Prince of Darkness

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Prince of Darkness (1989)

ALICE COOPER – Prince of Darkness (1989 MCA)

Even though Alice hadn’t produced anything as timeless as “School’s Out” during his 1980’s comeback, his profile rose greatly.  Clean, sober and focused, Alice Cooper was very active in the last part of the decade.  The same year as his final MCA album Raise Your Fist and Yell, he had memorable appearance at Wrestlemania III.  In the corner of “good guy” Jake the Snake Roberts, Cooper had the honour of draping Roberts’ snake named Damien all over the Honky Tonk Man.  After that, even my dad knew who Alice Cooper was.

Cooper only had a two record deal with MCA:  Constrictor was the first in ’86; also the first album in the comeback period.  Having re-established himself with MCA, Alice then signed with Epic and had a genuine smash success with 1989’s Trash.  With a dream team of writers and collaborators (including hitsmiths Desmond Child, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and many more), Alice scored a platinum album.

While Trash was still charting and producing singles, MCA put out a competing record:  Prince of Darkness, a 10 track compilation of Cooper’s material for that label.  Normally these kinds of releases are throw-aways, but Prince of Darkness is not and this review will tell you all about it.

It is not unfair to state that Constrictor and Raise Your First were mixed affairs.  You had to wade through a significant amount of filler to reach a disproportionate amount of modern classics.  Prince of Darkness does a great service by collecting some of the best material together on one CD.  It is well sequenced and even includes one rare track, an exclusive on compact disc.

A grand opening is the dark and metallic “Prince of Darkness”, a theme song from a movie of the same name.  This ominous and menacing track is one of the more memorable from this era, a heavy monument.  It works amazingly well as an opening track, and “Roses on White Lace” follows by going faster and heavier.  It was surprising to hear Alice creep this close to thrash metal, but what a track!  A distorted vocal adds to the creep factor, making this one of the better samples of Cooper’s music during his “splatter horror” period.  The 1986 single “Teenage Frankenstein” would be a must-own for any fan, and there it is in the #3 position.  The big single from this era was “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”, a synthpop classic quite unlike the prior metal material.  Right here is an easy and simple way to get this classic track, without having to buy Constrictor.  Same with “Teenage Frankenstein”.

A nice little track here is a 1976 live recording of “Billion Dollar Babies”!  This was a B-side from the “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” single, but Prince of Darkness is the only CD with it.  The track itself sounds heavily remixed (remixing is credited to Garth Richardson) but it is indeed a B-side that is easy to acquire by getting this disc.  Ignore the annoying, screaming overdubbed crowd and just dig the vintage performance of one of Alice Cooper’s most timeless numbers.

There are a few filler tracks on side two.  “Lock Me Up” was fun, but not particularly memorable.  Feel free to skip “Simple Disobedience” and “Thrill My Gorilla”, and go straight to “Life and Death of the Party”.  Alice steps back into the shadows for a chilling horror number, mid-tempo and overcast.  We are over and out with “Freedom”, another great single and dangerously close to thrash metal again.  Prince of Darkness serves as the most effective way to get this one.

That’s why I recommend Prince of Darkness to any fan who wants to get a slice of Alice in the late 80’s — but just a slice.  The whole cake is for diehards.

4/5 stars
COOPER

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REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Raise Your Fist and Yell (1987)

Scan_20160303ALICE COOPER – Raise Your Fist and Yell (1987 MCA)

And lo!  The beast named Alice reincarnated with a slab of wax, and they called it Constrictor.  Slithering into the spotlight again was a triumph of will:  Alice battled his demons (including the bottle), found some new young band members and started fresh on a new label.    Though the music was merely OK, at least the man himself was doing just fine.  As fans, I believe we genuinely wish our rock star heroes to be healthy and happy, so even if the music wasn’t the greatest, we could be glad that Alice was back.

In the 70’s and early 80’s, Alice Cooper maintained a breakneck release schedule.  This slowed down a bit in the second phase of Cooper’s career, but he still managed to follow Constrictor a mere 12 months later with Raise Your Fist and Yell.  I probably don’t need to tell you this, but look at the cover:  certainly one of the worst to ever envelope a major label release.  The guilty party is a fella named Jim Warren who must hate this cover as much as I do, because just look at it.

