Alice Cooper

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

 

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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”.

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Paranormal (2017 2 CD edition)

ALICE COOPER – Paranormal (2017 Edel 2 CD edition)

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.

4.5/5 stars

#586.5: GUEST SHOT – More Adventures with Aaron

GETTING MORE TALE #586.5: More Adventures with Aaron
Guest shot by Aaron Lebold BMR

 

My old friend Aaron Lebold has been writing fast and furious!  He has now hit the point in his own story when we met in 1994.  I’d like to share with you a few of his stories that I featured in.  1994 was an interesting period in both our lives.  I had just started at the Record Store, which was the beginning of something incredible.  At the same time, I was very lonely.  I was in my last year of school but I didn’t know anybody in any of my classes.  Meanwhile Aaron’s dad left.  We became good friends.  He was like a little brother to me, and I never had a brother.  Both of us were in some kind of pain, but I really enjoyed having someone around who was into music, and eager to listen to my stories.

As Aaron will explain, he called me Geddy.  Here are some excerpts and links to the full stories.  They brought back of lot of memories, musical and otherwise!  I hope you’ll give them a read.

Thanks Aaron for friendship and writing these stories!


AARON LEBOLD BMR – “Geddy (part one)”

It was the summer of my Grade Eight year, and my sister and I were both discovering a new world on the computer. In a fashion similar to the internet, we were both going on the computer, and starting to interact with people in a new way, with new identities.

After spending some time in this reality, it didn’t take long to establish who was popular, who was considered “cool” and who was also frequenting each individual site. Geddy was a name I was familiar with, he showed a lot of confidence, and seemed to really know what he was talking about. One of the things that really stood out to me was his love, and knowledge of music.

At this time in my life music was turning into a bit of a fascination for me, I had a few bands I really liked, but didn’t really have much in the way of knowledge. Back then, it still cost upwards of thirty dollars if you were to purchase a new CD, I didn’t have a radio, and there was no music available to listen to online like there is today.

I spoke with Geddy about music fairly often, I felt a sense of excitement knowing that I was talking to one of the popular people from this new environment. I’m pretty sure I pretended like I knew more than I did about music to try to relate, but I was definitely listening to what Geddy had to say.

Finish reading here:  medium.com/@aaronleboldbmr/geddy-part-one


AARON LEBOLD BMR – “Geddy (part two)”

Mike was a product of the 80’s, so a lot of what he listened to was in that genre, but he also kept up to date with new music. Mike showed me Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, and of course his favorite band Rush. The first time we hung out he let me tape some of his CD’s, and showed me how to make photocopies of the album art to make it seem more authentic.

Over the course of that summer Mike and I began hanging out fairly often, sometimes with other people we had met on the computer. Mike lived in the city, about twenty minutes from the small town I had grown up in. I didn’t get to the city much as a kid because my mother refused to drive there, and my father was never home.

Mike and I would basically just go out and have fun. I remember I had always wanted to steal a pylon from the side of the road and put it in my room, and one night Mike helped me turn that into a reality. I still had that pylon up until a few years ago.

Finish reading here:  medium.com/@aaronleboldbmr/geddy-part-two


AARON LEBOLD BMR – “Socializing”

My world with Mike began to expand, the people on the computer would periodically have get together’s where we would all meet in person. Mike and I would frequent these together as much as we could. Mike and I were at the point that we were both popular in this community, and people would look forward to our presence. I felt that Mike was the reason I was in this position, so I was always weary of jeopardizing this relationship by exposing the side of me that felt like a twisted mess.

During this process I began to get to know some of the girls my age that were also involved in the computer world. I began to set my sights on trying to get to know a girl named Kim, even though she lived in a city that was long distance from my town. Initially I hadn’t told Mike about my interest in Kim, as I wasn’t sure I had any kind of chance.

Mike and I were at a pretty large gathering at a restaurant called “Zeke’s” in his hometown. The night went well, I began getting comfortable expressing myself, and Mike and I developed a reputation for being somewhat of the life of the party. I fed a lot off Mike’s confidence, and in doing so really started to feel better about myself.

