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REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Sound of A (2018 EP)

ALICE COOPER – The Sound of A (2018 Ear Music EP)

“The Sound of A” is in the air…but it took 50 years to get there!

Alice Cooper’s Paranormal was one of the most delightful rock releases of 2017, which really came as no surprise.  Alice has been consistently awesome for several albums in a row.  Any time he works with producer Bob Ezrin, you can count on quality.  The new five track Sound of A EP is quality.

The song “The Sound of A” was written in 1967 by Alice and bassist Dennis Dunaway.  When Cooper reunited with members of the original band for some songs on Paranormal, Dunaway suggested revisiting “The Sound of A”.  With Bob Ezrin’s help, “The Sound of A” has become another in a long line of understated Cooper classics.  It has the sound of Welcome to My Nightmare with a hint of the present.  Another apt (but coincidental) comparison would be “Journey of 1,000 Years” by Kiss.

“The Sound of A” is packaged with four unreleased live songs:  “The Black Widow”, “Public Animal #9”, “Is It My Body” and “Cold Ethyl”.  Of these, the real treat is “Public Animal #9”, an old School’s Out favourite that has never seen release on any Alice live album.  This is from Columbus Ohio in May 2017.  As is often the case, “The Black Widow” is shortened live, but “Public Animal” is damn fine.  Can you believe it took this long to get a live version?  It’s one of the best on School’s Out, albeit in the shadow of a big hit.  Even “Cold Ethyl” is hard to find live.  You can locate it on 2011’s No More Mr. Nice Guy via Concert Live, and the semi-official Extended Versions and Alone in His Nightmare.

Don’t miss The Sound of A.  Consider it a live EP with some stuff you’ll be glad to have.

4/5 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: David Lee Roth – A Little Ain’t Enough (1991)

DAVID LEE ROTH – A Little Ain’t Enough (1991, Warner, digipack promo CD version)

First Billy Sheehan was gone – fired by the “note police”.  Then Steve Vai was out, to join David Coverdale in his merry international band of Whitesnake, replacing Vivian Campbell.  David Lee Roth lost his two biggest guns in the space of a year.  What next?  Replacing Billy was Matt Bissonette, brother of drummer Gregg.  Matt is a fantastic bassist, but there is only one Billy Sheehan, so naturally the band was bound to sound different.  Replacing Steve Vai was much harder.

Filling the guitar slot, but not the shoes, was new young guitar prodigy Jason Becker (from Cacophony, with Marty Friedman), and veteran axeman Steve Hunter (ex-Alice Cooper).  Becker was beginning to feel the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).  Fans must have known something was wrong when Becker was not seen on tour.  Becker kept his diagnosis private for the time being. Roth tapped Joe Holmes (future Ozzy guitarist) and stated that he needed musicians who could “fly” on stage.  It was hard for fans to become attached to his new band, even wielding the firepower of two guitarists, with all these changes.

Roth’s first post-Vai album, A Little Ain’t Enough, failed to ascend the commercial heights of Eat ‘Em and Smile or Skyscraper.  “Good”, but not “great”.  Not enough of that Dave “charasma”.  Just a collection of songs, not a fierce sexed up power-packed ride through.  Roth hooked up with producer-du-jour Bob Rock at Little Mountain studios.  Rock endowed Roth with a generic sound, contrasting the high-tech Skyscraper.  Dave seemed to be trying to take a step back towards his Van Halen roots.  Roth insisted that he and his band stay in the shittiest Vancouver hotel they could find.  Prostitutes, dealers, criminals, the works.  He wanted a dirty rock album and you can’t make one of those with a $20 room service hamburger in your stomach, as per the method of Diamond Dave.

A Little Ain’t Enough wasn’t the return to dirty raw rock Roth that had hyped.

Lead single “A Lil’ Ain’t Enough” was plenty of fun, a top notch Roth party song.  “Was vaccinated with a phonograph needle one summer break, then I kissed her on her daddy’s boat and shot across the lake.”  Perfect for summer.  Second track “Shoot It” was just as fun, a big horn section delivering all the big hooks.

