Michael Bruce

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: 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: Alice Cooper – Old School (1964-1974) (4 CD/DVD/LP/7″ SINGLE & BOOK)

ALICE COOPER – Old School (1964-1974) (2011)

This might be the last time I obsessive-compulsively buy one of these crazy expensive box sets. With fresh memories of how beautiful the AC/DC Backtracks Deluxe box set was, I eagerly placed my preorder. I mean, Alice Cooper 1964-1974! The golden years! The orginal Alice Cooper Band! When it finally arrived I was blown away by the packaging, bonus goodies, and other finds.

SAM_1972

However, musically, this is almost not even worth owning. You have to be a massive, massive, die hard Cooper fan to want to hear a whole five minutes of Bob Ezrin’s kids giggling and singing during the School’s Out sessions. You have to be a masocist to want to hear that horrible loud feedback that just goes on forever during a seven minute run through the same song. The radio ads are nice, but hardly what we as collectors want out of a box set of this stature. Sprinkled in with this junk are the odd good live takes, such as “Under My Wheels” in New York 1973. Unfortunately there are just as many early tracks from the Zappa years that aren’t nearly as good, nor recorded that well. Everything on the first two odds n’ sods discs are either live, rough sketches or demos, studio sessions, or radio ads. Lots of repeat too — there are three takes of “Muscle Of Love”, you will hear “School’s Out” three times in different forms, and “I’m Eighteen” three times as well.

The third CD is, disappointingly an interview disc. It’s a shame to spend this much money and only get three CDs worth of music (the fourth CD is a live one). I did enjoy hearing Alice discuss Muscle of Love and the end of the original band. The other surviving band members, and Ezrin, participate in the discussion.

The only real treasure here musically is the fourth CD, a 10 song set from the Killers tour in 1971. This set is duplicated on a 180 gram vinyl enclosed within. It is from bootleg sources, but where sound quality suffers, the band makes up for it in youth. Lots of static and noise but the band is absolutely on fire in a way that they are not on the first two CDs. I also like that they duplicated the look of 70’s bootleg vinyl with the packaging.

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Finally, there is a 7″ single, heavy vinyl, a replica of Cooper’s first single from 1967 as Nazz. The tracks are “Wonder Who’s Loving Her Now?” and “Lay Down And Die Goodbye”.  (I only wish that there was a way to download this in mp3 format with the purchase of this set.)  See scan below for complete tracklist for the entire box set.  LeBrain is nothing if not helpful!

There is a documentary DVD included as well, which although containing lots of fun vintage clips, is very poor value for the money. You are treated to — for the second time now! — the same interview that you just finished listening to! And not only that, but they chose to shoot the interview with the original band in a noisy maintenance room. Why?

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Now, packaging wise, this box set is a whole other beast!

The box itself is shaped like a kid’s school desk. The old wooden kind that they had in the 50’s, with the top that opens up and the ink well. It’s hinged and it opens where the school desk would. It is very sturdy and the hinge is metal. Inside are, as discussed:

The 12″ vinyl of the live 1971 show.
The 7″ single reproduction.
1 DVD, Old School 1964-1974
4 CDs, Old School 1964-1974

There is a yearbook, with the whole story told by multiple sources. However, a few things are brushed over, such as the alcohol problems that were setting in. Alice was a full blown alcoholic, a 2 beer first thing in the morning kind of guy. His guitar player Glen Buxton was so wasted that they had him onstage with his guitar turned down to 0, and having a guest guitarist play way off to the side. So none of this is in the yearbook. Great photos though, particular of Alice’s own yearbook. The entire band were a highschool band. All five guys. Lots of great photos from this era, and on to the mid-70’s.

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There is a booklet, inside of which is a reproduction concert ticket from 1972 for Wembley. (£1.00 admission back then apparently, imagine that today!) There is also a 1971 tour book (Killers tour), a complete reproduction, and a whole bunch of 8 1/2 x 11 poster reproductions. Lastly there is a replica setlist, which is nothing special. The thing I don’t like about this booklet is that you have to be very careful when you put items back into it, or when you fold everything back together you’ll dogear something.

As I said in the beginning, I think this is the last time I buy one of these box sets compulsively. I knew the music was likely to be iffy and it was. I probably should have saved my money, although the box is a beautiful conversation piece.

2/5 stars, regrettably.