Finish reading here:  medium.com/@aaronleboldbmr/socializing


One thing that surprised me about these stories was that Aaron found me “confident” in a social way.  I remember feeling anything but confident.  But Aaron was my wingman, and maybe he’s the one who helped boost my confidence.

Food for thought.  Rock and roll!  Thanks Aaron for writing these stories.

 

#583.5: Going the Distance at Sunrise Records

The return of Sunrise Records to Canada has been one of the most exciting stories of 2017 for fans of physical product.  I rarely leave without new music under my arms.  This time I went for the new Alice Cooper album Paranormal, deluxe edition CD of course.  It was there front racked, $29.99.  A bit pricey compared to Amazon, but I wanted to buy it so I went for it.

I always get good customer service at Sunrise, and I went to the counter to ask a question.  The lady working looked it up — the Alice Cooper “Paranoiac Personality” single on 7″ vinyl.  No luck, as it turns out Sunrise don’t get many 7″ singles that aren’t for Record Store Day.  And that’s fine, but here’s where she went the extra mile.  She was working on something else and said, “I’ll be right over here in this isle if you have any more questions.”  Cool.  I appreciated that.

I had no more questions as I came for a few specific things.

  1. Something on vinyl that I didn’t already have on CD.
  2. A fidget spinner.

Mrs. LeBrain bought me a fidget spinner for my birthday, but I didn’t know how many levels of quality there are in those things.  That one is a light silver metal and doesn’t spin very long.  Mrs. LeBrain’s is much heavier and spins much longer.  I timed it once at 11 minutes!  It so happens that Sunrise had a buy one/get one free sale on fidget spinners.  So I bought the heavy one that Mrs. LeBrain owns, and a second metal one that looks like a ninja star!

Finally, some vinyl.  There were plenty to tempt me, but I didn’t want some crappy reissue.  I chose July Talk’s Touch.  And it’s excellent!  This band is impossible to describe.  Lead singer/guitarist Peter Dreimanis has a whiskey soaked Tom Waits howl, but it’s his own twist.  Leah Fay (lead vocals) contrasts Dreimanis, sometime delicate and sometimes loudly.  There is nothing easy to pigeonhole on this album.  They go from bluesy to punky to dancey.  But always with a toe in another genre too.  They get heavy and they get soft and every track is good.

Thanks Sunrise for another successful music run.  It won’t be our last I assure you.

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Life and Crimes of (1999 box set)

ALICE COOPER – The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper (1999 Rhino 4 CD set)

With the benefit of hindsight, 1999 was way too early for Alice Cooper to be looking back with a comprehensive box set.  His new album Paranormal will be out this month.  He’s been consistently touring and recording.  The picture was different in 1999 though, since Alice had been quietly under the radar for much of the decade and there was no sign of new music coming.

This Rhino box set is pretty comprehensive.  Though there are plenty more rarities out there to get on singles and elsewhere, Rhino served up a very generous selection of them.  Starting in 1966 with singles by The Spiders and The Nazz, Alice’s sound begins to evolve.  Those early bands were 4/5 of the original Alice Cooper group:  only drummer Neal Smith had yet to join.  The early singles are unfocused compared to what Alice was going to do in a couple years.  “Don’t Blow Your Mind” and “Lay Down and Die, Goodbye” (sometimes known as “I’ve Written Home to Mother”) are sloppy psychedelia.  “Hitch Hike” is like rockabilly.  “Why Don’t You Love Me” is late 60s style rock and roll with a nice harmonica part.  It sounds influenced by the Beatles.

A demo version of “Nobody Likes Me” is the first “official” Alice Cooper Group track and it sees the sound veer closer to where they were headed.  It has a sing-song melody that recalls “School’s Out” later on.  A few tracks from Alice’s first two albums (Pretties For You and Easy Action) demonstrate a work in progress.  “Reflected” is an early version of something that would be re-written as “Elected”.  The band was still very psychedelic and not as tight as they would become.

There is a sudden shift, and Alice Cooper emerges as the classic artist we know and love when he hooked up with producer extraordinaire Bob Ezrin.  “Caught in a Dream” (a single edit) and a number of essential tracks from Love It to Death kick the box set right in the ass and it suddenly becomes a very engaging listen, when before it was just…interesting.  A quintet of songs from the next album Killer are just as special, though including “Halo of Flies” would have been appropriate too.