The one-two punch of those openers was slowed by following them with “Lady Luck”, a rock blues track written by Dio’s Craig Goldy.  Good song, but the firepower and excitement of the previous two was missing.  “Hammerhead Shark”, the fourth track, had more energy but not the killer hooks.  What it does have is some killer shredding by the guitar duo of Hunter and Becker, with Hunter on the slide and Becker on the quick pickin’.  “Tell the Truth” is another blues, slower this time, and was also released as an instrumental remix with dialogue (from a movie?) dubbed over.  Side one closed with a real Van Halen-like corker called “Baby’s On Fire”.  As the title suggests, it’s red-hot and loaded with smoking playing.

Side two is a mixed bag.  “40 Below” is a fun track, with shades of Halen but more focused on bluesy guitars.  “Sensible Shoes” was a single, a slinky blues that appealed to some that normally wouldn’t buy a David Lee Roth album.  The slide guitar is the main feature.  “Last Call” is another one reminiscent of classic Van Halen, and “Dogtown Shuffle” dips back into noctural blues rock. Good songs – not great, but good.

Jason Becker only contributed two of his own songs to the album:  the final two, “It’s Showtime!” and “Drop in the Bucket”.  These happen to be two of the best tracks.  “It’s Showtime!” is 100% pure Van Halen, smoking down the highway, so try to keep up.  It’s the kind of high speed rock shuffle that they invented and mastered.  Meanwhile “Drop in the Bucket” serves as a cool, smooth ending to the album.  Its impressive guitar work is only a glimpse at what Becker was capable of.

ALS be damned, Jason Becker refused to go down without a fight.  As the disease took his voice and his hands, he began composing music on a computer.  He uses a system that tracks his eye movements, much like Steven Hawking.  This way, Becker has managed to stay active musically and has inspired thousands with his efforts.

It’s a shame that Becker’s only album with David Lee Roth was a bit middle of the road.  It wasn’t the full shred of early Roth, nor as diverse as Dave can get.  In his efforts to make a straight ahead rock album, Dave shed some of what makes his music special.  The musical thrills are lessened on what is probably the most “ordinary” album in his catalog.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Alice Cooper Goes to Hell (1976)

Happy Halloween, folks!  And what better way to celebrate this day than with the king of horror rock, Alice Cooper?

ALICE COOPER – Alice Cooper Goes to Hell (1976 Warner)

Last time, he welcomed you to his nightmare.  Now, journey with Alice as he takes you straight to hell!  Subtitled (in the inner booklet) as “A Bedtime Story”, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell is another concept album, to follow a concept album.  Steven is back.  It’s a pretty mad concept, and one that ties into not only Nightmare, but also Nightmare 2, decades later.  Steven will fall asleep, and follow Alice down a dark endless staircase, “the pit where he doesn’t want to go, but has to.”

Written and produced by Alice, Bob Ezrin, and Dick Wagner, Goes to Hell features a backing band with a name you might recognize: The Hollywood Vampires.  It’s not the same band, obviously (Johnny Depp was 12 years old), but it does demonstrate just how long Alice has been using that name for a band.  Among the many musicians herein, you will recognize many:  Steven Hunter, Dick Wagner, Tony Levin, and Allan Schwartzberg are probably in your record collection many times (credited or otherwise).

Goes to Hell doesn’t have the fire, or the reputation, of Welcome to My Nightmare.  It is the beginning of a long slide that did not fully right itself until after Alice had kicked the booze for good.  It is, however, an under-appreciated album with fun and nuance in the dark shadows.  The title track is one song that still graces the live stage.  Here, Alice seems to be paying for his crimes committed.  “For criminal acts and violence on the stage, For being a brat refusing to act your age, For all of the decent citizens you’ve enraged, You can go to hell!”  You’ll never have so much fun on the road to H-E-double-hockeysticks, this side of an AC/DC album.  Quintessential Alice, this is, and indispensable too.  Anyone who has ever liked the biting humour and celebrated riffs of Alice Cooper will love “Go to Hell”.  Bob Ezrin adds the usual accompaniment to the mix:  horns, keys, and gang vocals condemning Alice to hell!