It continued with the same shock-rock horror-splatter-movie theme, but turned up louder.  Indeed, the lead single “Freedom” was the fastest most thrash-like track that Alice had yet performed.  Censorship was a big target in Alice’s sights.  “Freedom” was his ode to the PMRC:  “You want to rule us with an iron hand, you change the lyrics and become big brother.  This ain’t Russia!  You ain’t my dad or mother.”  Lemme tell you, when “Freedom” came out, the PMRC seemed a genuine threat.  Dee Snider and Frank Zappa were testifying in front of the senate and stores were refusing to stock records.  “Freedom” was an anthem we could all get behind.  I don’t think anybody expected him to go so heavy!

The video was interesting. Kane Roberts looks like he’s not sure if he’s at a bodybuilding competition or a music video shoot. There were some new guys in the band; that’s not Kip Winger on bass. On drums is Ken Mary, later of House of Lords. Most interesting is the guy dressed as a priest. You can see him up close during the lyric “Back off preacher I don’t care if it’s Sunday.” They looked like the biggest bunch of misfits assembled. Perhaps this is what Alice was going for?

During this period, Alice was writing a few goofy rock songs.  “Lock Me Up” is silly, but fun.  It has a beat and you can headbang to it.  “Take the Radio Back” sounds like a predecessor to “Hey Stoopid”, but not quite.  “Give the radio back to the maniac!” sings Alice.  Is he begging for airplay?  It’s OK, but “Step on You” isn’t really.  There are moments here and there, but these are mediocre songs.  “Step on You” has an interesting atonal instrumental section but it doesn’t fit the song at all.  “Not That Kind of Love” continues the heavy rock, but without hooks.

Back to quality, “Prince of Darkness” is a heavy metal horror movie theme, from the film of the same name in which Alice had a cameo.  Menacing and intense, this tune scores high marks on both the Cooper Scale of Rock Thrills and Chills, and the Cooper Scale of Heavy.  Kane Roberts’ lead solo is pure pointless 80’s excess, but the song is what counts and it’s a good’un.  The acoustic outro is perfection.

“Time to Kill” keeps things above the bar.  “Chop, Chop, Chop” does not.  I know — you’re surprised, right?  A song called “Chop, Chop, Chop” isn’t a diamond of the highest carat weight?  Nor is it a turd, but certainly well below the watermark.  It does serve as a lead-in to “Gail”, a high quality also-ran that recalls Alice in the year 1975.  It is the only Kip Winger co-write on the album, and he’s responsible for its eerie keyboard vibe.  Finally it’s “Roses on White Lace”, another borderline thrash metal track that absolutely rips every head in the room off.  This track, firmly in the splatter film world, is an excellent example of Alice at his heaviest.  For its entire duration, it’s breakneck speed.  Bold song to end an album with.

Post album, Kip Winger and keyboardist Paul Taylor bailed, and formed another band you might have heard of.  Michael Wagener produced this record, and while heavy, the album is definitely lacking sonically in comparison to its contemporaries.  All told there are four songs worth buying the album for:  “Freedom”, “Prince of Darkness”, “Roses on White Lace”, and Gail.  Three of those four songs can be found on the MCA compilation Prince of Darkness.  So…your move.

2.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Prince of Darkness (2005 Sony box set)

PRINCE OF DARKNESS_0001OZZY OSBOURNE – Prince of Darkness (2005 Sony)

Let’s pretend that you’re involved with Ozzy Osbourne’s management or record label.  When it comes time to release that first “definitive” box set, I’m sure you’d have your own ideas for making it the best box that Ozzy could release.  Ozzy Osbourne in 2005 had eight mostly great studio albums, numerous live records, and more rarities than you could shake a stick at.  They certainly had a lot of music to choose from.  I greeted the eventual release of Prince of Darkness with great excitement at these rarities…but tremendous disappointment at the overall listening experience.

