david foster

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – From the Inside (1978)

ALICE COOPER – From the Inside (1978 Warner)

In 1978, Alice Cooper’s health had hit a low point.  His excessive drinking was causing bleeding ulcers.  Alcohol always seemed to help before, but now it was time for Alice himself to get help.  He found himself in one of the strangest places he’d ever been in his life:  a sanitarium.

Alice got sober, for a short while anyway, and hooked up with some new players.  He wrote the lyrics for his next album with Bernie Taupin (Elton John) and got David Foster to produce him for the first and only time.  The inspiration for his next concept album was the sanitarium.  The people he encountered there inspired the characters on his album:  Millie, Billie, Nurse Rozetta, Jackknife Johnny, and more.  He amalgamated their stories and and personalities into the characters on the record, and with Bernie Taupin wrote some of his most interesting lyrics.  The horror themes of the past have been replaced by the real life madness of being locked in that place.

Musically, From the Inside is a hard pill to swallow.  Like a dose of Thorazine, it’s a sedated and subdued form of rock and roll, mixing Disco production and David Foster’s soft rock tendencies.  The sound of the album is clean and clear, but it is a dated a product of its time, the compression being the dead giveaway.  From the Inside is far more interesting lyrically than it is musically.  Bob Ezrin used to add strings, orchestras and choirs to the Alice Cooper mix, but David Foster’s version of the same is much more saccharine; much more easy listening without the weirdness.  Few of these songs are still in the live set.  Last time I saw Alice in 2006, he played “Wish I Were Born in Beverly Hills” with his daughter Calico playing a Paris Hilton type character on stage.  The Disco-stompin’ title track, and one of the only hard rockers (“Serious”) have also been performed in recent years.  For the most part, From the Inside is too much of a departure for these songs to having any staying power in Alice’s incendiary live show.

The title track is Alice’s story, and there are subtle references to Alice’s drinking club the Hollywood Vampires.  “Proposed a toast, to Jimi’s ghost.”  There also seems to be just a touch of bitterness about his situation:

Y’all got your kicks from what you saw up there,
Eight bucks even buys a folding chair,
I was downing Seagram’s on another flight,
And I worked that stage all night long.
You were screaming for the villain up there,
And I was much obliged,
The old road sure screwed me good this time,
It’s hard to see where the vicious circle ends.

It’s actually a fun Disco-rock tune, but now it’s time to meet Alice’s friends from the sanitarium.   The aforementioned “Wish I Were Born in Beverly Hills” boasts a catchy chorus (“I wish I could drink as much as she spills!”) and some nice Dick Wagner guitar harmonies.  For haunting music, “The Quiet Room” fits the bill.  It’s clear that the sanitarium was a serious place, and Alice and Bernie paint it clearly.  “They’ve got this place, where they been keepin’ me, where I can’t hurt myself, I can’t get my wrists to bleed.”  The character in this song questions why he wants to kill himself, but laments that he can’t even try in this place, “my Twilight Zone”.  He has spent so long there, alone with his thoughts and memories that “the quiet room knows more about me than my wife.”  It’s a strangely affecting tune.  Alice’s character driven lead vocal is the highlight; musically it’s pretty safe stuff.

The funniest track has to be “Nurse Rozetta”.  The lead character, clearly a priest, seems to really have a thing for Nurse Rozetta.  “I’m suddenly twice my size, my pants are all wet inside.”  Or my favourite line, “She popped the buckle off my Bible belt.”  The perverted priest fantasizes about the nurse on a string-laden but unremarkable tune, once again overshadowed by the words.  Alice and Marcella Detroit duet on “Millie and Billie”, a standard ballad, about a killer “criminally insane” couple to close Side One.

The only really killer hard rock track on the album is “Serious”, commencing the second side.  Foster’s production adds carefully arranged backing vocals, which matches the sound of the album, but dates the music to the time it was recorded.  Ezrin had a way of pulling off similar tricks and making them sound weighty.  Foster turns it around and produces a celebratory, gleeful sound.  I prefer the Ezrin approach, but one time the David Foster style works was the single “How You Gonna See Me Now”.  Something about this schlocky ballad works. The character in the song is writing a letter home to his wife, accompanied by this cheesey 70’s AM radio ballad. That’s the perfect way to do it.

