bob ezrin

Just Listening to…Alice Cooper – Welcome 2 My Nightmare

I was very enthusiastic for this album when it came out in 2011:  four copies purchased (to get all the bonus tracks) and a 5/5 star rating.  I can hear what I loved about it so much, even if the feelings are faded today.  That’s what makes these “Just Listening” writings interesting!

The original Nightmare is still a favourite and always will be.  Factors that appealed to me about the sequel album are the musical and lyrical callbacks.  These recurring cues unite both albums quite successfully despite the decades that passed.  Musical sequels can be a dicey affair (Mindcrime 2, anyone?) but Alice Cooper and Bob Ezrin managed to do the near-impossible.

The standard album runs 52 minutes, and that’s just a tad long.  Although there are no obvious duds to cut, the original Nightmare was more effective because it was more concise.  (You want a longer experience?  Adding in all the bonus tracks more than doubles the album’s length!)  Regardless of the digital age that most of us inhabit, there is something to be said for the length of a standard LP.  It just happens to jive with the natural attention spans of the human mind.  The new Nightmare crams 14 tracks into that 52 minutes, and it plays out as a lot to absorb.  Especially after giving the album a rest for a few years.

Another way in which the second Nightmare is inferior to the first is the overall tone.  Nightmare 2 is far more humorous.  A couple tracks (“Ghouls Gone Wild” and “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever”) are there for the laughs.  That’s fine — Alice Cooper does humour in music better than 99% of those who try.  The original Nightmare had its fun, but the tone of the album was far darker, especially with songs like “Steven” and “Only Women Bleed”.  You’re going to have a preference one way or the other too.  I prefer the darker original Nightmare to the more comedic sequel.

These are all very fine hairs to split.  I still like the album, a lot.  I believe it to be Alice’s best from the last two decades.  There’s very little wrong with it.  I just don’t think it matches the first as much as I once did.

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Revenge (1992)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 43

 – Revenge (1992 Polygram)

The first three-year gap between Kiss albums.  The first Kiss record produced by Bob Ezrin since 1981.  The first shared Simmons/Stanley lead vocal in ages.  The first lineup change since 1984.  And saddest of all, Kiss’ first album without Eric Carr since 1980.  Revenge was a shakeup for fans and band alike.

The pendulum of rock had swung back to “heavy”, with Metallica scorching the charts and grunge pummelling everyone else with new sounds.  It was obvious that Kiss had to go heavier, too.  In 1992, most rock bands had to sink or swim.  In order to swim, bands tended to heavy things up.  A lot of the time they called it “going back to the roots”.

Kiss began making tentative steps back that way.  Hot in the Shade (1989) toned down a lot of the keyboards and 80s trappings.  On tour, they played more old material like “Dr. Love”, “God of Thunder”, and “I Was Made for Loving You”.  Then, as an experiment, they got back together with Bob Ezrin for a song from a movie soundtrack.  Everyone was writing, even the sick Eric Carr.  The initial plan was to have Eric play on half the new album, so he could have time to recover from his cancer surgery.  The drummer from Paul Stanley’s solo tour, Eric Singer, was available to play on the other half.  Singer was on tour with Alice Cooper during the summer of 1991, but would be home soon enough.  Then, on November 24, Eric Carr passed.

The most obvious choice to replace Carr was Eric Singer.  He was already working with the band, he knew the songs, and he was a fan.  Bruce Kulick found him inspiring to have around, as Singer loved his guitar work.  In fact the only thing about Eric Singer that didn’t fit was his hair colour!

The energetic new drummer was a godsend.  With albums to his name by Black Sabbath and Badlands, Kiss couldn’t have asked for a more technically adept player.  He could hit hard (though Eric Carr takes the belt in that regard) and he could authentically do any era of Kiss.  Be it the early, slippery Peter Criss material or the heavy metal of Eric Carr, Singer had it all covered.  And he could sing!  Though we wouldn’t get there quite yet.

It was the heavy metal side that was most immediately apparent.  The first track and first video from Revenge was “Unholy”, something very unlike anything Kiss had done before.  And it came about in a most peculiar way.  Enter:  Vinnie Vincent.

Those who say “Vinnie saved Kiss” will point to “Unholy” as one such song that saved Kiss.  After years of estrangement (and preceding even more), Vinnie came out to write with Gene and Paul.  “Unholy” was one of three songs he contributed.

