Friday, July 28, 2017

Alice Cooper Career Retrospective

As we hit the release of Alice Cooper’s 27th studio album, it is worth reflecting on his career to date. For the past 48 years, Alice Cooper (both the band and the solo artist) has had a roller coaster ride of a career, creating some of the best music known to man (and admittedly, some of the worst by such a popular artist). Though he is my favourite singer, the sheer diversity of Alice’s music and the peaks and dips in quality make it easy to be more objective about each of his albums. What follows is an analysis of every single album, with some references to the state of Alice’s career where relevant. But before digging into Pretties For You, it’s worth unleashing some general thoughts about Alice’s career.

Table of Contents

1. Alice Cooper the Trendhopper
2. A Master Lyricist
3. A Catalogue of Deep Cuts
4. Pretties For You (1969)
5. Easy Action (1970)
6. Love It To Death (1971)
7. Killer (1971)
8. School's Out (1972)
9. Billion Dollar Babies (1973)
10. Muscle of Love (1973)
11. Alice Cooper the Band Becomes Alice Cooper the Singer
12. Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)
13. Goes to Hell (1976)
14. Lace and Whiskey (1977)
15. From The Inside (1978)
16. Flush The Fashion (1980)
17. Special Forces (1981)
18. Zipper Catches Skin (1982)
19. DaDa (1983)
20. Out of the Dark… and Into the Light
21. Constrictor (1986)
22. Raise Your Fist and Yell (1987)
23. Trash (1989)
24. Hey Stoopid (1991)
25. The Last Temptation (1994)
26. Brutal Planet (2000)
27. Dragontown (2001)
28. The Eyes of Alice Cooper (2003)
29. Dirty Diamonds (2005)
30. Along Came A Spider (2008)
31. Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011)
32. Final Album Ranking
33. Top 20 Most Underappreciated Alice Cooper Songs
34. Conclusion

Alice Cooper the Trendhopper
Like it or not, Alice Cooper has spent much of his career as a trendhopper. Within the confines of the band, Alice Cooper was among the first to use makeup and extreme stage antics in such a compelling way, but from a musical perspective, much of his career (particularly after the 70s) was spent following the trends. Even at the very beginning: both Pretties For You and Easy Action are somewhat psychedelic journeys. The classic albums represented the most original era of Alice’s career, but shortly after his solo work started, Alice jumped from New Wave (early 1980s) to heavy metal (mid/late 1980s) to a glammier sound (Trash/Hey Stoopid), to a more stripped-down grunge-inspired record (The Last Temptation), to industrial/nu-metal influenced music (Brutal Planet/Dragontown), back to stripped-down rock and roll (mid 2000s), before ultimately realizing his place as a shock rock icon and creating a series of concept/nostalgia records (2008-present).

This isn’t necessarily a criticism of Alice. As will be examined later, he did many of these sounds far better than their originators. It is however, an interesting observation about his career. While he’s certainly known most for his shock rock antics, he’s not as one dimensional as other artists who have been around for decades. For this reason, there is probably plenty of music within his discography that would appeal to almost anyone.

A Master Lyricist
Coming from a heavy metal background, lyrics have always seemed unimportant. Sure, they should fit the music, but for most bands, bad lyrics have little impact, while good lyrics only further serve to improve the quality of the music. Fortunately, Alice Cooper has always been a master lyricist. Having reviewed several hundred records, I don’t often spend much time on lyrics, but this will be a recurring theme across this retrospective because there are some truly inspired words on most Alice Cooper records. The songwriting credits of Alice’s solo career haven’t always been clear to me; in large part because he spends most albums working extremely closely with one or two people (Dick Wagner/Bob Ezrin, Bernie Taupin, Bob Marlette, Kane Roberts, and Desmond Child all come to mind as having significant impacts on individual records), but the uniting theme across everything is Alice Cooper, and so it is fair to assume that while some of the musical changes are likely inspired by these collaborators, but the lyrics and melodies likely often start with Alice.

A Catalogue of Deep Cuts
Alice Cooper is best known for a large number of hit songs (so large in fact that his setlists often remain fairly stale because there are just too many good songs). For casual fans, they might be surprised to hear that some of Alice’s best songs ever received little critical acclaim at the time of release, and are completely ignored today aside from a small legion of devoted fans. If there’s one thing that would be great to accomplish via this retrospective, it would be to ignite some interest in these tunes. Make no mistake, Alice’s hits are jaw-droppingly good, but there is plenty of hidden material that is worth exploring.

