Vincent Price

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: Deep Purple – “Above and Beyond” (CD and 7″ singles)

It’s THE WEEK OF SINGLES!  Each day this week I’ll be bringing you reviews and images of a recent CD or vinyl single acquisition.  Today’s is fresh hot off the presses!  I received this single on Saturday (the 16th).

Yesterday:  Van Halen – “Best of Both Worlds” 7″ single

DEEP PURPLE – “Above and Beyond” (CD and 7″ singles, Edel)

This has been a banner year for Deep Purple singles!  We’ve had “All the Time in the World”, “Hell To Pay”, “Vincent Price” and now “Above and Beyond” from the excellent new album NOW What?!  There’s a “gold” edition of NOW What?! coming soon, and I believe most of the B-sides from these singles will be on it.  Most, but not all…

“Above and Beyond” is one of two songs on the new album dedicated to Jon Lord.  It’s probably the most progressive sounding of the new songs.  It’s certainly one of the most epic.  I think Jon would have loved it.  Canadian producer extraordinaire Bob Ezrin adds his shine on “Above and Beyond”, you can really hear it in the arrangement.

The second track on the CD version is “Things I Never Said” from some editions of Rapture of the Deep.  It was originally from the Japanese CD, and then the “special edition”.  It’s one of the better songs from Rapture, and I’ve always liked Steve Morse’s guitar riff.  I just didn’t need to buy it again on a single…

IMG_00001462Brand new live recordings are the real bait on this single.  The CD has two; I don’t believe either is going to be on the “gold” edition of NOW What?!.  “Space Truckin'” (Rome, Italy 07/22/2013) doesn’t seem as peppy as other live versions I’ve heard.  I suppose that’s why some versions are destined for B-sides, right?  A pair of covers close the CD:  Booker T. and the M.G.’s classic Hammond organ instrumental “Green Onions” and Joe South’s “Hush”.  “Green Onions” serves as an intro to “Hush” essentially.  It’s a great song for a band like Purple to do anyway.  These come from Sweden, 08/10/2013.  Gillan’s struggling a little bit on “Hush”, but Airey and Morse get playful during the solo section, and it’s very reminiscent of how Blackmore and Lord used to interact.

The exclusive bonus track on the 7″ vinyl single is a different recording of “Space Truckin'”.  This one is from Majano, Italy, two days after the other version.  I actually prefer this version to the one from Rome.  I’m not sure why; maybe it’s just that audio illusion of warm vinyl.  Maybe Morse just sounds dirtier.   This single is absolutely beautiful, on purple clear vinyl complete with limited numbered stamp.  Mine?  #1934 of 2000.  I’ll consider myself lucky.  It’s kind of mind blowing to think that there’s an exclusive Deep Purple live recording out there, only 2000 copies made, and I have one of them.

4.5/5 stars

More Purple at mikeladano.com:

Live at Inglewood 1968Deep Purple (1969), Machine Head (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition + vinyl + In Concert ’72 vinyl), Perks and Tit (Live in San Diego 1974), Stormbringer (35th Anniversary Edition), Come Taste the Band (35th Anniversary edition), Power House (1977), The Battle Rages On (1993), Shades 1968-1998, Collector’s Edition: The Bootleg Series 1984-2000 (12 CD), Listen, Learn, Read On (6 CD), Rapture of the Deep (2 CD Special Edition), “All the Time in the World” (2013 CD single), NOW What?! (2013) Record Store Tales Part 32: Live In Japan, STEVE MORSE BAND – StressFest (1996), ROCK AID ARMENIA – Smoke on the Water: The Metropolis Sessions.

REVIEW: Deep Purple – NOW What?! (2013)

More Purple at mikeladano.com:

Live at Inglewood 1968Deep Purple (1969), Machine Head (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition + vinyl + In Concert ’72 vinyl), Perks and Tit (Live in San Diego 1974), Stormbringer (35th Anniversary Edition), Come Taste the Band (35th Anniversary edition), Power House (1977), The Battle Rages On (1993), Shades 1968-1998, Collector’s Edition: The Bootleg Series 1984-2000 (12 CD), Listen, Learn, Read On (6 CD), Rapture of the Deep (2 CD Special Edition), “All the Time in the World” (2013 CD single), Record Store Tales Part 32: Live In Japan, STEVE MORSE BAND – StressFest (1996), ROCK AID ARMENIA – Smoke on the Water: The Metropolis Sessions.

NOW WHAT_0005

NOW WHAT_0003DEEP PURPLE Now What?! (2013 edel)

Disclaimer:  I am so happy with this album, Deep Purple’s latest, that I put off and put off writing a review for it.  As a fan of both Deep Purple Mk VIII and Bob Ezrin, this album would either colossally astound or disappoint me.  I’m happy to say that NOW What?! is my favourite album since Purpendicular back in ’96.