Before heading into the School’s Out material there is a rare demo entitled “Call it Evil”.  A small portion of the music would make it into the the classic West Side Story tribute “Gutter Cat vs. the Jets” (also included), but this is its own song and otherwise unreleased.  The single version of “School’s Out”  is an obvious inclusion, but these two are the only tracks from School’s Out, a baffling set of omissions.  Granted, “School’s Out” plays like a concept album and is tricky to split up for a box set, but it is under-represented here, period.

Billion Dollar Babies is considered a peak of this period, and gets five tracks of its own, all brilliant.  “Elected” is the single version.  “No More Mr. Nice Guy” is a highlight of Alice’s entire career and it still sounds fresh.  Another rarity ensues which is “Slick Black Limousine”, a UK exclusive flexi-disc release.  It sounds more like early Alice Cooper group material, with Alice doing his best Elvis.  The end of the original group was nigh, unfortunately, and Alice’s next album Muscle of Love was noticeably lacking something.  Maybe it’s because Bob Ezrin didn’t produce it, but the band was also on the verge of splitting.  Addictions were hurting them.  They were still making great rock and roll, just not…as great.  “Respect for the Sleepers” is a demo version of “Muscle of Love”, an unreleased track with lyrics inspired by Alice’s “dead drunk friends” (Jimi, Janis, Jim).  There are more songs from Muscle of Love included than there were for School’s Out, which is odd but alright.

At this point, Alice split from the original band.  Then there are a pair of rarities featuring Alice from an obscure rock opera called Flash Fearless Vs. the Zorg Women, Pts. 5 & 6.  Before Queen, there was this Flash Gordon album and Alice’s tracks feature players like John Entwistle, Kenney Jones, Nicky Hopkins, Bill Bruford and Keith Moon as “Long John Silver”.  “I’m Flash” and “Space Pirates” are mere curiosities, but it’s stuff like this that makes buying a box set so much more worth it.  Where else would you hear these tracks?  Both feature Alice’s delicious trademark sneer.

Alice’s solo career really began with 1975’s Welcome to My Nightmare.  He and Bob Ezrin went all-in with an elaborate horror rock concept album featuring a number of classics.  “Welcome to My Nightmare” and “Only Women Bleed” are single versions, and it’s fantastic that the blazing “Escape” was included.  Another concept album, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, was not as strong.  Only two tracks are included, but both were singles.  “Go to Hell” is a must-have.

The third CD in this box set commences a murky period.  Alice was making albums frequently, but they weren’t as well received and many dwell in obscurity.  Lace and Whiskey was pretty good, and “It’s Hot Tonight” is a great track to start the disc.  Meanwhile, original band members Michael Bruce, Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway formed the Billion Dollar Babies.  They made one album called Battle Axe, and their cool rock track “I Miss You” is included.  That’s a nice touch, because for the first seven albums those guys were as important as Vincent Furnier (aka Alice Cooper).  Michael Bruce sings, but lead guitarist Glen Buxton was more or less incapacitated by addiction and wasn’t invited.  “Battle Axe” sounds like a natural continuation of the Muscle of Love sound.  A bunch more rarities are incoming:  a torch ballad called “No Time for Tears” (unreleased) and “Because”, the Beatles cover featuring the Bee Gees.  This was from that pretty mediocre Sgt. Peppers tribute album from 1978, so it’s great to be able to get it in a box set.  Alice’s interpretation is creepy, and the Bee Gees are immaculate.

Moving on to his next solo album, Alice changed direction on From the Inside.  He had just gotten out of rehab (an actual mental hospital) and made a concept album with David Foster and Bernie Taupin about the experience.  The title track is included as a single version, and you also get the beautifully campy ballad “How You Gonna See Me Now”.  It was a single too, and its B-side “No Tricks” is also included.  It is a duet with soul singer Betty Wright.  Disc three is generous in rarities.  Another one called “Road Rats” (produced by Todd Rundgren) is a decent rocker from a movie called Roadies.