With a fury unlike any before, Gene Simmons and company swirl in rage on “Unholy”.  The closest they got to this kind of heavy before would be Creatures, but there’s something just pissed off about it that wasn’t there before.  With a concrete riff and angry slabs of drum tribalism, Kiss announced their return loudly.  Not to be outdone, soloist Bruce Kulick laid down his noisiest guitar assault yet.  There isn’t an ounce of fluff to “Unholy”.

Thanks to Bob Ezrin, Revenge is Kiss’ best sounding album since Lick It Up or Creatures.  It’s no Destroyer, and it’s no Elder.  This time they cut the extras down to the bone, leaving the four Kiss guys to rock it themselves.  Err, mostly themselves.  That’s Kevin Valentine on drums for the second song, “Take It Off”.  Strange that Kiss continued to have ghost musicians on albums when they clearly didn’t need to.  An ode to strippers, “Take It Off” is lyrically juvenile, but gleams like stainless steel.  Paul Stanley wrote it with Ezrin and ex-Alice Cooper guitarist Kane Roberts, and it could have been used as a single had Revenge needed another.  A dirty, dirty single.

Paul, Bruce and Ezrin composed “Tough Love” with a slower, chunky riff.  Kulick’s solo is remarkable, but it’s also just nice hearing Paul do a sex song that has some balls.  There is no “X” in this sex, although there’s a little BDSM for the 50 Shades crowd.  Then, teaming up with Gene, they do their first co-write and co-lead vocals together in the first time in a dog’s age.  “Spit” is old school fun with a modern heavy edge.  Bruce pays homage to Jimi Hendrix in his complex guitar solo, a composition all to itself.  Eric Singer gets to throw down tricky beats and fills, making “Spit” one of the most deceptively clever songs Kiss has done.

“God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II” was released as a single the year before.  It was the experiment with Ezrin that kicked off Revenge in the first place.  It was the only song that Eric Carr was alive for, and you can clearly hear him on backing vocals.  Singer handled the drums, though Carr did it in the music video.  The album mix is different from the single or soundtrack, in order to better suit the sonics of Revenge as its sole anthem.

Gene tells a story about a girl who “kisses like the kiss of death” to end side one.  “Domino” hearkens back to early Kiss, with a sparse arrangement and Gene playing rhythm guitar instead of Paul.  This greasy rocker just screams “Kiss”.  There is nobody else with songs like “Domino”.  It was the third single from Revenge, sporting a nifty video with Gene cruising around in a convertible while Kiss plays as a trio!  Paul Stanley: bass guitar.

“Heart of Chrome”, the second Vinnie Vincent collaboration, rocks with attitude.  Once again, anger seems to be the emotion of the day.  The 90s-look Kiss could deliver anger in spades.  Then Gene takes the mantle on “Thou Shalt Not”.

He said “kindly reconsider the sins of your past,”
I said “Mister you can kindly kiss my ass.”

These are not songs for the Kiss hits mix tape you’re making for your roadtrip.  These are songs to be experienced in context of the album, where they deliver mighty riffs and enough hooks for the long-player.  “Thou Shalt Not” has another one of those Kulick solos that could be a study in string manipulation, and Singer just keeps it kicking the whole way through.

You could choose from two schools of thought regarding “Every Time I Look at You”.  As the album’s only true ballad, some see it as a mistake on a record as heavy as Revenge.  Others see it as a reprieve from a fairly relentless onslaught.  Indeed, it does sound as if from another album.  With a string section, Ezrin on piano, and Dick Wagner on ghost guitar, one could even argue that it’s an album highlight.  A little re-sequencing though, and you probably wouldn’t even miss it.

Gene makes it heavy again on “Paralyzed”, not an outstanding track but a little funkier than usual.  “I Just Wanna” is far more entertaining, though it is a shameless and obvious rip-off from “Summertime Blues”.  It was chosen as the second single, and lo and behold, it’s the third Vinnie Vincent song too.  “I Just Wanna” is immediately catchy and memorable for days.  Probably because you already knew it as “Summertime Blues”.

As a touching surprise, Revenge ends on an instrumental called “Carr Jam 1981”.  Bob Ezrin dug up an old demo from The Elder with a hot riff and a complete drum solo.  It had been bootlegged before, notably on Demos 1981-1983, but not with very good sound.  Ace Frehley even recorded it as “Breakout” on his second solo album.  Ezrin cleaned up the original demo for Revenge, edited it for length, and overdubbed Bruce on lead guitar.  “Carr Jam” has become Eric’s signature drum solo.  Placing it here at the end of Revenge was not only poignant but also just great sequencing.