A full three years before Kiss, Alice Cooper went disco.  If you like disco rock metal music, then “You Gotta Dance” to this one.  This is a track that some Alice fans would probably love to bury, but it has its moments.  Steve Hunter plays a wicked funky guitar solo.  There is always instrumental integrity.  “I’m the Coolest” slows the pace to a jazzy drawl.  At this point I imagine the character of Alice is meeting various people down in hell, perhaps the man in charge himself.  “Didn’t We Meet” suggests this.  “To look at you, deja vu, chills me to the core.”  Then, “They say you’re the king of this whole damn thing.”  These three tunes are all quite a departure from hard rock, but Alice has always been so diverse.  The hit ballad “I Never Cry” (#5 in Canada) is very pretty, unusually so for Alice.  It is, according him, an “alcoholic confession”, and not the only moment on the album that touches on his drinking.

The first side of the album has some great tracks, but only the first (“Go to Hell”) really rocks.  Side two is similarly diverse and dark.  “Give the Kid a Break” is a campy musical number, with Alice pleading his case before the judge.  “I don’t know why I’m down here, I don’t deserve to roast or bake.”  Predictably, things don’t go well, since the next song is called “Guilty”!  “Guilty” is the hardest rocker on the album, and one of the only songs to be played live occasionally through the decades.   Not that all the other songs on the album suck; Alice just sounds right when he’s rocking like he always has.  And the lyrics rule:

Just tried to have fun, raised hell and then some,
I’m a dirt-talkin’, beer drinkin’, woman chasin’ minister’s son,
Slap on the make-up and blast out the music,
Wake up the neighbors with a roar,
Like a teenage heavy metal elephant gun.

If you call that guilty, then that’s what I am.
I’m guilty, I’m guilty!

This is right up the alley of a tune like “Escape” from the last album.  It’s a shot in the arm and just when you need it.

With “Wake Me Gently”, we are back in ballad land, and it is unfortunately the longest song on the album.  It sounds like an Ezrin creation, but in comparison to his other works, it is among his lesser creations.  The string section is the highlight.  Then he turns up the funk again for “Wish You Were Here”, with the help of Wagner on funky gee-tar.  “Havin’ a hell of a time my dear, wish you were here.”  Sounds like Alice has more than enough of hell by now.  Steve Hunter plays the blazing Lizzy leads at the end of the song.

In a surprising-but-not turn, Alice pulls “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” out of the hat, an old Vaudeville song (1917) once performed by Judy Garland in 1941.  It actually works within the concept of the album, and predictably, Alice perfectly camps it up.  It blends splendidly into “Going Home”, with Steven finally escaping his nightmare.  Was it a nightmare?  “I wonder what happened to Alice,” he ponders.  This is pompous, overdone Ezrin, just the way you like it.  Orchestration and thunderous percussion lend themselves well to this dramatic close.

It’s pretty clear that the reason Alice Cooper Goes to Hell is not as fondly remembered as Welcome to My Nightmare is the sudden change in direction to balladeer.  There are only three rocking songs on an album of eleven tracks, and Alice was always primarily a rock artist, albeit an experimental one.  You still found his records in the “rock” section of your friendly neighbourhood record store.  Three rockers aside, the rest is a diverse assortment of music, well put together and played.  Clearly, that has to be the key.  But there is more to it than that.  Nightmare seemed a more celebratory affair.  It felt lively; it felt alive.  Goes to Hell sounds less so.  Alice’s lungs seemed weakened, just a smidge, from how they used to bellow.

Alice Cooper Goes to Hell is worthy of praise, not derision.  Just remember — it’s not a rock album.  At best it’s rock opera.  Proposed analogy:  Goes to Hell is Alice’s Music From the Elder.  They even have the same producer!

3.5/5 stars

Happy Halloween kiddies!

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Alice Cooper Show (1977)

THE AC SHOW_0001ALICE COOPER – The Alice Cooper Show (1977 Warner Bros.)

The Alice Cooper Show is far from a perfect example of Alice in the mighty 1970’s — for a much better live album experience, pick up Billion Dollar Babies (the deluxe edition) which contained a live album recorded by the original Alice Cooper band.  Having said that, the band here are not slouches.  Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter were great guitar players who defined the late 70’s period of Alice. However, the albums were starting to slide — Go To Hell and Lace & Whiskey were more notable for ballads like “You And Me” and “I Never Cry” rather than idiosyncratic Cooper rockers or horror tunes.

The recording of this album is fine, but the record is far too brief. Aside from the fact that there are too many ballads (time-wise, over a quarter of this album are ballads!), a lot of the songs are truncated versions. “Sick Things” for example is less than a minute as it segues into “Is It My Body”. Likewise, there is an “I Love the Dead”/”Go to Hell”/”Wish You Were Here” medley where I wish I could have had more.  Then again, Alice has always done medleys of tunes, since he has so damn many.