Alice moved into the 1980s on Flush the Fashion which employed some new wave and punk influences.  Its two best songs, “Clones (We’re All)” and “Pain” are included.  1981 brought Special Forces and more rarities.  “Who Do You Think We Are” is a single version, and “Look at You Over There, Ripping the Sawdust from My Teddy Bear” is a synthy unreleased song pulled last minute from the album.  Then there is “For Britain Only”, the stripped-back rocker from the EP of the same name.  “I Am the Future” is a single version originally from 1982’s Zipper Catches Skin.  Completing this era (sometimes called Alice’s “blackout period”) are a pair of tracks from DaDa (1983).  Alice had moved as far as he would go into the high-tech synthesizer direction, and he soon cleaned up for good.  A couple odds and ends tidy up the tracks from this era.  “Identity Crisises” and “See Me in the Mirror” are previously unreleased songs from the Monster Dog movie (1984) which starred Alice.  These are very low-fi tracks, but “Identity Crisises” is actually pretty cool.

The final track on the third disc is the first one from Alice’s big comeback period.  “Hard Rock Summer” is a fun heavy metal rocker from the Jason Lives soundtrack.  It’s cheesy but also previously unavailable.  The fourth and final CD picks up there, with two more rarities from the same movie.  “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” is included in demo and movie mix versions.  Onto 1986’s Constrictor LP, you get the enjoyable “Teenage Frankenstein”.  By 1987 Alice was telling us to Raise Your Fist and Yell on “Freedom”.  The excellent “Prince of Darkness” is also from that album, but then there are two more rarities.  Alice cut a re-recording of “Under My Wheels” with Axl Rose, Slash and Izzy Stradlin for the movie The Decline of Western Civilization Part 2: The Metal Years. Unlike many re-recordings, this one is well worth it because hey, it’s Guns N’ fuckin’ Roses.

Alice’s sound got slicker moving into the late 80s. “I Got a Line on You” is a Spirit cover from the movie Iron Eagle II. There is a notable shift towards mainstream hard rock, and this spilled over onto the next album Trash (1989).  This box set has three songs from Trash, but one is the irritatingly bad title track featuring Jon Bon Jovi.  His sound got a little tougher on Hey Stoopid (1991) from which you get a single version of the title track, and “Feed My Frankenstein” (also from Wayne’s World).  The Hendrix cover “Fire” is the last song from this period, which was a B-side.  Unfortunately another B-side called “It Rained All Night” is a superior song, but not included.

Alice took another short break between albums before emerging in 1994 with another critically acclaimed concept album, The Last Temptation.  Alice shed the trappings of the 80s and the album is held in high esteem today as a diverse combination of the 70s and 90s.  Three tracks represent it, but it’s hard not to wish “Side Show” was also included.

The Last Temptation was Alice’s last studio album when this box was released in 1999.  In the meantime, Alice made friends with Rob Zombie who was obviously influenced by the Coop.  They collaborated on a song called “Hands of Death (Burn Baby Burn)” for an X-Files CD.  This box set has the unreleased “Spookshow 2000 Mix”.  The track points in the direction of Alice’s next album Brutal Planet.

This box set is quite an epic journey, with many facets and side roads.  A trip like this needs an appropriate closing, and Rhino did something interesting to do that.  They broke the chronological format they used for the majority of the set, and slid in the acoustic rocker “Is Anyone Home?”.  This was a studio track included on Alice’s 1997 live album A Fistful of Alice.  This serves as the climax, and “Stolen Prayer” from The Last Temptation is the finale.  “Stolen Prayer” is a powerful duet with the late Chris Cornell.  It was always a perfect closer, but now it’s…also sad.

It should be obvious now that The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper is a worthwhile box set even for fans who own every album.  The wealth of rarities are just a taste, but they certainly scratch a lot of track off of collector’s lists.  Many remain exclusive to this box set.  On top of that, it is simply a good listen, bumpy start aside.

4.5/5 stars

#496: The Horror

 THE HORROR

GETTING MORE TALE #496: The Horror

It was a rite of passage:  When the youth began renting restricted horror movies!

In the mid-80’s, my best friend Bob was obsessed with horror movies.  He found them funny.  He liked pausing and going slow-mo any time a rubber prosthetic was being hacked off a victim by the killer.  We enjoyed laughing at the ridiculous situations.  Don’t go into the woods at night, for god’s sake, and don’t trip over every twig and branch when you’re running away from the bad guy!