Pretties For You (1969)

Alice Cooper the band was a group of 5 mad geniuses. But sometimes really smart people do really dumb things. They were an accomplished group technically by 1969, but lacked direction and focus. The resulting debut album, “Pretties For You”, is every bit as strange as the cover art or the song titles suggest. The record gets off to a rocky start with “Titanic Overture” and “10 Minutes Before The Worm”, which offer little musical substance. Alice Cooper has always conjured atmosphere well, but these tracks feel more like random noise than deliberate efforts at building any ambiance.

It is clear, however, that the potential was there. When the band spends a few consecutive minutes writing a more traditional tune, they come up with the occasional interesting moment. The biggest highlight is “Reflected”, which the band later reworked into “Elected”, but other tracks like “Swing Low Sweet Cheerio” and “Levity Ball” have their moments as well. Despite a lack of decent distortion, these songs manage to rock pretty hard because of their catchy hooks and surprisingly solid riffs.

The biggest problem with “Pretties For You” is that it feels like the band just had no idea how to compose a song. It’s one thing to be progressive if you can pull it off, but most of the songs on this record are a strange amalgamation of moments that don’t flow together and feel random for the sake of being random. There’s a reason that most rock and pop songs follow the same song structure: it’s effective. Perhaps the biggest offender of this nonsensical music is the closing tune “Changing Arranging”. It both opens and closes by lacking any semblance of order, but hidden in the middle, there’s actually a pretty competently written tune. Much like turning “Reflected” into “Elected”, it’s easy to see how, with a little care, some of these songs could have been much more. Nevertheless, as a first effort, “Pretties For You” is quite possibly the worst Alice Cooper album laid to tape. The talent was there, but the focus was not.

"Levity Ball"

Final Rating: 50%

Easy Action (1970)

Before even hearing a note of 1970’s “Easy Action”, it is immediately clear that this record will be a step up from its predecessor. For one thing, the artwork, album title, and song titles are starting to make a lot more sense. There’s still a slight sense of weirdness to some of these ideas (“Refrigerator Heaven” was anything but a common phrase before Alice Cooper came around), but that’s really the perfect way to sum up “Easy Action”. The band was finally able to refine many of their ideas into a more palatable sound that could be enjoyed by any fan of rock ‘n roll, but they still kept the occasional stray melody.

Kicking things off is “Mr. And Misdemeanor”, which has the fortunate distinction of being the best Alice Cooper track of the band’s psychedelic era. This is because it is a hard rocking effort (complimented by Alice’s gruffer voice) with a catchy vocal pattern and a nice bounce to it. It also marks one of the earlier instances of Alice’s incredible lyrical wit (though moreso in the title than the lyrics themselves).

As the album strolls on, it becomes clear that the band has placed an increased emphasis on writing more straightforward tracks, particularly in terms of song structure. Vocal melodies tend to make a lot more sense this time around, as there is a lot more consistency in the way Alice delivers lines in each stanza. The guitars again lack heaviness, but it is only due to tone this time, as there are some truly destructive riffs on this record.

Easy Action” feels most cohesive and well-structure when listened immediately following “Pretties For You”. The truth is, the band didn’t completely escape their penchant for randomness (let’s not confuse this as any sort of brilliant genius songwriting; Alice Cooper was weird for the sake of being weird at this point in their career). Compared to the band’s later works, or even more mediocre records of the day, “Easy Action” still feels like something is missing. The band’s potential was becoming ever clearer, but they still struggled to harness it for the length of one track (excepting the album’s stellar opener). And while Alice Cooper themselves couldn’t necessarily see what was missing, there was one man who could…

"Mr. and Misdemeanor"
"Shoe Salesman"

Final Rating: 60%

Love It To Death (1971)

After two middling efforts, Alice Cooper enlisted producer Bob Ezrin to assist on their third record. For most casual fans, “Love It To Death” is where Alice Cooper really began (I've even read articles claiming that this is their debut!), and from the opening chords of “Caught In A Dream”, it is immediately clear why. The band has removed nearly all of the strange experimentation of the first two records, and instead focused their sound on writing great rock ‘n roll riffs with coherent leads and solos. Alice’s vocal lines are likewise more palatable, as there was finally some clear thought put into how to make the band’s songs memorable. It’s almost like listening to a different band altogether from the first two albums.