Album in hand, now it was time to tour.  Kiss would start with a short run in the clubs.  More on that next time.

Today’s rating:

4.5/5 stars

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/10

REVIEW: Deep Purple – The InFinite Live Recordings Vol. 1 (2017)

DEEP PURPLE – The InFinite Live Recordings Vol. 1 (2017 Ear Music)

The all-time kings of the live album have finally released…another live album!  It’s boldly titled The InFinite Live Recordings Vol. 1, implying that another live set isn’t far off.  The gimmick this time (aside from being 100% live with no overdubs, which is now the Purple norm) is that The InFinite Live Recordings Vol. 1 is only available on vinyl, or by re-buying InFinite in its new “Gold” European edition reissue.  If you’d prefer avoiding the double-dip, then the only way to enjoy The InFinite Live Recordings Vol. 1 is by spinning the triple 180 gram LP set.

So let’s do that.

This album is the complete Deep Purple set from Hellfest 2017 (June 16 2017 in Clisson, France).  The always fearless band opened with the brand new “Time for Bedlam” single.  The intro and outro are dicey (weird vocal sound effects) but then Deep Purple suddenly plows straight into “Fireball”.  Somehow Ian Paice transforms into his younger self and there is nothing lost.  Going back even further in time, it’s “Bloodsucker” from Deep Purple In Rock.

The oldies, like “Strange Kind of Woman” and “Lazy”, are more or less just filler.  Even though they’re always different, you’ve heard them so many times while the newer songs are fresh meat.  “Uncommon Man” is long and exploratory, while “The Surprising” and “Birds of Prey” are more than welcome on the live stage.  In particular, “Uncommon Man” and “The Surprising” are showcases for Deep Purple’s progressive side, sometimes taken for granted.  Both must be considered among the greatest Morse-era Purple songs.  Both stun the senses, live.

While there was a live version of “Hell to Pay” (from Sweden) on the fairly recent single “Johnny’s Band”, another one in the context of the set is cool because it naturally introduces Don Airey’s keyboard solo (listen for a hint of “Mr. Crowley”).  And that solo segues into “Perfect Strangers” after you place the third LP on the platter.

The usual suspects close out the set:  “Space Truckin'”, “Smoke on the Water”, “Hush” (with a detour into the “Peter Gunn” theme) and “Black Night”.  The reason Deep Purple get away with playing generous amounts of new material is because, without fail, they always deliver the Machine Head hits.

These live recordings were produced by Bob Ezrin, so you can count on great audio.  Why should you choose this over the numerous other Deep Purple live albums from the Morse era?  Because it is always a pleasure hearing new songs on the concert stage.  Deep Purple have remained consistent over the decades and each live album offers a brief snapshot of a set you might never hear again.

4/5 stars

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

RE-REVIEW: KISS – “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” (1991 single)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 40:

 – “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” (1991 Interscope single)

Kiss’ Hot in the Shade tour wasn’t a sellout, but it was well received by fans who appreciated that a bunch of older songs were back in the set.  The tour was unfortunately highlighted by the June 15, 1990 date in Toronto, igniting a feud with Whitesnake.  Kiss were third on a four-band bill, with David Coverdale, Steve Vai and company in the headlining slot.  Paul Stanley used his stage raps to complain that Whitesnake wouldn’t let them use their full setup, including a giant sphinx.  When Whitesnake hit the stage, it was to a chorus of boos.  Steve Vai later stated that it was the first time he had ever been booed.  Vai once even walked onstage to the sound of people chanting “Yngwie! Yngwie! Yngwie!”, but he had never been booed until the incident with Kiss in Toronto.

When the tour wrapped up in November, Kiss took a few months off before gearing up again in the new year.  It was to be another album, another tour, but suddenly real life interfered.

Eric Carr hadn’t been feeling well.  Flu-like symptoms turned out to be heart cancer.  Simultaneously, Kiss received an offer to record a song for the sequel to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  Carr underwent surgery in April, with chemotherapy following.  Having little choice, Kiss recorded without him.  Eric Singer, who had performed so well on Paul Stanley’s solo tour, filled in on drums.  Eric Carr, in a wig, was able to play for the music video taping.  He gave his all, and did a full day’s shoot, with excellent (pun intended) results.

Unfortunately a rift was developing, with Eric Carr feeling shunned and excluded from Kiss.  He was afraid he was going to be replaced, permanently, and his relationship with the band was strained.  Although everybody hoped Eric would make a full recovery, he passed away from a brain haemorrhage on November 24, 1991.  Eric Carr was 41.