Of course, there were always rock and roll connections.  Via the soundtracks, you’d get exposed to a few cool rock tracks.  The first horror movie Bob and I watched together was a perfect example of this:  John Carpenter’s adaptation of Stephen King’s classic Christine.  We’ll circle back to the music.  But the language!  Oh my.  We had never heard swearing woven into such intricate dialogue before!  King truly is the master of the art of profanity.  We learned new ways to swear from that movie.  Some favourites:

Yeah try it you little bald fuck, and I’ll knock you through the wall! FUCK!”  – Buddy Repperton

“OK, that’s the last time you run that mechanical asshole in here without an exhaust hose!” – Will Darnell

“I knew a guy had a car like that once. Fuckin’ bastard killed himself in it. Son of a bitch was so mean, you could’ve poured boiling water down his throat and he would’ve pissed ice cubes.” – Will Darnell

We watched Christine, rewound the tape, and watched it again, twice in a row.  I still love that movie today.  It’s not my favourite horror of all time (that would be The Shining, also based on Stephen King) but it does come in second.  My dad and uncle didn’t mind me watching it, because the car involved in the film was a 1958 Plymouth Fury.  Such things seemed to matter to adults.

I always preferred comedy to horror, but Bob and I were a team, so we compromised and usually rented two or three movies at a time.  Strangely enough, it’s really only the horror films I remember today.  I couldn’t tell you what comedies we rented, but I remember Friday the 13th, do I ever!

We would ride our bikes up to Steve’s TV on Frederick Street.  It’s still there, too, in the same spot but stocked with the latest and greatest tech.  In the 80’s, it was a growing business and had the largest collection of videos for sale and rent that I’d ever seen.  Bob and I would discuss and pick out a couple horror films and a comedy.  We’d bring them back by bike and rent more.  The first time we did this, Steve’s TV asked for a note from our parents to rent an R rated movie.  Minor delay!  We’d just have to make another trip on our bikes.

We rented the first Friday the 13th, and the second.  I somehow missed the third and fourth (I am pretty sure I was at the cottage on vacation those weekends) and jumped right onto the poor fifth movie (A New Beginning), which didn’t even have Jason in it.  As I started highschool, Jason finally returned in Part VI (Jason Lives) and our movie renting continued.  When the Friday the 13th movies were done, we did the Freddie movies, and the Halloween films.  We even did the third Halloween, the one that had nothing to do with the rest of the series.

We rented so many that eventually Steve’s TV had nothing left we hadn’t seen.  We started checking out a new store, Jumbo Video.  They had a cool horror section that looked like a haunted castle.  We rented everything there, too.  Jeff Goldblum’s remake of The Fly was one.  I remember a really terrible movie called Madman Marz, but there were many more that I can’t remember at all.  As highschool went on, we ran out of horror movies to rent at Jumbo.   We temporarily began renting ninja movies (Bob was taking Karate at the time) but it was horror that we really liked.

An automated video rental place opened up.  It was a small room full of vending machines that dispensed videos!  They had a small selection of horror, so Bob and I began to eat those up too.  The Fly II was one of the first we rented from that automated store, and it was just awful.  Clearly, we were exhausting the horror movie stock in Kitchener Ontario.  There was nothing left for us to rent.

The rock and roll connections with a lot of these films were really interesting to us, since we were both exploring hard rock at the same time.  Christine, our first horror experience, had an incredible soundtrack of oldies:  Little Richard’s “Keep-A-Knockin’”,  “Not Fade Away” by Buddy Holly, and of course the newbie “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood.  As much as we were obsessed with the movie, we obsessed over that song.  Playing it over, and over, and over again.  A bit later on, Alice Cooper appeared in a couple films, also providing music for Prince of Darkness and Friday the 13th Part VI.  Horror went hand in hand with our rock obsession, but in the long run, “there could be only one”.  For me, rock won out.  Horror films still bring a chuckle, but the days of obsessively trying to watch them all are long gone.  Do they even make good horror movies anymore?  I don’t even know.  They do still make great rock and roll, that’s for sure.