Highlights on this record are numerous. “I’m Eighteen” is the obvious winner, as a teenage anthem that perhaps more accurately describes how just about everyone feels in life. There’s even an extended version of this floating around on YouTube that is well worth hearing, but the version on “Love It To Death” is equally potent. The other most memorable track from this record (at least in Alice’s mind) is “Ballad of Dwight Fry”. This track is important for being the first great example of Alice’s theatrical potential. He gives a vocal performance for the ages of a truly insane man. Musically, this is among the most progressive tracks on the disc, but don’t mistake that length and progression for the confused sound of the early discs.

In fact, the only effort on this release that brings back memories of the first two albums in the 9-minute “Black Juju”. This song doesn’t really go anywhere, despite representing nearly a quarter of the entire album. It isn’t as wild and jarring as some of the earlier material, but it feels out of place on an otherwise stellar album. The only other black mark on “Love It To Death” is the closing cover song “Sun Arise”, which feels out of place after the terrifying “Ballad of Dwight Fry”.

What you’re left with (aside from “Second Coming”, but more on that in a minute) is a collection of truly excellent rock songs. All of “Caught In A Dream”, “Long Way To Go”, “Is It My Body”, and “Hallowed Be My Name” are classic Alice Cooper songs that can go toe-to-toe with any of his or the band’s material. These songs are more stripped down than ever for the band, and allow their musical prowess to take over. It’s difficult to imagine any of these tracks making the cut in their current form without Bob Ezrin to keep the band on track.

The aforementioned “Second Coming” is amongst the most underrated tracks in Alice Cooper’s discography. It is a truly dark song, both lyrically and musically. The song was even covered by doom metal group Castle, allowing the band to demonstrate just how ahead of its time the track was. The song gives a feeling of impending doom, and it segues perfectly into the equally deranged “Ballad of Dwight Fry”.

Though the band continued to improve their skills musically, only Alice stands out as being head and shoulders better than what he was doing on the previous records. The remainder of the band sounds better simply because they’re playing coherent music now. Dennis Dunaway’s bass in particular shines in more than a few places (a recurring theme across the next several albums). Really though, all 5 members of Alice Cooper were always immensely talented, they just lacked the focus to let others see this skill. Thanks to the partnership with Bob Ezrin, “Love It to Death” marked the beginning of Alice Cooper’s most successful era. As great as this record is, the band very shortly went on to better things!

"Caught In A Dream"
"I’m Eighteen"
"Second Coming"
"Ballad of Dwight Fry"

Final Rating: 92%

Killer (1971)

With an effective formula in place, Alice Cooper set out to write their first record where they truly knew what they were doing. "Killer" is the ultimate Alice Cooper record from their years as a band, and is the ultimate blend of killer rock and roll riffs, and shock rock. There isn’t a single moment wasted on this succinct, 8-song effort. This album has a bit of a theme to it in that it switches back and forth between the two aforementioned sounds every couple of tracks.

Under My Wheels” starts the album off on a frantic pace (for 1971, at least), as it is a high energy, sing-along anthem. At less than 3 minutes, this song says everything it needs to and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The song's consistent inclusion in Alice’s set 40+ years later is a testament to the staying power of the track, and the fact that it competes with efforts like “Elected” and “School’s Out” as a closer is no mistake. Immediately following this track, Alice Cooper once again has another hit song, but in a much different form. “Be My Lover” is more of a downbeat classic rock song. It is driven by a few alternating basic chords. Alice’s energetic vocal performance keeps this song alive, and it is one of the band’s best examples of humour (“she asked my the singer’s name was Alice / I said now listen baby, you really wouldn’t understand”).

Before delving into the remaining tracks, it is probably at this point in the record that you’ll once again notice bassist Dennis Dunaway starting to dominate the mix. He had a few standout efforts on “Love It To Death”, but on “Killer”, he puts forth one of the ultimate rock and roll performances. His bass always seems to jump in at the perfect time, and whether it is an exciting fill, or a thumping support line, Dunaway has more to offer in one song than most bassists do in an entire career. “Be My Lover” has a few of these great examples, but on the following song, “Halo of Flies”, he truly dominates.