I have nothing negative to say about the singing or performance.  The band were outstanding, featuring some of the best players Alice has shared the stage with.  They even featured Canadian bassist Prakash John who was previously in the original band Bush with Dominic Troiano (R.I.P).  It’s hard to say exactly why The Alice Cooper Show doesn’t completely click.  Certainly the medleys and song excerpts make it feel like an overly rushed affair, and even considering that, it’s missing too many great tunes.  “Elected”, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, and “Welcome to My Nightmare” would have been perfect.*  Perhaps Warner should have shelled out for a full-on 2 LP set?  But Alice was a fading property in 1977, with an infamous stint in rehab to follow.

This record fails to deliver what Alice was really about.  The album cover gives it all away.  It looks rushed, with truncated images of Alice and his live show.  Serious fans will need it to complete the collection. Otherwise, stick to the Billion Dollar Babies deluxe package for a seriously awesome live 1970’s Alice experience.

3/5 stars

THE AC SHOW_0003

* Looks like a lot of those songs were dropped from the set in ’77.

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)

WELC0ME TO_0001ALICE COOPER – Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)

My sister used to have a tradition.  Because I’ve always been a collector, she would have an easy time buying gifts for me as a young rock fan.  When I was 17 years old,  I only had a few albums by certain artists.  She’d sneak into my room and go over my collection.  She saw that I only owned a few of Alice Cooper’s:  Trash, Prince of Darkness, Billion Dollar Babies, and Greatest Hits.  For Easter of 1990, she got me Alice’s Welcome to My Nightmare.  Not knowing what to except from the Coop, it was pretty much instant love.

I played that cassette a lot and grew to know its track sequence, which was completely different from CD.  Later on I purchased the original CD release, but what Welcome To My Nightmare needed (and the rest of the Cooper catalogue needs) is a proper remaster with bonus tracks.  Rhino took care of that in 2002.

Now the album itself sounds so much better than the original CD. This sounds more like vinyl, the way it should, rich and deep. The liner notes, unfortunately, are somewhat crappy. They basically just explain to the youth of today why Alice Cooper is cooler than the bands they like. There’s not much about the genesis of the album, which is disappointing. This is, after all, the very first solo album by Vincent Furnier aka Alice Cooper. By 1975, the Alice Cooper band (Furnier, Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, Neil Smith, and the late Glen Buxton) was no more. Never again would they share a stage or a recording studio, at least the original five.  The four survivors did finally re-team for a couple songs on 2011’s sequel, Welcome 2 My Nightmare.

Welcome To My Nightmare was a revelation to me when I received it, and it is still mind-blowing today. I think that is due to the production talents of Bob Ezrin. The man who later produced Destroyer and The Wall really came into his own on this album. His production is, for lack of any better words, jaw dropping. You can totally tell it’s him, if you know his style well enough: that creepy horror movie piano, all the orchestrations, sound effects, the kids singing. Those are trademarks. My favourite moment for the kids was in the song “Department of Youth”. Cooper and the kids sing in the fade-out:

Together – “We’re the Department of Youth, ahh ahh, we got the power!”
Alice – Who got the power?”
Kids – “We do!”
Alice – “And who gave it to you?”
Kids – “Donny Osmond!”
Alice – “WHAT?”

Loosely, this is a concept album about the kind of nightmares Alice would have.  The result was a collection of remarkably timeless and classic songs:  “Only Women Bleed”, “Black Widow”, and “Escape” for example. “Escape” is the most straightforward rocker on the album, and a joy it is. The rest is often more complex, arrangement-wise and lyrically.

The title track is a fun rollercoaster ride with epic horns.  Same with “Devil’s Food” and “The Black Widow” which work together as a creepy classic featuring Vincent Price.  I would not want to live my life without these songs.  Alice is nothing if not diverse, and then “Some Folks” sounds showtune-y.  “Only Women Bleed” is the famous ballad, often misunderstood, but respected enough to be covered by artists such as Lita Ford, Tina Turner, and Etta James.