On the same date, Freddie Mercury of Queen succumbed to AIDS.  Carr’s death was barely mentioned in the news, including Rolling Stone magazine who missed it completely, prompting a harsh reply from Kiss:

If anything positive came from Eric Carr’s death, it was that Kiss were going to put all that anger and frustration back into the music.  The music was to be their Revenge.

It started with “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II”, a re-imagining of an old Argent song for the Bill & Ted movie.  Eric Carr may not have been well enough to play drums, but that didn’t stop him from singing.  His vocals on “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” were his last.  The song wouldn’t be the same without Carr, as he can be heard sweetly harmonising with Paul Stanley.   Eric Singer wasn’t credited on the single, or the final soundtrack for Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.  It simply says “performed by Kiss”.

“God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” was important for two more reasons.  First, and very significantly, it was produced by Bob Ezrin.  Ezrin was responsible for the two albums that some consider Kiss’ best, and Kiss’ worst.  It had been 10 years.  A Kiss-Ezrin reunion was very big news for fans.  It indicated that Kiss meant business this time.  Secondly, “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” was the first Paul Stanley/Gene Simmons (with Bob Ezrin and Russ Ballard) co-writing credit since 1985, and their first shared vocals in ages upon ages.

Although it didn’t make waves in 1991, “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” has become enough of a favourite to make it onto 2015’s Kiss 40 compilation, and continue to be played live.  It shows off what Kiss can really do.  Yes, they can sing!  Yes, they can play!   This lineup could do it particularly well.  It’s appropriate that Eric Carr went out on a good Kiss track.  And Eric Singer was the right guy to continue.

There are three released versions of “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II”:  The single edit (3:57), the soundtrack version (5:23) and the final 1992 version that was later released on the next Kiss album (5:19).  The single edit cuts out too much of the grand, pompous arrangement, including the epic opening.

In an ironic twist, the version of “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II” that is in the movie has a guitar intro solo by Steve Vai.  The same guy whose band got booed in Toronto thanks to Kiss.

The CD single is rounded out by two more songs from the Bill & Ted soundtrack, by Slaughter and King’s X.  The King’s X track, “Junior’s Gone Wild” (previously reviewed in our mega King’s X series) has never been one of their better tunes, but as a non-album rarity, a nice one to have.  Just don’t judge King’s X by this one track.  Slaughter turned in something better, a fun party tune called “Shout It Out”, also a non-album recording.  Slaughter, of course, were one of Kiss’ well-received opening acts on the Hot in the Shade tour.  And what was their Kiss connection?  Mark Slaughter and Dana Strum were in a band with Kiss’ old guitar player, called the Vinnie Vincent Invasion!

As work proceeded on the next LP, the world suddenly changed.  Hard rock was out, and grunge took over MTV.  This single bought Kiss a little bit of time, but it was going to be the longest gap between Kiss albums yet — three years.  Revenge had to wait a little longer.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars

 

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/08

 

 

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: Deep Purple – “Johnny’s Band” (2017 single)

DEEP PURPLE – “Johnny’s Band” (2017 Edel single)

2017 is the year of Purple. Witness: We have not just their awesome new album InFinite, but also a new live album included with the deluxe box set version.  There is a Classic Rock magazine CD called Limitless including an exclusive version of “Black Night”.  There have been two CD singles (“Time for Bedlam” and “All I Got is You“) each with their own exclusives.  Now, Deep Purple have released their third single from InFinite, called “Johnny’s Band”.  More exclusives abound, making this quite a fun year for Deep Purple fans and collectors.  Have you been keeping up?

If you bought InFinite (and you should, what are you waiting for?), then you know “Johnny’s Band” is one of the most instantly catchy songs on it.  Upbeat and danceable, “Johnny’s Band” is a hoot.  Gillan’s lyrics are witty and honest, and did you notice the musical segue into “Louie Louie”?  “Johnny’s Band” is a much more obvious single than the first two they released, so let’s be glad that somebody thought Deep Purple needed three singles for InFinite.  The lyrics tell the story of a band who hit it big, fell down hard, but keep slogging away in the bars anyway.  In the end, Gillan gives it a positive conclusion.  It is, after all, all about the music.

But hey, it’s Johnny’s Band,
Playing all those wonderful songs,
Making the rounds with that old fashioned sound,
And here we are singing along.

Perhaps there’s a little slice of life in there.