But Dunaway isn’t the only standout musician on “Halo of Flies”. This is perhaps the best instance in the band’s career of the entire band coming together to create something that is truly musically gifted. Exceeding 8 minutes in runtime, this track takes a variety of twists and turns, with not a single one of them falling off point. “Halo of Flies” seems to be what the band was going for with the experimentation of their first two records, or even “Black Juju”, but they weren’t quite able to accomplish it until putting this song together. It seems every minute or so there is a new riff or theme, each one being better than the last. For the metal fans, this track (along with a couple others later in the album) is almost a premonition for Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, as both of these groups built careers off of the harmonized lead guitars that Alice Cooper helped to pioneer on a track such as this one. The drum solo in this track is fantastic too, and if you’ve ever seen any videos of Alice Cooper live in this era, it supports the wild, crazy arms of Neal Smith that seemingly fly all over the place. The song ends on a fantastic crescendo that sums up the 8 minutes that preceded it.

Halo of Flies” also stands out for being one of the best instances of Alice Cooper combining their shock rock sound with the more classic hard rock efforts. Many of Alice’s scarier tracks aren’t necessarily as song-oriented or as heavy. Compared to later efforts like “Sick Things” or “The Awakening”, “Halo of Flies” is a very different entity. One other example of when Alice Cooper accomplishes a similar feat is on the following song “Desperado”. In the verses, this track is a creepy, clean guitar-driven effort, while the verses become substantially heavier. Once again, the juxtaposition of theatrical music with more standard rock is done perfectly, and has never quite been matched by any of Alice’s imitators.

Side 2 of this LP is a slightly different story. It once again follows the pattern of having two pure rock songs followed by two more animated efforts, but whereas “Under My Wheels” and “Be My Lover” are obvious hit singles, “You Drive Me Nervous” and “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” aren’t quite. This doesn’t mean they’re bad. In fact, “You Drive Me Nervous” is one of the stronger efforts on the album. It’s got a speedy, almost proto-punk feel to it. Alice rips out his vocal cords at the end of each chorus, and both Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton unleash some psychedelic, tone-bending guitar work in these sections as well.

If there is one weaker spot to this record, it would be “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”. Similar to “Be My Lover”, this is the more subdued effort following an extremely energetic track. For many other bands, this could be a single on its own, but on an album with 7 masterpiece tracks, it does have a tough time standing up against the rest of the album. Nevertheless, the main melody in the song is catchy enough. Much like “Halo of Flies”, the track appropriately builds to a nice crescendo, topped off by Alice’s gruff singing.

At this point, the record moves to one of the most notorious Alice Cooper songs ever written: “Dead Babies”. Musically, the track absolutely lives up to its name. Once again, Dennis Dunaway shines, with a fantastically creepy bass line. Though the guitars eventually come in to match some of his sadistic low-end licks, Dunaway is the star of this track. The breakdown riff after the second chorus can compete with anything done by a metal band in the following couple of decades, and is truly one of the heaviest riffs ever written. Neal Smith’s creative fills help this section build and build to yet another climax. As noted earlier, there are some killer harmonized leads near the end of the song, and are no doubt a major inspiration to numerous metal bands.

After 7 brilliant songs in a row, it would take something truly monolithic to end off “Killer”. “Halo of Flies” probably could have ended things, but the title track ended up being even more appropriate. This is yet another instance of perfect theatrics combined with great riffs. Alice can even adapt it based on which stage prop he has (“someone handed me this knife and I…” or “someone handed me this gun and I…”). After unleashing a few minutes of wicked riffing, “Killer” takes a much darker turn. Preceded by the disturbing sounds of an organ, there is a drum roll before Alice’s ultimate execution. In a live setting, this means death by hanging or by guillotine. It is the perfect way to conclude a perfect album.

It may be a bit predictable to have covered this album in a track-by-track manner, but the simple fact is that with such strong songwriting, there is really no other way to do it. Every single effort is worthy of individual mention, and is perhaps the greatest performance of every musician in Alice Cooper (except for the band’s namesake himself). “Love It To Death” began to catapult the band towards stardom, but they were still feeling the effects of their first couple of releases and early influences. As will be discussed shortly, “School’s Out” and “Billion Dollar Babies” both show the effects of a band coping with their fame. “Killer” is the perfect midpoint in the band’s career, as it features their purest and most inspired songwriting that is completely focused. “Killer” stands alone as the band’s best work, and if there is one Alice Cooper record you must hear, this is it!