A 4-CD box set is a lot of listening and in order to keep it riveting from end to end, you have to pick the right tracks and sequence them for maximum firepower.  Somebody at Sony’s box set department didn’t get my memos on that, obviously, because Prince of Darkness is one of the most annoying box sets to listen to in its entirety.   They decided to do two discs “anthology” style, with live and rare tracks mixed in.  The third disc is a questionable collection of Ozzy collaborations.  The final CD is the worst of all:  covers that Ozzy recorded and later released on their own album, Under Cover!  A CD that was released only months after Prince of Darkness itself — with additional bonus tracks to milk it further, forcing the completist to buy it again!

PRINCE OF DARKNESS_0004I have so many complaints about this set that I felt it best to list them all off in point form.

1. Never, ever start your box set off with a live track.  Even if that live track is “I Don’t Know” from Randy Rhoads Tribute.

2. Because this set was released in 2005, you are hearing the re-recorded bass and drums on all the songs from Blizzard and Diary…not the classic original versions.

3. Same with the tunes from Bark at the Moon.  These are the remixed versions found on the 2002 reissue of that album.  There are only two songs from that album anyway.  “Bark” itself is an unreleased live version.

4. Two CDs is not enough space to represent Ozzy’s album output in a box set, especially when you include the studio albums, live albums and rare tracks too.  The early Randy Rhoads material makes up the bulk of disc one, leaving the Jake E. Lee years under represented.  There are no songs from The Ultimate Sin at all, only the three live tracks originally for the Ultimate Live Ozzy EP.

5.  There are a few baffling exclusions, such as “Miracle Man” (first single with Zakk) and “I Just Want You”, in favour of also-rans such as “Spiders”.

6. The collaborations disc is a total mess.  “Purple Haze” is just a Hendrix cover from the No Rest For the Wicked era, by Ozzy’s band.  It’s not a collaboration, just a cover they did for the Make A Difference Foundation CD called Stairway To Heaven/Highway To Hell.  It’s a real challenge to listen to this whole CD in one sitting.  One moment you’re rocking out to a killer version of “N.I.B.” with Primus, the next you’re barfing through a piece of crap with Tony Iommi and Wu-Tang Clan.  From Was Not Was to Miss Piggy, at least the CD is diverse, and it does collect a lot of Ozzy’s singing from albums I don’t have.  I already had the Miss Piggy track but not the cover of “Stayin’ Alive” by Dweezil Zappa! Nor did I have “I Ain’t No Nice Guy” by Motörhead, from the mediocre March ör Die.  This disc is too jokey and not at all consistent.

PRINCE OF DARKNESS_0005

7. Even though the third disc collects a variety of tracks from a number of CDs, I am certain that Ozzy fans who buy this kind of box set already had some of them.  Including “Psycho Man” by Black Sabbath (not even a single remix version) from the Reunion CD (2008) is odd.  Many Ozzy and Sabbath collectors already have the Nativity in Black CDs, where the Primus and Therapy? tracks come from.

8. “Nowhere to Run (Vapor Trail)” by DMX, Ozzy Osbourne, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, The Crystal Method and Fuzzbubble is edited!  This track was from the South Park album and still features Isaac Hayes’ introduction, as “Chef”.  For reasons I cannot explain at all, the swearing and “n” words are blanked, and there were a lot of them.   It’s also missing ODB’s rant at the end, which itself was edited off later versions of the South Park CD.  (I have an earlier version with the rant intact.)

9. The packaging leaves a hell of a lot to be desired.  Inside the box which is just book-style, you will find a nice big booklet that just sits loose inside.  There is no way to secure it in, so it’ll fall out any time you pick it up!

10. Speaking of that booklet, the liner notes suck.  Ozzy has a brief note about each song, but not necessarily any useful information.  For example, regarding that South Park track, all we’re told is that Ozzy bit the head off Kenny.  Nothing about how that random assortment of artists was assembled.  The book is padded out with lyrics and shoddy credits that aren’t very accurate.  “Bark at the Moon” live for example was recorded in 1982-1983 according to the notes.  Come on, guys!  Not good enough for a box set.

11.  The entire fouth CD sucks.  You can read my review of the expanded Under Cover version of it here.  (Long story short: 1/5 stars.)  The only difference is that the box set includes Kelly Osbourne’s duet with daddy, on “Changes”.  This song was only included on the Japanese version of Under Cover but not the regular domestic.