Track 2 is an unreleased studio jam.  “In & Out Jam” focuses on a low key guitar riff as its base, but spreads in other musical directions from there.  The bottom line is this:  Steve Morse, Don Airey, Roger Glover and Ian Paice jamming together is always going to produce something of value.  “In & Out Jam” isn’t a song and probably wasn’t likely to ever become one, but these are ideas from the best brains in rock and enough to make the musician in you weep in sorrowful inadequacy.

Live tracks from Gaelve, Sweden finish off this single.   There are now three different live versions of “Strange Kind of Woman” released this year.  My Deep Purple folder has 27 different versions of “Strange Kind of Woman”!  How much is too much?  Who cares.  “The Mule” is played far more rarely, but there is still another version of it on the deluxe boxed InFinite set.  It’s a thunderous showcase for drummer Ian Paice, who is still one of the greats at age 69.  The years take their toll on everyone, but Paicey does not sound 69 years old here!

The last of the live songs is the newest, “Hell to Pay” from 2013’s Now What?!  This is only the third live version of the song ever released.  It’s a short blast of guitar and keyboard mania, with a chorus on top.  Its most interesting feature is the organ solo in the middle, something you don’t hear on many singles (which “Hell to Pay” was).

Purple are currently on tour with Alice Cooper.  Both artists have put out remarkably strong albums in 2017.  Will wonders never cease?

4/5 stars

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

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

REVIEW: Spaceballs – The Soundtrack (1987)

I will be going LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  If you’re in the UK, why not wake up with us and some cool soundtrack music?

May was Star Wars month on Visions In Sound, but now it’s June and it’s also the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars parody Spaceballs!  We will be spinning music and discussing this comedy classic.  Jason Drury and I will help Rob with the celebration.  Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET)

 

SPACEBALLS – The Soundtrack (1987 Atlantic)

Hello, baaaaabay!

Composer John Morris has a long career working with Mel Brooks.  The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles…all that was John Morris.  He is also responsible for the “Spaceballs Main Title Theme”, which is intentionally cheesy complete with laser beam sounds.  Any spoof of Star Wars should also spoof the music, and the title theme suits that role.  It sounds 50% Star Wars, and 50% The Last Starfighter.  It’s rousing but not at all serious, and a fine indication of the kind of movie that Spaceballs is.  The film wasn’t so well received back in 1987, but today it is fondly remembered.  Mel Brooks is even considering a sequel.

Kim Carnes and Jeffrey Osborne provide the love ballad “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own”.  I enjoy Kim’s rasp, always nice to hear, but I couldn’t tell you what scene in the movie this goes with (and I’ve seen the movie 100 times at least.)  You can safely skip this one. Berlin have a cool track called “Heartstrings”, produced by none other than Bob Ezrin! This one is worth a listen.

The “Spaceballs Love Theme” is a violin piece composed Morris and performed by Gerry Vinci.  It too has a hint of corniness, but it could also fit into just about any Hugh Grant rom-com.  Also by Morris is “The Winnebago Crashes”, the point in the film in which our heroes crash on the desert planet.  This is an action packed centerpiece, with drums pattering away and horns ablaze.  This is melded with a tension-filled “The Spaceballs Build Mega Maid”.  Too bad these bits had to be edited together for the album.

“Spaceballs” by the Detroit Spinners is a hoot.  This is pure 80s soundtrack music.  Who you gonna call?  You’re in the right ballpark anyway.   It’s fun, and funny.  The Pointer Sisters have “Hot Together”, and it sounds just like the Pointer Sisters.  Disposable 80s pop but fun in the moment.  In a similar vein is “Wanna Be Loved By You” by a group called Ladyfire.  If you miss the days of the Bangles and Bananarama, then you’d dig Ladyfire.

Of course the Spaceballs movie had a lot more music than this.  It’s clear that this CD is just a cross-section with an emphasis on pop, which would have been the selling point for most.  Those who have seen the movie know there were two more big songs.  One was “Raise Your Hands” from Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet.  That’s not on the CD, but Van Halen’s “Good Enough” is.  Fans will recall that this song is playing as Barf (John Candy) and Lone Star (Bill Pullman) enter the space diner, just before John Hurt’s chest explodes and gives birth to an Alien.  It’s good to know that Eddie Van Halen’s axe will still be wailing away in the distant future.  Van Hagar were perfect music for the sleazy diner and it’s nice to get one rock song on this CD.

There is also a 19th Anniversary Edition available, expanded with all the cues and alternate takes too.  Still no Bon Jovi though….

2.5/5 stars (for this edition)