"Under My Wheels"
"Halo of Flies"
"Dead Babies"

Final Rating: 100%

School’s Out (1972)

To the outsider, “School’s Out” seems like the logical starting point for Alice Cooper’s music. It falls right in the middle of the band’s classic era (1971-1973) and contains unquestionably their biggest hit with the title track. It was my introduction to the band, as I bought both this record and “Billion Dollar Babies” at the same time. If I hadn’t also purchased the latter record, I’m not sure I’d be an Alice Cooper fan today. “School’s Out” is not just an inaccessible and inconsistent record, it’s also just not that good when compared to much of the band’s best material and even Alice’s solo work.

That statement isn’t mean to dismiss the strong material on this record. The title track feels like the anthem to my life as someone who has spent years in school, and only just recently finished. The use of kids’ singing is perhaps one of the only tasteful examples of bringing in children’s voices into music, as they support Alice’s perfect singing. As always, Alice has no shortage of brilliant lines (“Well we got no class / And we got no principles / And we got no innocence / We can't even think of a word that rhymes). Dennis Dunaway delivers yet another stellar performance on this track (and really all throughout the record once again). While “School’s Out” isn’t necessarily my favourite Alice Cooper song, it’s easy to see why it is an eternal, relatable hit.

After this song, the album almost goes back to the roots of Alice Cooper. That isn’t to say all of these tracks are psychedelic and totally disjointed with no semblance of songwriting, but they are certainly less rigid and straightforward than some of the efforts on the previous two releases. The only truly simple rock song other than the title track is “Public Animal #9”, which certainly can’t compete with the likes of anything on “Killer” or “Love It To Death”. “Gutter Cats vs. The Jets” also doesn’t veer too far off track, but its reliance on keyboards ruins the rocking mood that the riffs are trying to create.

The theatrics are still in full form on this record, primarily coming through in the skit track “Street Fight”, or the strange ode to the band’s high school days, “Alma Matter”. The latter isn’t quite theatrical in the same way that “Ballad of Dwight Fry” or “Killer” may have been, but it’s clearly designed as a non-traditional song. The aforementioned “Gutter Cats vs. The Jets” also has its moments where Alice Cooper’s vision is best realized live, but ultimately just isn’t that potent.

Despite the criticisms above, “School’s Out” really isn’t a terrible record at all. “Luney Tune” might be a little off-kilter, but it is still painfully catchy. “My Stars” is similarly another standout, even though it is far different from what made Alice Cooper great in this era. None of the songs are truly bad, and there is clearly a distinct difference between what the band did on this record, and what they were trying to accomplish on “Pretties For You” and “Easy Action”, but one can’t help but feel that they weren’t as focused on this release. “Blue Turk”, for example, features a stellar chorus, but is riddled with a lengthy horn section in the middle, and lacks distorted guitars. Neither of these things are inherently bad, but they’re just so counterintuitive to what made early Alice Cooper great. “Grand Finale” is similarly extremely horn-driven, and closes off a mixed record with a whimper.

Though “School’s Out” has grown on me considerably over the years, it does stick out like a sore thumb amidst 3 mind-blowing releases. The reality is that this album still exceeds much of Cooper’s discography. It isn’t an ideal starting point for new fans, but it is nevertheless worth owning, and most likely has at least a couple of deeper cuts that may appeal to you. There are numerous fans who will loyally defend this album as being just as good as the three that surround it, and while they’re certainly entitled to that opinion, a quick study of Alice’s setlists over the years provides more than enough evidence that this album doesn’t have much staying power beyond its brilliant title track.

"School’s Out"
"Luney Tune"
"My Stars"

Final Rating: 75%

Billion Dollar Babies (1973)

By 1973, there was no avoiding Alice Cooper. After the mega-hit “School’s Out”, expectations were astronomical for the follow-up record. The band must have realized this because “Billion Dollar Babies” opens with the absolutely triumphant “Hello Hooray”. As though to welcome the listener to the brilliant 40-minute experience that would follow, this track sets the tone with its opening lines of “Hello! Hooray! Let the show begin”. Musically, the song isn’t exactly a hard rocker like those tracks found on “Killer” or “Love It To Death”, but it is far catchier and more memorable than the majority of “School’s Out”. It’s a bit of a bold choice to open the record because it isn’t actually an original track, but there’s no doubt that Alice Cooper quickly made it their own.

