Thank God for Alice Cooper! 50 years ago, he was considered by the mainstream to be nothing more than an untalented shock rocker. In 2020, he is inspiring people to keep on keepin’ on. He’s got a powerful message for anyone who needs to hear it.
“Don’t Give Up” is the most direct, the most topical and the least “Alice” song that the Coop has ever done. Why the “least” Alice? Because this time he is not playing a character. He’s not telling some horrifying bedtime story. Or is he? “Don’t Give Up” is about Coronavirus and blatantly so.
“Yeah, I know you’re struggling right now. We all are, in different ways. It’s like a new world that we don’t even know. It’s hard to sleep, even harder to dream. But look, you got seven billion brothers and sisters all in the same boat! So don’t panic. Life has a way of surviving and going on and on. We’re not fragile and we sure don’t break easy.”
This single was recorded in home studios. It’s accompanied by a cool video expertly produced by Canuck Frank Gryner, using footage sent in by fans. It is so rare for Alice to really make a statement that pertains to current events. And it is a very specific song; there are no underlying stories or metaphors to untangle. But when you think about Coop, it’s not really surprising that he came out of the gates so fast with a song like this. Alice Cooper is a human being that cares about other human beings. The message is simple: keep fighting and don’t give up. Sometimes people need to actually hear the words.
Musically you could call “Don’t Give Up” a power ballad. It has a very 80’s guitar figure, with Alice speaking his message over it. The chorus is more modern, with Alice singing as plaintively as he can. “Don’t Give Up” is unremarkable as a rock ballad, but as a lyrical accomplishment, Alice has forged new ground 50 years on. He has written some remarkably powerful words.
“Our enemy is a cold, indiscriminate monster. It doesn’t care if you’re old or a newborn. It exists to kill. You and I are nothing to it. It has no heart or soul or conscience. Do we fear it? Yeah! Do we cower before it? Hell no! We’re the blood-n-guts human race. And we win.”
The important thing that Alice says here is that it is alright to be afraid. Look, Alice has fought demons, and if this scares him then there is no shame in feeling fear. People are being labelled as cowards for wearing a mask in public. Alice is right — we will win, and we will do whatever it takes to win. If you’re scared right now, you tell ’em that Alice Cooper said that’s OK.
ALICE COOPER – A Paranormal Evening With Alice Cooper at the Olympia Paris (2018 Edel)
You don’t so much ask if a new Alice Cooper live album is good; instead you just ask what songs are on it.
A Paranormal Evening With Alice Cooper at the Olympia Paris (what a mouth full) features “Hurricane” Nita Strauss on lead guitar, Chuck “Beasto Blanco” Garric on bass, drummer Glen Sobel, and guitarists Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen. Guys like Garric and Roxie are the veterans, but Nita Strauss is a serious focal point. She can really shred.
The setlist spans most of Cooper’s career. The CD even opens with “Brutal Planet”, which was the set opener back in 2000 on the Brutal Planet tour. The industrial-tinged song is less jarring live. From there, onto the oldies: “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, “Under My Wheels” and “Department of Youth”. Alice’s band are capable backing singers and they tend to focus on the melody while Alice does his schtick with character. I won’t tell you who Alice name-drops in “Department of Youth” (remember, it used to be teen idol Donny Osmond). That’s a surprise.
Another surprise: the fabulous “Pain” from Flush the Fashion. The powerful dark pop is heavier live, enriched by three guitars in harmony. Alice can still infuse the song with suffering, even decades later. Back to an oldie for a moment with “Billion Dollar Babies” (absolutely massive with three guitars) and then another surprise: “The World Needs Guts”. Very few songs from Constrictor get played live, and this one is a live album debut. There’s a certain nostalgia now for the Kane Roberts era, and “The World Needs Guts” thrills my gorilla on this album. Then to another niche album, 2005’s garage rock of Dirty Diamonds. It’s an underrated gem of an album, and so “Woman of Mass Distraction” is a welcome selection, though others would have been more interesting.