“Department Of Youth” and “Cold Ethel” are more rock and roll, and why not?  What better genre to sing about rebellion and necrophilia?  It’s worth pointing out the guitar charms of Steve Hunter and the late Dick Wagner.  These two incredible players, under the guidance of Ezrin, lent Welcome To My Nightmare the rock edge that it needed, lest it be swallowed up by the dramatic tendencies.

Of course, Welcome To My Nightmare features the first-ever appearance of the character of Steven. “Years Ago” has Alice singing in this incredibly creepy little-kid voice, as Steven. Then the song “Steven” kicks in, and it’s even creepier, but very epic in scale. Alice is at his most effective here.  Steven would pop up many times, such as on the next album Alice Cooper Goes To Hell, 1991’s Hey Stoopid, 1994’s Last Temptation, and the more recent Along Came A Spider.  Whether it’s supposed to be the same guy, or just a character who shares the same name, I do not know.

The bonus tracks are alternate versions of “Devil’s Food” (much extended), “Cold Ethyl”, and “The Awakening” with alternate lyrics and more Vincent Price! Not available on the Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper box set! These three tracks alone, to the Cooper collector, necessitate a re-buy.  The improved sound probably would have hooked them in anyway.

I could never say, “If you only buy one Alice Cooper album, buy this one.” The reason I can’t is that almost every album by the original Alice Cooper band was monumental, particularly School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies. However, if you buy two or three Coops, please make one of them Welcome To My Nightmare, remastered!

5/5 stars

* There is also a DVD Audio of this album mixed in 5.1 by Bob Ezrin himself!

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Lace and Whiskey (1977)

Next in line of my reviews from Record Store Excursion 2012!  Check out the video below if you missed it.  This one bought at Sonic Boom Music for a measly $7.99!  Thanks, Sonic Boom!

MIKE AND AARON GO TO TORONTO

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ALICE COOPER – Lace and Whiskey (1977)

I’m a big fan of some of these “lost” Alice records, the ones that might not be considered the big hits, from his late 70’s alcoholidaze.  Alice Cooper Goes To Hell was a really cool record, one I like a lot despite its disco tendencies.  Lace and Whiskey followed it a year later.  This is actually Alice’s third solo record, post-Alice Cooper Band.  (I talked about the disintegration of that band in a previous Record Store Tale, see the video blog below!)

Alice tends to write his albums in terms of themes:  Alice in school, Alice having a nightmare, Alice horror.  This time, Alice takes the guise of a heavy drinking detective!

It’s another diverse platter, from honky-tonk (“Damned if You Do”) to more disco and flamboyant balladry that Alice had become known for.  I don’t find there to be a weak track on the whole album.  I’m not a huge fan of the ballad “You And Me”, as it’s hard to compete with a tune like “Only Women Bleed” or even “I Never Cry”.  But it was a hit for Alice, and it’s certainly not bad.   It even made the Muppet Show.  Who can forget Alice dueting with a peacock?  Or whatever that is.

The whole album drips of Ezrin-isms, you can hear his touch on every track.  From rich orchestras, horns, choirs, and the well-honed arrangements he was known for, this album could not have happened without Ezrin.  Indeed, he co-wrote all but two songs.

“King of the Silver Screen” is a great example of a Cooper/Ezrin/Dick Wagner composition.  It has that dramatic Ezrin touch, Alice’s Hollywood-homage lyrics, with a rock guitar riff that serves to anchor the whole thing.  And what’s with those little musical segues there?  I love when Ezrin does stuff like that!

I love “Ubangi Stomp” too.   It’s a 1950’s boogie with Alice doing his best Elvis.  Just great!  Plus who else could possibly utilize the word “Ubangi” in popular music?  Alice, that’s who.

Lace and Whiskey is surely one  of the most diverse Alice records, and that is one thing I love about Alice.  I even like the disco song.  Yes, I like the disco song!  No genre is sacred, nothing safe from his sabre.  But it’s all in good fun.  Nobody gets hurt.

Nobody but Alice, who checked into a mental institution shortly after this tour, to deal with his alcohol problems.  But that’s another story.

The tendency from many mainstream music critics is to rate these mid-period Alice albums poorly. But why?  The songs are good, they just don’t rock as hard.  Disco?  So what?  One of Kiss’ best albums was a disco album.

So a middle finger to the mainstream critics.  I like Lace and Whiskey and I’m glad I found it at a cheap price.  Thanks, Sonic Boom!

4/5 stars