”.  With Bob Ezrin’s help, “The Sound of A” has become another in a long line of understated Cooper classics.  It has the sound of Welcome to My Nightmare with a hint of the present.  Another apt (but coincidental) comparison would be “Journey of 1,000 Years” by Kiss.

“The Sound of A” is packaged with four unreleased live songs:  “The Black Widow”, “Public Animal #9”, “Is It My Body” and “Cold Ethyl”.  Of these, the real treat is “Public Animal #9”, an old School’s Out favourite that has never seen release on any Alice live album.  This is from Columbus Ohio in May 2017.  As is often the case, “The Black Widow” is shortened live, but “Public Animal” is damn fine.  Can you believe it took this long to get a live version?  It’s one of the best on School’s Out, albeit in the shadow of a big hit.  Even “Cold Ethyl” is hard to find live.  You can locate it on 2011’s No More Mr. Nice Guy via Concert Live, and the semi-official Extended Versions and Alone in His Nightmare.

Don’t miss The Sound of A.  Consider it a live EP with some stuff you’ll be glad to have.

4/5 stars

#626.4: The Big Lists of 2017 Part Four: LeBrain brings the reign

LeBrain’s Top Lists for 2017

2017 was, from almost every angle, a shit year.  Another onslaught of losses in music, entertainment and sports (another list on its own).  2017 was as devastating as 2016, but perhaps all that loss was turned into musical dividends.  Before the year was even half over, I had already found my #1 album of 2017 from a surprising corner.  I knew as soon as I heard it that it was something remarkable.  I pencilled it into the #1, wondering who would topple it.  Over the months, no-one did.  Though my annual Top Five Albums list was not finalised until last week, the #1 album never changed.

Before we get to albums, however, let’s check out some winners in other categories!

BEST BOX SET

MAX WEBSTER – The Party

I put my reputation on the line when I recommended The Party to everyone I knew.  I only got good reviews in return.  For the record, it was our own Uncle Meat, back in July, who broke the news of this box set.  He knows someone involved with the remastering and was aware of the project well before the public was.  Though the packaging was bare bones, the reissue otherwise hits all the bases.

BEST REISSUE

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria 30th anniversary edition

What was probably my #1 album for Christmas 1987 is my favourite reissue in 2017.  In a year featuring fantastic reissues by Marillion (Misplaced Childhood) and Whitesnake (1987), none brought me back in time like Leppard’s Hysteria did.

 


TOP FIVE ALBUMS OF 2017

In case you doubt, check out Deke’s list over at “Arena Rock”.  One of my favourite rock scribes agrees with me on most of these releases.  ‘Twas Deke who turned me onto the #5 album — thanks bud.

Normally I exclude live albums from my lists, but this has been a special year.

 

5 1/2 IRON MAIDEN – The Book of Souls: Live Chapter

5. STEPHEN PEARCY – Smash

4. ALICE COOPER – Paranormal

3. THE DARKNESS – Pinewood Smile

2. GRETA VAN FLEET – From the Fires

1. STYX – The Mission

I haven’t cared so much about Styx since I was 10 years old!  What an incredible album The Mission is.  And I’m counting it as CanCon, because of singer/pianist Lawrence Gowan (but you can call him Larry).


 

Other fun categories!

BEST NEW ARTIST – Greta Van Fleet

BEST SOUNDTRACK – John Williams, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

BEST SOCIAL MEDIA – Michael Sweet (Stryper)

BEST ARTWORK – Deep Purple, for InFinite

MOST IMPROVED BEHAVIOUR – W. Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses)

BEST COMEBACK – Quiet Riot, for Road Rage

BEST GUITARIST – Tom Morello (Prophets of Rage)

BIGGEST DOUCHEBAG – Gene Simmons (KISS)

SECOND BIGGEST DOUCHEBAG – Kid Rock

BIGGEST MISTAKE – Black Sabbath and Bill Ward not playing together at all before The End, a wasted opportunity to set things right.

 

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – “Paranoiac Personality” (2017 single)

ALICE COOPER – “Paranoiac Personality” (2017 Edel 7″ single, white vinyl)

In 1969, the original Alice Cooper group released their debut album for Frank Zappa’s Straight records.  The band consisted of Vincent Furnier on lead vocals using the stage name of “Alice Cooper”, Michael Bruce & Glen Buxton (guitars), Dennis Dunaway (bass), and Neal Smith (drums).  This legendary lineup laid waste to rock and roll until 1974 when they split for Alice to go solo.  Though Glen died in 1997, the surviving member eventually reunited on vinyl in 2011 for three tracks on Welcome 2 My Nightmare.  Since then the original band has worked together with surprising regularity, including on Cooper’s latest album Paranormal.

To go with the Paranormal brew-ha-ha, Alice put out a 7″ white vinyl single for “Personoiac Paranality” “Paranoiac Personality”.  It’s an easy track to like with a vibe reminiscent of his classic single “Go to Hell”.  This is likely to be a concert classic for as long as Alice tours.  The chorus is meant for a crowd to sing along.  “Paranoid!  Paranoid!”