“Poison” is a perennial, and here it is again representing 1989’s Trash album. Every Cooper lineup has its own touch with it. This one isn’t the sleekest version but it’s the most thunderous. To cap off the first CD, it’s “Halo of Flies” from “Killer”, almost 11 minutes in length. This is the kind of deep cut you crave, complete and unedited. Once again, the three guitars really enrich the sound.
Another regular, “Feed My Frankenstein”, is one I could live without. But this one is a generational song. Fans who grew up in the early 90s remember it from Wayne’s World. It’s the song Mrs. LeBrain sang along to in the car. Boring to some, a highlight for others. Then it’s back to “Cold Ethyl” from Welcome to My Nightmare, a stone-cold classic (pardon the pun) highlighting the rock and roll side of Alice. The trade-off guitar solos are a newer twist. From the same album comes “Only Women Bleed”, and really the only slow song in the set. Alice doesn’t need to take it slow!
It took this long to play the one and only new song, “Paranoiac Personality“. It’s not always like this — in the past Alice has peppered his set heavily with new material. For whatever reason, this time the focus is on the variety. There are new songs that will unfortunately never get the chance to shine live. Still, it’s hard to complain, especially when the next song is “Dwight Fry”, the second epic on the album. A medley of “Killer” and “I Love the Dead” keep that same vibe.
“I’m Eighteen” is the beginning of the end, with “School’s Out/Another Brick in the Wall” ringing the final bell. Listen to the band introductions for something that Alice rarely does. Take a minute and appreciate how great Alice’s band is — and always has been no matter the lineup!
A Paranormal Evening With Alice Cooper at the Olympia Paris (say that three times) comes highly recommended. Anyone who collects Alice Cooper will find something here that they’ve wanted to hear live. Has any artist been as great as Alice for as long as Alice? Very few, and this album proves he’s still the one and the only.
ALICE COOPER – A Fistful of Alice (1999 Guardian records, Japanese edition with bonus tracks)
A Fistful of Alice was released at a time when the sometimes maligned The Alice Cooper Showwas the only official live Cooper album. As only the second live Alice record, Fistful didn’t receive the attention it deserved. That’s especially too bad, considering it had cool guests including Slash, Rob Zombie, and Sammy Hagar. There are lots of Alice Cooper live recordings to get today, but in ’99 that wasn’t quite the case. Fistful, recorded at Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina, came a full five years after Cooper’s last studio album,The Last Temptation, ending the long drought. The single new song, “Is Anyone Home?” was a pleasant acoustic rock keeper, but the main feature was the live stuff.
There are lots of versions of this album, but only the Japanese has the full 17 song track list. It took me 15 years to finally track one down at a decent price. The Japanese edition is worth the effort just for “Clones (We’re All)”, a song that was rarely played for a lot of Cooper’s career. It’s from near the start of Alice’s 80’s art-punk persona, but its robotic synth-pop was catchy enough for the Smashing Pumpkins to cover it. The other two bonus tracks are “Bed of Nails” from Trash, and the classic “No More Mr. Nice Guy”. One that wasn’t on the domestic edition, but was on the UK version is “Under My Wheels”. Cooper’s band at this time featured Reb Beach (Winger/Whitesnake) on guitar, and damn does he shred on “Under My Wheels”! The rest of the lineup consisted of Jimmy DeGrasso (Megadeth/Black Star Riders) on drums, guitarist Ryan Roxie (Slash), bassist Todd Jensen (David Lee Roth) and Beach’s old Winger bandmate Paul Taylor on keyboards. This was Taylor’s second stint with Cooper. His first stint in the mid-80’s eventually launched the band Winger, since Kip Winger was in the Cooper band at the time.
Besides “Clones”, other pleasant surprises in the set include “Desperado” (“a song I wrote for Jim Morrison a long time ago”), “Teenage Lament ’74” (dedicated to the glitter and glam rockers) and “I Never Cry”. “Welcome to My Nightmare” is preceded by an excerpt from the chilling classic “Steven”. Familiar concert perennials include “Feed My Frankenstein” with Rob Zombie, “Only Women Bleed” with Slash, and “Elected” featuring both. Slash also plays on the newer tune “Lost in America”, fitting right in there naturally. It’s quite a decent track list, and Cooper’s band is as professional as any other lineup. The sonics are great, and Fistful is a nice full recording without a lot of crowd noise. The Cabo Wabo is probably a great stage for capturing a live recording.