REVIEW: Wes Craven’s Shocker – The Music (1989)

 

MOVIE SOUNDTRACK WEEK

Scan_20160607Wes Craven’s SHOCKER – No More Mr. Nice Guy – The Music (1989 SBK)

1989’s slasher film Shocker was Wes Craven’s attempt to introduce a new character to the pantheon of horror.  Unfortunately, Horace Pinker and the movie he rode in on were quickly forgotten.  Also forgotten was the heavy metal soundtrack, so let’s have a gander and see what you may have missed.

Ever heard of The Dudes of Wrath?  This temporary “supergroup” consisted of various members from track to track, but the best song they did was “Shocker” itself.  With lead vocals by Paul Stanley and Desmond Child, it’s a must-have for Kiss maniacs.  If that’s not enough, Vivian Campbell, Tommy Lee and Rudy Sarzo also play on it.  It’s like a collision of some of those bands — Kiss, Dio, Motley.  The anthemic outro will slay you.

Desmond’s writing is all over this album, and he co-wrote a track with Alice Cooper that ended up being recorded by Iggy Pop called “Love Transfusion”.  Sub out the saxophone for guitars and you could easily imagine this being a Trash B-side.   In fact I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the backing track is from the Cooper sessions, because this sounds exactly like an Alice Cooper song with Iggy Pop overdubbed.  All the musicians are guys from the Trash album.  Do the math.

It’s hard to imagine a weirder team up than Desmond Child and Megadeth.  Dave Mustaine was deep into the powders at the time, and he recorded “No More Mr. Nice Guy” with a three piece Megadeth.  The late Nick Menza had joined the band already, but Marty Friedman was yet to be hired.   Most Megadeth fans are familiar with this track, since it was re-released on their Hidden Treasures EP.  Certainly not the band’s finest moment.

Paul Stanley reappears in a writing capacity on “Sword and Stone”, performed by Bonfire.   Paul wrote it for Kiss’ Crazy Nights LP with Desmond Child and Bruce Kulick.  If it had been on Crazy Nights, it might well have been the best tune on there.  Paul’s demo has yet to be released in an official capacity, but it’s been heavily bootlegged.  Bonfire’s version is fantastic, but it only makes me hungry for a fully recorded and mixed Kiss version.  One day….

Another version of The Dudes of Wrath appear on side two, this time with Alice Cooper on vocals.  “Shockdance” sounds like little more than a slowed down variation of the “Shocker” riff, with Alice and actor Mitch Pileggi rapping over it. Just terrible stuff, actually. Thankfully Desmond redeemed it a little bit with the song he wrong with Dangerous Toys, “Demon Bell”. Like Guns N’ Roses galvanized and electroplated, “Demon Bell” slays.

Voodoo X were the band of Jean Beauvoir, who Kiss fans know from his many co-writes and guest appearances on their records. He only made one record as Voodoo X, and his song “The Awakening” is damn fine indeed. At first you’re thinking, “Oh it’s just another crap ballad”. Then a riff kicks in, and it blasts right off. It’s a bit like 80’s Kiss meets Top Gun. The last band up is Dead On, pretty pedestrian thrash metal, and one of the few songs without any involvement of Desmond Child. The angry elf vocals are hilarious, but the song is almost a parody of bad metal. The album ends with a reprise of the title track “Shocker” from the first side. Basically what this means is that you get to hear Paul Stanley singing for another two or three minutes, when he was really able to hit some seriously high notes. Cool!

The worst track is probably the ballad “Timeless Love” by Sandi Saraya.  Guess who wrote this putrid sappy swath of heartbreak?  Desmond Fucking Child!

Shocker isn’t the greatest soundtrack, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the movie that spawned it!

2.5/5 stars

The helpful back cover doesn't even tell you who's on it.

The helpful back cover doesn’t even tell you who’s on it.

REVIEW: Wayne’s World – Music from the Motion Picture (1992)

MOVIE SOUNDTRACK WEEK

By a weird coincidence, I wrote up this review on the exact same night that Aaron wrote up his for the KMA. Weeeeeeird.