Fortunately, Prince of Darkness is not a total bust.  Some of the unreleased tracks are real treasures, such as the demo of “S.I.N.” called “Won’t Be Coming Home”.  I prefer this to the album version from No More Tears by a long shot, as I do the twangier “I Don’t Want to Change the World”.  I also love the demo for the emotional ballad “See You On the Other Side”, which features previously unheard saxophone accompaniment.  I appreciated that they included the live version of “Perry Mason” from the Ozzfest 1 CD, which enabled me to sell off that pretty crappy album.

It’s easy to bitch and complain (don’t I know it?) but if I were to make a 4 CD Ozzy box from the same period, I would have done it very differently.  The covers CD would be axed completely and the rarities set aside to a disc all their own.  The first two “anthology” discs would be strictly studio versions, and original studio versions at that, with only a sprinkle of tracks from Randy Rhoads Tribute.  I would try to squeeze in more rare tracks from B-sides and EPs, and I would definitely try to mix them in with the collaborations so that you’re not left listening to so many of those novelty tunes in a row.

Buyer beware — Prince of Darkness is not the feast you were hoping for. This is a poorly executed package. When you have an artist like Ozzy Osbourne, you really gotta screw up bad to put out a set that is this hard to listen to. Prince of Darkness is going back on the shelf, for a good long while.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Ultimate Live Ozzy (picture disc EP)

Welcome to the third WEEK OF SINGLES!  Once again, we’ll be looking at singles and EPs all week.  Up first is a really odd one.

Click here to see directories for the last two installments:  The Week of Singles, and the Week of Singles 2.

OZZY OSBOURNE – Ultimate Live Ozzy (1986 CBS picture 12″ record)

T-Rev bought this for me a year or two ago, God knows where he found it!  All I know is that one day I got a text from him saying, “Mikey, Ultimate Live Ozzy picture disc, do you need it?”  I obviously said yes,  I didn’t care what it was exactly.  I figured it was probably live cuts from The Ultimate Ozzy home video release.  I know that Ozzy picture discs go for crazy amounts of money at record shows, and this one was affordably priced.

Picture discs don’t sound the best, and this one even has a label on the front warning the consumer of this fact.  Unfortunately my plastic sleeve isn’t in the greatest shape, although the record is absolutely perfect.  I love the way the turntable spindle sticks out of Ozzy’s tongue on one side.  The other side has a picture of Ozzy and guitarist Jake E. Lee with the girl from The Ultimate Sin album cover.  Jake’s taking a bite out of her bum.

Here’s the weird thing.  Even though the label clearly states these are live versions from Kansas in 1986 (the Ultimate Ozzy video shoot), there are no live songs.  There are three tracks per side, and both sides are identical.  They contain the studio versions of “The Ultimate Sin”, “Never Know Why”, and “Thank God for the Bomb”.  The studio versions — not live versions!  Somebody screwed up somewhere; you have to assume one side was meant to have the live tracks, and the other the studio counterparts.  Information is scarce, except that there are multiple reports of the same issue for this picture disc on the web.

Thankfully, the three missing live tracks are on the Prince of Darkness box set.   It’s always nice to get some live Ozzy stuff with Jake E. Lee, since it’s so rare to find.  Randy Castillo (R.I.P.) is on drums, and like him or not, he has a signature style that he utilized with Ozzy.  I enjoy his drumming.  The live versions are more keyboard heavy than the studio counterparts.  I enjoy Jake’s echoey guitar intro to “Thank God for the Bomb” which sounds cool live.

I’d love to know if these three live tracks were actually released on vinyl at all in 1986.  Prince of Darkness was released in 2005; that’s a long time to wait to finally get the tracks in an audio format!  I do have the Ultimate Ozzy video on VHS, but it has never been released on an official DVD.  Knowing of Ozzy’s loathing for this period, I wonder if it ever will be.  I doubt it.  It’s too bad, because some have a fondness for The Ultimate Sin and its songs.

If this picture disc had contained the live tracks it was supposed to, I’d give it 4/5 stars.  However, for a screwup this colossal:

0/5 stars.  At least it looks cool.

Final note:  When originally released, this disc came with postcards and a poster.  I have neither.