Finally, Alice self-produced the new song “Is Anyone Home?”, featuring a different set of musicians. Unexpectedly pop sounding and even featuring a Beatles-like string section, “Is Anyone Home?” was very unlike most of Alice’s stuff. Take acoustic rock a-la popular 90’s acts like Fastball or the Goo Goo Dolls, crank it up a notch, and add Alice Cooper’s unmistakable voice. It’s a good track to throw on as a bonus for a live album. It did not indicate at all where Cooper was going musically, which would prove to be the industro-metal of Brutal Planet. “Is Anyone Home?” then is an interesting sideline from the main trajectory, but worth having.
A Fistful of Alice was an important album in some ways. At the time, many fans wondered if Alice had quietly retired. He hadn’t. He was playing a lot of golf, but he was also touring regularly. I saw him play a similar set in Kitchener Ontario in 1997, with the lineup including Reb Beach. Like on Fistful, he played a few songs from his most recent album even though he technically wasn’t supporting it, and I liked that. Pick up A Fistful of Alice for a good single-disc summary of the Alice Cooper live experience, and a pretty decent new tune too.
ALICE COOPER – Raise the Dead: Live from Wacken (2CD/1 Blu-ray, 2014 UDR)
This beast of a set was a gift from the ever-faithful Aaron, and I do thank you so much for it. Alice Cooper in 1080i hi-def, 5.1 surround sound. The CD has more songs than the Blu-ray, so I’m going to review both simultaneously, but let you know when it’s a track that’s exclusive to CD. Let’s give’r!
“Hello Hooray”! It’s still daylight in Wacken, when Alice proclaims to “let the show begin, I’ve been ready”. Alice is resplendent in his sharp red and black stripped tux. Australian beauty Orianthi has a drip of blood in the corner her mouth, and smears of it on her guitar and arms. “Hello Hooray” leads directly into a modern version of 1989’s “House of Fire”. With the three guitars live, it has a lot more bite to it, and neat six-string twists. (“House of Fire” briefly segues into the riff from “With a Little Help From My Friends”. Remember that. That’s important.) Not letting up for a second, it’s into “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and then immediately “Under My Wheels”! There’s simply no let up as the crowd starts surfing. Alice’s six piece band are visual and boast three lead soloists.
Newer song “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” is one of only two songs from Welcome 2 My Nightmare. The cool thing is how easily Orianthi digs into the vintage guitar stylings of it. She is an absolute natural. Even though there are four other talented musicians on stage, she commands attention without even trying. Alice chases her around the stage, as she casually throws down classic guitar licks. He has changed into a black leather jacket.
“Billion Dollars Babies” takes the focus temporarily back to the oldies. Alice wields a sword impaled with money, taunting the crowd. The wheels temporarily come off with “Caffeine”. I always welcome newer material, but I’d prefer just about any other song from Welcome 2. Alice has traded the sword for a giant coffee mug that he holds dear like his “precious”. Thankfully Orianthi lays down a blazing solo (actually two) , because otherwise I’d say this is my song on which to pee. But, I wouldn’t want to miss the classic “Department of Youth” from the original Welcome to my Nightmare, one of my top 10 Alice tracks of all time.
I like a rock show with variety, so I’m glad Alice pulled “Hey Stoopid” out of his 1991 hat. In the 5.1 mix, I don’t like the way some of the guitars just kind of drop out in the verses of this arrangement. I’ll have to listen to that again. It didn’t sound right. Otherwise it’s great with plenty of shredding. “Dirty Diamonds” was another surprise. I saw Alice play that one here in Kitchener on the Dirty Diamonds tour. That whole album is excellent, but the title track has a smoking riff. Drummer Glen Sobol gets a moment in the spotlight, accompanied by bassist Chuck Garric. A drum solo in the middle of an Alice Cooper show is not always a good thing, but this is actually a cool, worthwhile solo. There’s some crazy hand-over-hand stuff, tricks with sticks, and interesting cymbal work. Then it’s Orianthi’s turn. She is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the best guitar players out there today. Every note is worth something. The whole band come together at the front line, and the crowd goes nuts! Meanwhile….