Scan_20160605WAYNE’S WORLD – Music from the Motion Picture (1992 Warner)

Today we’ll take an extreme close up look at Wayne Campbell, Garth Algar, and the movie soundtrack that returned Queen to the top of the charts.

Wayne’s World was a phenomenon.  Not only did it put Queen back on their throne, but it also kickstarted a whole wave of Saturday Night Live movie spinoffs, including the Coneheads and Pat.  The soundtrack was one that “everybody” had to have.   While I had started my Queen collection well before the movie came out, this soundtrack was the first place that I acquired “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  In many regards, you can almost regard “Bohemian” as a brand new song in 1992.  It charted as if it was brand new, and it became a cultural cornerstone only after the movie.  I know I can’t be the only one who head-banged to it in the car on weekend nights during the summer of ’92.  As one of the most campy yet brilliant tracks ever recorded in the history of rock, “Bohemian” deserved everything that came its way.

The soundtrack CD was made up of new and old material like “Bohemian”.  Also dusted off:  “Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright.  Though not to the same degree as Queen, Gary Wright experienced a bit of a renaissance thanks to the prominent usage of the song in the film.  The 1975 soft rock ballad is still cheesey fun today.  Then, Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” was given a fresh release in one of the most memorable Garth scenes.  Admit it:  If you are over a certain age, you make the little “fox ears” on your head just like Garth Did when Jimi sings “Foxy”!  I know you do — don’t try to lie.  Although I can’t recall the song being in the movie at all, a mediocre Eric Clapton outtake from 1985 is included on the CD, in “Loving Your Lovin'”.  It’s about as memorable as you would expect a mid-80’s Clapton outtake to be; its just “OK”.  Of course, everyone knows that Alice Cooper’s “Feed My Frankenstein” was used during the Cooper cameo in the movie.  It introduced Alice to a whole new generation who still remember and love that song.

New tracks included the zippy Red Hot Chili Peppers funk blitzkrieg “Sikamikanico”.  Bass pulsing in time with the racing beats, this is the kind of Chili Peppers I love.   Meanwhile, Black Sabbath unveiled their first new material with Dio since 1981, on “Time Machine”.  This Wayne’s World version of the song is completely different from the one that was recorded for Dehumanizer, although both are included on the Sabbath remaster.  The Wayne’s World version feels faster and more frantic.  It was quite a thrill for fans to hear a brand new Black Sabbath song in a mainstream comedy movie.  (Cool scene too, with Robert Patrick of Terminator 2 fame.)  Although the soundtrack couldn’t resurrect their careers, both Cinderella and Bulletboys had new tunes on the CD.  Bulletboys tackled a cover of Montrose’s “Rock Candy”, perfect for their Van Halen worshipping vibe.  Cinderella had a new rocker to show off, a soul-infused vintage song called “Hot and Bothered”, which was a fine return to form but had no impact.  Finally, Rhino Bucket who were considered heirs to the throne of AC/DC included a new song called “Ride With Yourself” from their 1992 album Get Used to It.  It’s cleaner sounding than AC/DC but it’s in that ballpark.

Finally there are the throw away tracks.  At the time, Tia Carrere was being hyped up for a music career.  They hooked her up with Ted Templeman and recorded a cover of “Ballroom Blitz” (you know the scene in the movie) and a ballad called “Why You Wanna Break My Heart”.  Both are fine in the movie, but not really necessary for rock fans in general to own on CD.  Still, here they are!  (Tia’s version of Hendrix’s “Fire”, also in the movie, was included on the B-side of the “Ballroom Blitz” single.)  Then there is a throw-away version of the Wayne’s World theme song with Wayne and Garth singing.  I’ll take the Aerosmith version any day!

Not on the soundtrack CD, but prominently featured in the film, was Ugly Kid Joe’s hit “Everything About You”.  No big loss; you should be able to find their Ugly As They Wanna Be EP for under $5.  Party on!

3/5 stars

#482: Modified Listening Experiences

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GETTING MORE TALE #482: Modified Listening Experiences

With modern music technology and software, it has never been easier to not only take your music anywhere, but now you can even modify the albums you buy.  Using some simple tricks you can change aspects of the tracklist to make the album suit you.   You have probably done this yourself.  Many do regularly, by shuffling the track order.  Let’s go a little deeper than that.