At first I thought NOW What?! was going to be an uncomfortably mellow album.  How wrong I was.  Sure, “A Simple Song” starts powerfully soft (think Purpendicular‘s “Loosen My Strings”).  It then takes off into a modern Purple tangent, with groove, a chorus that kills and absolutely outstanding organ work by Don Airey.  If there was ever a man to pay tribute to the legacy of Jon Lord, it is Don Airey.  He does so with class, homage, and love.

I love “Weirdistan” both for the title and the song itself.  It is however “Out of Hand” that is the first mind-blower for me.  The strings and arrangements of Ezrin are on this song like a stamp, yet it is also blatantly no other band than Deep Purple.  Even though Purple have been backed by strings many times before, Ezrin’s approach sounds like classic Ezrin.  It’s hard to verbalize, but Ezrin uses the strings in a support role, yet often up front and in your face.

HELL TP PAYIf none of the previous songs sounded enough like old Deep Purple to you, “Hell to Pay” is sure to satisfy.  The edited version from the CD single has nothing on this.  The soloing is better than the song, quite frankly, and too much of it was edited out of the single version.  Musically “Hell to Pay” has that hard, slightly funky vibe that a lot of later Deep Purple possesses.  As far as the solo sections, you’re hearing things that go all the way back to 1968 and “Mandrake Root”.  It’s trippy.  The spirit of Jon lives on.

“Body Line” is pretty good, again it’s kind of funky in that Purple-y way.  Ian Paice, the only remaining member from the original 1968 Mk I version, is responsible for many of the funk vibes, aided and abetted by Morse and Airey.  Actually, it’s really hard to single out any one member as MVP on most of these songs.  Deep Purple Mk VIII have gelled so well as a band over the last decade, that everything is in sync.  Everybody bounces off the other players in a way that is reminiscent of the classic Deep Purple years.

“Above and Beyond” (to be released as a 7″ and CD single October 25) is one of two songs dedicated to Jon Lord.  This is probably the most progressive sounding of the new songs.  It’s certainly one of the most epic.  I think Jon would have loved it.  It’s worth noting at this point that Bob Ezrin, as per his modus operandi, has a writing credit on every song.  In the same way you can hear him tightening up the songwriting of artists like Kiss and Alice Cooper, you can hear his shine on “Above and Beyond”.

I’m sure it’s a coincidence since almost all the members are different, but “Blood From A Stone” begins similarly to “You Keep On Moving” from Come Taste the Band.  Then it gets slinky, before Morse rips some heavy riffs on the chorus.  Don Airey shines as well, classing up the place several notches more.  This transitions seamlessly into the second Lord tribute, the beautiful “Uncommon Man”.  Morse’s guitars are uplifting and unmistakable.  I just love listening to him play because there is truly nobody else in the world who sounds like Steve Morse.  (Just as there is nobody, Yngwie included, who sounds like Richie Blackmore.)  Back to “Uncommon Man”, it features a similar fanfare to “Above and Beyond”, linking them thematically.  It also has my favourite keyboard solo on the whole album.

“Après Vous” sounds like a Rapture of the Deep outtake, but a good outtake.  Glover has a great groove going on, and there is once again a long instrumental section.  When it’s a band like Deep Purple, these aren’t the sections you want to skip through.  These are the highlights of a song!

All the timeI reviewed “All the Time in the World” when the single was released.  Quoting myself, “I’m really fond of “All the Time in the World”.  It reminds me of the laid back Purple from Bananas.  The classy keys from Don Airey seal the deal for me, but how about that Steve Morse solo?  Fantastic!…It might not sound like the Deep Purple of 1970, but that was a long time ago now.  It does sound like a rock band staying classy well into their silver years.  I don’t hear any compromise nor contrivances here.”

NOW WHAT_0001Uncle Meat’s favourite song on the album was “Vincent Price”, and while the whole album is excellent, “Vincent Price” is also instant.  It’s really fun, and Ezrin brings his trademark sound effects back to the table.  Morse’s spooky guitar line seals the deal.  Gillan’s lyrics about vampires and zombies are amusing enough.  (This is the kind of lyric that never would have made it past the tyrannical Blackmore.)

There are a couple bonus tracks to be had.  “It’ll Be Me” is an unlikely cover, by country singer Jack Clement.  Deep Purple pull it off, thanks to Gillan’s lively vocal.  “First Sign of Madness” was a free download track, also later released on the “Vincent Price” CD single.  It’s a lively song, but different from the album tracks.  It reminds me of “Via Miama” from the Gillan/Glover album Accidentally on Purpose.  It took a while to grow on me, but I quite like it now just because it doesn’t sound too much like the rest of the album.  But these songs will all be on the forthcoming “tour edition”.

Deep Purple pulled off the damn near impossible and put out one of their best albums 45 years after initially forming.  Most bands would dream of being able to do this.  Hell, most bands don’t put out albums as good as NOW What?! during their primes.  If this is a career capper (and I pray Purple have another album in them) then I couldn’t imagine a better album to finish on.  The same goes for Ezrin, the guy who produced such classics as The Wall, Destroyer, and Billion Dollar Babies.  If Bob retired tomorrow, he could do so having done a freaking great Deep Purple record.

5/5 stars