Jim Vallance

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Hey Stoopid (1991)

First of an Alice Cooper double shot!  Tomorrow, The Last Temptation!

ACHS_0002ALICE COOPER – Hey Stoopid (1991 Sony)

When Hey Stoopid first came out in ’91, fans were still reeling from the disappointment (but commercial success) that was the Trash CD. Fans wanted Alice to get heavier and drop the cheese, and Hey Stoopid was a step in the right direction, to be fully realized on his next album The Last Temptation.

It was the era of the virtuoso, and Cooper certainly knows a good musician when he hears one. To me it was a stroke of genius to have Steve Vai and Joe Satriani record a guitar solo together for the first time, and on a song called “Feed My Frankenstein” no less! Guest shots by Ozzy (barely audible, though), Nikki Sixx, Vinnie Moore, and Slash provided enough hype for the fans to salivate.

Songwriting-wise, Hey Stoopid was a step up from Trash. The title track with its lyrical warnings of drug abuse was a fun catchy rocker with a tasty Satriani solo. The solos on this album are all too brief. Still the players being as good as they are create solos that enhance each track. Other standouts include the mindblowing “Might As Well Be On Mars”, an epic Desmond Child song that just aches before it explodes on the choruses. “Die For You”, written by Alice with Motley Crue’s Sixx & Mars, as well as Jim Vallance, has a chorus that bores its way into your brain and stays there like a parasite.

There’s still a lot of filler, something that plagues almost Alice album from Goes To Hell through to Hey Stoopid. “Snakebite”, “Hurricane Years”, “Little By Little” and “Dirty Dreams” are all songs that Alice will never play live in concert, and for good reason.

Yet there are still lots of hidden gems on this CD, all the way through to the final track “Wind-Up Toy”. A song about insanity, as only Alice can do, it is something that really hearkens back to Welcome To My Nightmare. What’s this about “Steven”?

There are also a couple lesser known tracks that aren’t on the domestic CD that are worth tracking down: “It Rained All Night” is a slowy, groovy track that was a B-side but better than some of the ballads on the actual album. “Fire” was a Jimi Hendrix cover with some fiery (pun intended) guitar playing.

The most disappointing thing about Hey Stoopid is the production by the normally excellent Peter Collins. Yes, Trash was too glossy, and yes, Hey Stoopid toughens the sound with more guitars. However the background vocals in particular are so dense, so saccharine, that even Def Leppard would blush. They are credited to different groups of people, and clearly there are a lot of voices here creating this gigantic mush of sound. It’s too much. I much preferred when Alice stripped it down on Dirty Diamonds, an album that deserves much praise. In 1991, production values just seemed to go to this extreme — witness Europe’s Prisoners In Paradise CD for a similar sounding album.

Hey Stoopid was Alice attempting to find his footing again, and while it stumbled, it did pave the way for Last Temptation. If grunge didn’t wipe out hard rock later that year, maybe Hey Stoopid would be regarded more fondly.

3/5 stars. Not great, but certainly not a failure.

Promotional "Hey Stoopid" memo

Promotional “Hey Stoopid” memo

REVIEW: Mr. Big – Lean Into It (1991)

Today, the album.  Tomorrow, the singles!  Yes it’s a two-part Mr. Big feature!  Happy long weekend, hope you’re partying safely!  

MR. BIG – Lean Into It (1991 Atlantic)

Yeah yeah yeah…”To Be With You”!   As Mr. Big said themselves on a later album, “Get over it”!

I’ve always considered Mr. Big to be more shred-lite than glam metal or pop metal. After all, with credentials like these…Talas…Racer X…Impelliteri…these guys know how to play. Eric Martin is a unique blue-eyed-soul singer, one of a kind, absolutely brilliant.  Martin and the band also know how to write catchy hard rock tunes. Combine that with their playing pedigree and adventurous arrangements, and I’ll call ’em shred-lite if you let me. And this is a pretty damn good album for rockers who want just a touch of integrity in their pop.

The opener kicks you right in the nuts with one of the best Big tunes ever, “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song)” (whew).  The album starts with an adrenaline rush straight to the head.  Why the “Electric Drill Song”?  Because it opens with the sound of Paul Gilbert and Billy Sheehan playing their instruments with electric drills with guitar picks glued to the bit!  In unison?  Basically spoofing the whole “How fast can you play?” question, Big’s creativity make this speed rocker a standout.

“Alive and Kickin'” is nothing more than a hard rocker with soulful vocal and killer chorus, but “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind” is classy and cool. Pure pop with an incredible retro melody and adventurous guitar arrangement, this first single went tragically ignored.  I don’t remember it getting much airplay though it deserved it.  I’m not sure if the world of 1991 would have accepted a song like this from a hard rock band.

“CDFF – Lucky This Time” is another weird title. See, “CDFF” stands for CD Fast Forward which is the sound you’re hearing at the opening of this rather ordinary ballad. The only thing really oustanding about this song is Billy’s rumbling bass groove.  The guy doesn’t sound like anybody else, and he raises the song to another level.  “CDFF”  is followed by the cool and swampy “Voodoo Kiss”, which ended side 1 of the original album.

Side 2 kicked off with another pop rocker, “Never Say Never”, co-written by Canada’s own Jim Vallance. Catchy but non-descript. “Just Take My Heart” is the second ballad, and a forgettable song to me. “My Kinda Woman” kicks the adrenaline back in. Yet it is Paul Gilbert’s “A Little Too Loose” that rekindles the creative fires on this album. Bluesy and fun, this was one of the high points of this record. “Road To Ruin” shows off the vocal harmonies of the guys, all good singers in their own right. It’s another creative arrangement. Then, of course, the album ends with “To Be With You” which, hard to believe, was actually a really creative song too!  Before it got played to death. Now, it’s the typical rock ballad, but at the time of release, it was very different from the kind of ballads that other bands were putting out, except possibly Extreme.  It has a sparse, vocal-oriented arrangement, an acoustic guitar solo, and no drums to speak of.

Tomorrow we’ll be talking about two singles from this album “Green-Tinted  Sixties Mind”, and “To Be With You” itself, both of which have worthwhile rare songs!

4/5 stars