The first time I experienced the concept of modifying an album’s tracklist, I was just a kid.  It was 1985, and I was recording the first W.A.S.P. cassette off my next door neighbour George (R.I.P.), from tape to tape.

“If you don’t like the song ‘Sleeping in the Fire’,” he said, “You can just push pause on this tape recorder.  Then un-pause it when the song is over.  Your copy won’t have ‘Sleeping in the Fire’ if that’s how you like it.”

Even then, I couldn’t imagine a reason to copy an entire album sans one song.  I kept the tape running and never hit pause, but George’s advice kept tumbling around in my brain, for years.   Over time I began experimenting with tracklist modification.  Never to remove songs, mind you, always to add or improve.

Here are some examples of modified track lists in my library.

1. Adding bonus tracks

COOPSingle B-sides just kind of float around in most collections.  Due to their short running time, I don’t often spin CD singles.  On a PC hard drive they tend to get lost while full albums get more play.  To give some of these B-sides a little more air time, in many cases I have chosen to add the songs as “bonus tracks”, at the end of the associated album.  This works best when it’s just one or two tracks.  More than that can extend an album listening experience too long.

Sometimes, different versions of albums will have unique bonus tracks.  Perhaps there’s one on the vinyl version that is on nothing else.  Japanese editions, deluxe versions, European editions, iTunes editions…there are usually lots of bonus tracks out there, but always on different versions of the disc.  Why not take them all, and make your own “super deluxe edition” with all the bonus tracks in one spot?  Listening to an album modified in this way can be a bit longer than the usual, but ultimately it’s rewarding to hear the entire body of work in one smooth sitting.  My MP3 player is loaded with my complete version of Alice Cooper’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare, and it’s just 10 minutes shy of two hours long!

In extreme cases, there are so many bonus tracks out there that you may need to consider creating an entire “bonus disc” folder to house them all.

2. Removing gaps

The 1990’s were such a quaint time.  Remember “hidden bonus tracks”?  At the end of the album, instead of stopping, the CD would continue to play several minutes of silence.  Then you would be surprised by a hidden unlisted song!  A notable example is “Look at Your Game, Girl”, the infamous Charles Manson cover that Axl hid away at the end of The Spaghetti Incident.  There was only a 10 second gap on that CD; still annoying but other albums had much longer pauses before the hidden track.

I use Audacity to remove the long gaps, or to isolate the hidden song to a track all its own.  As much as I enjoy a “pure” listening experience the way the artist intended, these long gaps are pretty easy to sacrifice.

3. Restoring an intended song order

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Rock and roll is full of stories about bands who couldn’t get their way when an album was released.  W.A.S.P. for example wanted their song “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)” to open their self titled album.  Now you can add it there yourself!  (W.A.S.P. also added the song to the start of the remastered version of the album.)  You can even use Audacity to adjust the volume levels, so that everything matches.

A better example is Extreme’s III Sides to Every Story.  The piano ballad “Don’t Leave Me Alone” was only on the cassette version of the album.  The CD couldn’t contain all the songs without making it a double, so that one had to be left off.  Now you can re-add it yourself, right where it belongs at the end of “side two” and before the big side three suite.  Now you can hear the whole album as Extreme intended, seamlessly.

Pardon the pun, but I took an even more “extreme” approach to their second album, Pornograffitti.  The instrumental track “Fight of the Wounded Bumblebee” was written as a longer piece with a slow bluesy coda.  This second half was recorded solo by Nuno Bettencourt as “Bumble Bee (Crash Landing)” for a guitar compilation.  Using Audacity, I combined both tracks to restore the song to its original full structure.  This is about as close as we will ever get to hearing the tracks as written.  I dropped the new longer track into the album tracklisting and voila!  Still seamless, but now with a new darker mood before “He-Man Woman Hater”.

Indeed, the possibilities are limitless.  Steve Harris often complained that the Iron Maiden album No Prayer for the Dying should have had live crowd noise mixed in, like a live album.  Now you can do that yourself.  With a deft touch, you can even edit songs down yourself or extend them by looping sections.

With the advent of the computer as a listening device, the sky is now the limit.  How would you modify your listening experiences?