As good as the solos are, in the context of the Alice Cooper show, they were merely a distraction. Where did Alice go? The opening strains of “Welcome to My Nightmare” indicate Act II has begun. He has emerged as the Showman. Weilding a dagger in one hand, he leads the charge into 1976’s “Go to Hell”. The two songs serve as a wicked intro to the theatrical part of the show. Alice attacks lead soloist Ryan Roxie with a whip, but it doesn’t phase the guitarist who safely evades him.
Out of Alice’s trick bag comes “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” the legendary campy 80’s theme from Friday the 13th Part III. Stripped of the keyboards and drum machines, it functions as a living, rocking entity. The three guitars enable the band to fill the spaces previously played by synths in the studio. Orianthi’s guitar solo just leaves my jaw on the floor. Keeping with the monster theme is “Feed My Frankenstein” from Hey Stoopid and Wayne’s World. Alice has changed into a blood smeared smock. He is strapped to an evil looking device by “Igor” and electrocuted! Then a monster-sized Franken-Alice appears to finish the song! The real Alice returns in a straight jacket for the still haunting “Dwight Fry”. This most intense Cooper classic is well served by three guitarists, loaning a “Freebird” epic quality to it live. “I’ve gotta get out of here!” screams Alice with the agony he manages to muster for every performance. Breaking free of his bonds, he attacks Nurse Sheryl, only be executed to the tune of the exit music from “Killer”. It’s the guillotine again for Alice Cooper. His head is hoisted into the air by a black-clad executioner to a chorus of “I Love the Dead” (Alice singing off-stage). Act II is over. Act III is beginning.
Though uncredited, the opening music for “DaDa” (from 1983’s DaDa, a cool cameo) plays as Alice is surgically resurrected in the graveyard of the Hollywood Vampires. The Hollywood Vampires were the drinking club down at the Rainbow…the teachers and the students. Lennon and Keith Moon passed down the ways of drinking to the likes of Vincent Furnier and Marc Bolan. A voice booms to Alice, “What are you going to do? Raise the dead?” So that’s what Alice does….
First it’s Morrison. The Doors’ “Break on Through” finally has balls to it! I never liked the Doors. I like Alice doing the Doors, so they can’t be all that bad. What’s interesting is how Alice can morph his voice to suit these covers. He uses a lower, howling early Alice voice to do the Doors. For the next track, “Revolution” (exclusive to CD) he uses his nasal Cooper voice, to cop that Beatles feel. He also does the opening McCartney scream…of course. You have to have that. The band hit the high backing notes perfectly too. The classic riff to “Foxy Lady”(exclusive to CD) indicates that Jimi Hendrix is the next Hollywood Vampire to be honored. Another cool connection is that both Alice and Jimi were important musical icons honored in the movie Wayne’s World. And the song was “Foxy Lady”. Next it’s Keith Moon and “My Generation”. Chuck Garric gets a moment to shine on those glorious Entwistle bass licks. It’s quite a bit more modern and slick than the Who’s, but the backing vocals are remarkably authentic.
Thematically “My Generation” connects to “I’m Eighteen”. Ryan Roxie and Orianthi both play solos on “Eighteen”, and smoke each one. Then, “Poison” is the final song of the set, a slick reminder that Alice Cooper survived the 1970’s only to become more popular than ever in the 80’s, 90’s and present. “Poison” has stood the test of time. It’s not a particularly simple song; just listen to those backing vocals. They have to be right, they can’t be off. Although I hadn’t really thought of “Poison” as a set closer, it does work in that slot and ends the show on a celebratory note.
The encore of “School’s Out” is the real celebration of course; the stage ablaze with lights and Alice clad in gold. It’s a mash-up with “Another Brick in the Wall”, proving again that mash-ups can sometimes produce fascinating results. I love Alice’s stage introductions for the musicians. “In a world where evil has a name, and that name is…Orianthi! And playing the part of Alice Cooper tonight…me!”