“For Veronica’s Sake” and “Jackknife Johnny” are both good but unremarkable, although it seems Alice and crew really tried! They get an “A” for effort, but this brand of late 70’s adult contemporary rock has not aged well. The playing is the highlight, organ and guitar both. What the album was really missing up to this point is a suitably psychotic Alice Cooper song, but the final track “Inmates (We’re All Crazy)” scratches that itch. With all the pomp and circumstance necessary, this song delivers the dose of drama and strangeness that you need on an Alice Cooper album. It’s a disturbing lyric, too. “It’s not like we did something wrong. We just burned down the church, while the choir within sang religious songs.” Another inmate derailed a train. Then, the child-like sing-song chorus of “We’re all crazy, we’re all crazy, we’re all crazy…(Lizzy Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks)…” Such a contrast, the child-like innocence and the horrendous deeds, but this is nothing new for Alice. The picture is now complete, and the album is over.

The cover art really pops on LP. Alice’s face is painted on hospital doors, which fold out to reveal the characters inside. Too bad all I have here at LeBrain HQ is a little CD booklet.

Alice, Bernie Tauper, David Foster, Dick Wagner, and the rest of them made an accomplished album with From the Inside. It’s a left-of-center artwork that isn’t immediately appealing, but does have the knack of drawing you back for another listen. I recommend doing just that.

3/5 stars

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Part 118: Famous Persons

RECORD STORE TALES PART 118:  Famous Persons

People sometimes ask me, “LeBrain, did you ever meet anybody famous through your store?”  I wish that happened more often.  As it stands my list is pretty meager.  I met Dave McDonald, the local weather man.  He wanted in the store early one day.

My meager list:

1. London, Ontario’s “Snake the Tattoo Man”, whose biggest claim to fame was appearing on Phil Donahue, and in a Helix video (“Running Wild in the 21st Century”).  He thought he deserved a discount on CD’s because, as per his words:  “I’m the Tattoo Man”.

2. Country singer Beverley Mahood, a little bit after the initial fame.  She’d worked with David Foster in the past.  She was a regular.  One time she came in and held up her CD.  “That’s me!” she said.  I felt like saying, “Yup…and that’s you in the bargain bin at $4.99, too!”

3. Grammy Award winning Polka King Walter Ostenek, who I’m told is a bit of a pompous ass.  I talked about him in a previous installment.

4. Former Helix and Saga drummer Brian Doerner, who was a super nice guy that didn’t buy anything on that visit.  However I got some drum sticks and autographs out of him later on!

5. The dad of ex-Helix and Brighton Rock guitarist Greg “Shredder” Fraser.  Nice, chatty guy.  Very proud of his son.

6. Blue Rodeo slide guitarist Bob Egan, who never said much of anything.  Just looked around.  I wasn’t sure it was him until I heard that he lived in town, and sure enough, it was Bob Egan.  I believe today he occassionally collaborates with one of our store managers.

That’s about it.  This isn’t exactly a booming metropolis, and we attracted the bare minimum of people with any sort of fame.  During my 20’s, I used to fantasize that singer songwriter Dayna Manning who lived in Stratford would pop in, and we’d meet.  That never happened.

Instead, I had Snake the Tattoo Man coming in.  Good ol’ T-Rev ran into him first.  He said to Snake, “If you wanna talk to a huge Helix fan, talk to Mike.”  So he made a trip specifically to talk to me.  What Trevor failed to get through Snake’s head is that I was a huge Helix fan, not a huge Snake the Tattoo Man fan.  So Snake walked in trying to sell me Snake merch!  I disappointed him by not buying one of his autographed glossy photos.

“Do you want to buy a picture of me with Phil Donahue?  I signed it for you.  $10.  Me and Donahue.  I also have me and Helix.  I’ll give you a deal if you buy five.”

Thanks Trev.  That was such a wonderful experience!