A great B-side is what makes a single memorable.  In 2017 you see all kinds of gimmicky singles, from coloured vinyl to ridiculously low production numbers.  That stuff won’t make me buy a single; but an exclusive B-side will.  “I’m Eighteen” is performed by the aforementioned original Cooper band!  They are augmented by current Cooper guitarist Ryan Roxie, filling in for Glen Buxton.  What a great version this is, and how much more authentic can it get?  Alice has a nice intro for Glen, and it’s stuff like this that makes a single worth spending the money (and shipping) on.  My copy came from Seismic Records in the UK, but it was worth it to me.  The pristine white vinyl is just the icing on top.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I & II (1991)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Use Your Illusion I & Use Your Illusion II (1991 Geffen)

In my review for Guns N’ Roses’ smashing debut Appetite For Destruction, I stated that “Appetite is great, but Illusions are better”.  A strong and controversial statement.  How could I say such a thing?

Use Your Illusion I and II are a case of “Bigger, Better, Faster, More!”  Consider:

1. “Bigger”

Certainly in terms of length, Illusions are far bigger:  2 hours and 32 minutes compared to 53 minutes for Appetite.  I concede that the Illusions albums have far more filler than Appetite.  Given that the grand total of awesome material on Illusions still exceeds the length of Appetite, I think “Bigger” is a given.  They made us wait and wait and wait, but they made it worth our while.  You can’t always say that for Guns N’ Roses.

2. “Better”

Guns N’ Roses’ lineup was “new and improved!” in 1991.  Original drummer Steven Adler was given the boot due to severe issues with substances, replaced by Matt Sorum, who they knew from The Cult.  I won’t argue that Matt Sorum is a “better” drummer than Steven Adler, because they are too different.  Regardless of this, Sorum was able to expand Guns’ rhythmical pallette.  He could play things Adler could not at the time, such as “You Could Me Mine” and “Double Talkin’ Jive”.  As for the core members, each of them expanded their own talents on these albums.  Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin were now lead vocalists on a few tracks.  Slash’s guitar playing grew exponentially.  Izzy blossomed as a songwriter with some of Guns’ most diverse material.  And Axl Rose really got into the piano, contributing a ton of it, and even the techno influence that would later evolve into Chinese Democracy.  His vocal stylings also expanded, with more use of his lower voice.  Everybody had gotten…better.

3. “Faster”

It’s possible that “Right Next Door to Hell” is the fastest Guns track ever recorded.  “Perfect Crime” and “Garden of Eden” also qualify.

4. “More!”

Guns expanded their official lineup to a six piece with the arrival of keyboardist Dizzy Reed.  They also had plenty of special guests:  Alice Cooper*, Michael Monroe, and a guy named Shannon Hoon from the then-unknown Blind Melon.  Hoon appeared in the “Don’t Cry” music video.  Steven Adler was even on “Civil War”, one of the earliest tracks finished.  How’s that for more?  Not enough?  Throw on some orchestras, then.

Of course the weakness to this argument is the old saying that “less is more”, and that theory holds water.  Ultimately, it comes down to taste.  Do you prefer the nuclear assault of Appetite, or the complex stew of Illusions?  Fortunately, you don’t have to choose.  You can buy and love them all.

We reviewers, however, are not afforded such luxury.  We are expected to rate these things and answer tough questions about why.  I cannot deny how I feel about the Illusions albums.  I think II tops I, but from first listen, these albums were very special.  The ambition, the indulgence, and the time paid off on these albums.

Breaking it down, there are numerous top tier bonafide classics on Use Your Illusion I and II.  I think if you boiled the album down to these basic original tracks (colour coded by original album), you’d have a hard time beating it.

Proposal:

  1. Dust N’ Bones
  2. Don’t Cry
  3. Bad Obsession
  4. Double Talkin’ Jive
  5. November Rain
  6. The Garden
  7. Coma
  8. Civil War
  9. 14 Years
  10. Breakdown
  11. Pretty Tied Up
  12. Locomotive
  13. Estranged
  14. You Could Be Mine

And look…that’s enough for a perfectly awesome single CD.  It doesn’t even include the excellent covers “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Live and Let Die”, both hit singles for Guns.  It also excludes dumb but fun stuff like “Get in the Ring”.  You know you and your buddies have recited the words.  Don’t lie to me!

I always choose to listen to these albums in full, in sequence.  I find that to be the best way to go, as they intended it to be.

Appetite showed the world that rock and roll could still be dangerous and loud.  The Illusions albums immediately proved that Axl was a hell of a tortured genius.  However it’s not a one man show.  The dominant songwriter is Izzy Stradlin, with 11 credits on most of the best material.  His singing added a Keith Richards rasp to the band’s repertoire as well.

You don’t have to agree with my rating, but I feel that all of the above really overshadows the filler on Use Your Illusion.  Some of the material I consider filler were singles.  “Dead Horse” and “Garden of Eden” were both hit music videos.  The sheer bloat and indulgence of this set was a sharp and delightful contrast to the first waves of back-to-basics grunge bands.  It kept Guns on the charts for years.

In a 1991 M.E.A.T Magazine interview, Slash stated that after Appetite, every band in the world copied their style.  He challenged bands to try and copy them this time.  “To copy us, you’d have to be us.”  Slash was correct.  Nobody could touch Illusions.

5/5 stars

 

* The story behind the Cooper cameo is that Axl has originally sung all of “The Garden” himself. He sang it in a very Alice Cooper voice, and there was concern it was too close for comfort. So they called up Alice (who they worked with before on “Under My Wheels”) and Alice just nailed “The Garden”.