But Nurse Sheryl returns to the stage one last time and stabs Alice! I have a feeling our anti-hero will be back to terrorize us again on another tour….
There is only one Blu-ray bonus feature. The pre-Wacken interview with Alice is cool because it’s completely uncut. It’s only 20 minutes, but it’s insightful. Cooper is always a pleasure to listen to. The concept behind Raise the Dead revolves around his old, long gone buddies from the Hollywood Vampire. With this show, Cooper is paying tribute back to those guys, his idols and friends. The show has some history to it, he says. A little bit of a lesson. But the kids already know the songs, says Alice. The tunes like “Foxy Lady” and “Break on Through” are already familiar to them. Every kid seems to own a classic rock T-shirt.
Cooper muses that his live show is probably as close to Broadway as many of his new young fans will ever see. He reminds us that he has his own Broadway influences — “Gutter Cat vs. the Jets” from West Side Story, for example. His own solo band is so tight now that he doesn’t have to worry about the music part. Alice can get on with the show and performance, because the music is in good hands. He has particular praise for the stage presence and chops of Orianthi. As for the show, It’s no longer about shock, says Alice. You can’t shock the audience anymore. Now, it’s about entertainment. Give them something entertaining and of good value.
The hidden theme in the show is that everything is connected. The kids pick up on the connections behind the music. “School’s Out” and “Another Brick in the Wall” are presented as a medley. Who produced both songs? Whose kids are on both songs? Bob Ezrin. Connections!
The Blu-ray also has a substantial booklet included, the kind of thing that people who buy physical product still care about. I’d rather have this than a crappy photo slide show or text on a DVD. My only quibble is that I was underwhelmed by the 5.1 mix. I may have had my setting messed up, and I will have to try again. It was “Hey Stoopid” where this was particularly unpleasant to me. I’ll have to check that and try again. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the CDs, which sound friggin’ great.
I cannot believe that this album came out 20 years ago. We’d been inundated with GN’R solo albums in recent years, and I had no interest in yet another. It was T-Rev who urged me to check it out. T-Rev was a huge Guns N’ Roses fan. Gilby Clarke was in GN’R for a few years, long enough to make some friends in high places and record this amazing debut solo record before being kicked out by Axl himself. (He was replaced by Axl’s childhood friend and co-writer Paul Tobias.) Pawnshop Guitars is, of all the solo material recorded by all the ex-GN’R members, the very best of the bunch.
Every single member of the GN’R lineup circa 1994 makes an appearance here: Slash, Duff, Matt, Dizzy, and even the reclusive Axl himself, on a cover of “Dead Flowers”. Rob Affuso of Skid Row, Frank Black, Ryan Roxie and more show up for the party, and it sounds like one hell of a party. The Slash solos are unmistakable on “Tijuana Jail” (a “Radar Love”-esque smoker) and “Cure Me…Or Kill Me…”. Indeed one wonders why they didn’t just release a bunch of these songs, a bunch of Slash’s songs, and call it the next Guns N’ Roses album. Alas that never happened.
On this side of the border 20 pesos gets you dead
I don’t think there are any weak songs on Pawnshop Guitars. The influences are varied, but there is a strong vintage flavour. Whereas Izzy Stradlin tended to channel the Rolling Stones via Keith Richards on his own solo debut, Gilby draws from the Beatles and Stones in equal measure. A song like “Black” sounds like a John Lennon outtake, but mixed with a batch of Joe Perry’s Boneyard Brew hot sauce. I like Gilby’s lead vocals. He’s not a power singer but his voice has character that suits the music. It lends it a glam rock slant.
Other standout songs include the swampy “Skin & Bones” (an acoustic number that would have worked great as a GN’R tune), “Hunting Dogs”, “Jail Guitar Doors”, “Shut Up”…hell they’re all great. T-Rev talked me into buying this album and it was a great purchase. I liked it immediately. Any serious Guns N’ Roses fan would do well to own this, one of the missing links between Use Your Illusion and Chinese Democracy.