Billion Dollar Babies” is a much deeper album than just a hit cover song, however. After its release, the band reached the height of their popularity, and that is due in no small part to the number of hit singles on this record. “Elected” is a reworking of “Reflected” from “Pretties For You”, and shows the band unleashing the potential the song always had. Though it comes in and out of Alice’s live sets often (depending on how close we are to a US presidential election), this is undeniably one of the most brilliant Alice Cooper tracks. Alice’s charisma as a frontman and lead singer really comes across with most of the lines he delivers in this song. If another band were to perform this song, it might be sonically similar, but it would lack the impact that Alice gives it.

The title track of the record is perhaps best known for its iconic opening drumbeat, but it also marks another instance where the show is stolen by bassist Dennis Dunaway. He injects some high-speed fills that complement the transitions in the song perfectly. The song has plenty of harmonized lead guitars, which are only another subtle link to Alice’s connection with metal. It also is a duet with the singer Donovan, but as a young, out-of-touch metalhead, I’ve got no clue who that actually is. In all honesty, Alice could have performed this track off solo, but Donovan’s appearance doesn’t really hurt or hinder the song. Regardless, “Billion Dollar Babies” is yet another song that is worthy of its hit status and is constantly in live sets.

And then there’s the biggest hit on the record: “No More Mr. Nice Guy”. This one of the few Alice Cooper songs that plenty of people probably know even if they have no idea who Alice Cooper is, and it’s easy to see why. With a mind-numbingly brilliant chorus that rises to a great crescendo, this is a perfect sing-along track. 

Every classic record obviously has its share of hits, but the real question is if “Billion Dollar Babies” has much else to offer. Unlike “School’s Out”, the answer is a resounding yes. Both “Unfinished Sweet” and “Generation Landslide” are two of Alice’s better rock efforts on the record. They might be just a cut below some of the material on “Killer” or “Love It To Death”, but both songs still get the job done.

The real highlight is the combo of “Mary Ann” and “I Love The Dead”. The former is a short piano ballad, with only Alice leading the charge. It’s not the kind of music that any rock and roll fan should enjoy all that much, but it sets the tone for the disturbing, twisted “I Love The Dead”. Besides having one of the heaviest riffs of all time (in the breakdown just after this song’s intro), the track excels due to its sheer catchiness. Often performed after Alice is executed via guillotine, this song is usually sung in a modified form by long-time bassist Chuck Garric, showing that even without Alice, it is a well-written effort. The extended (album) version features perhaps Alice’s most depraved lyrics: “I love the dead before they rise / No farewells, no goodbyes / I never even knew your now rotting face / While friends and lovers mourn your silly grave / I have other uses for you Darling”. Once you start to enjoy this track, that’s when you know you’ve gone off the deep end.

This leaves just two songs to round out “Billion Dollar Babies”. Despite being the weakest tracks, “Raped and Freezin’” and “Sick Things” are ironically quite opposed. The former is a standard rock track, but one that just doesn’t have anything interesting to offer. It’s far simpler than much of the material on “School’s Out”, yet somehow doesn’t translate into a hit. “Sick Things”, on the other hand, is what would happen to a track like “I Love The Dead” if it lacked musical credence. This isn’t to say it is bad, but it almost feels more like a skit than a song at times, and when compared to the musical terror of previous efforts like “Dead Babies” or “Killer”, it falls short.

Billion Dollar Babies” is one of the most interesting Alice Cooper records to analyze simply because it isn’t very one-dimensional. Unlike its predecessor, it has a handful of hits, but also the occasional miss. It absolutely is deserving of its status as a classic record, and yet, it wasn’t the band’s best work. Sometimes when bands blow up to the popularity that Alice Cooper had with “School’s Out”, they totally fall apart, but “Billion Dollar Babies” proves that wasn’t meant to happen for Alice Cooper. At least, it wasn’t meant to happen yet…

"Billion Dollar Babies"
"No More Mr. Nice Guy"
"I Love The Dead"

Final Rating: 90%

Muscle of Love (1973)

Despite the band’s consistently increasing popularity, 1973 marked the second time in just three years that Alice Cooper was able to put out two albums in the same year. Unlike each of those previous four releases, however, “Muscle of Love” is arguably the first time the band didn’t progress forward with their new record. Citing a hope to return to musical roots, rather than focusing on the ever-growing stage show, the band dumped Bob Ezrin, and put forth an album that is exactly as they describe: a rock and roll record.

It’s almost inarguable that Bob Ezrin was the catalyst the band needed to really figure things out. Of course, they’d been on such a roll by this point, that maybe they didn’t need Ezrin anymore. Sadly, “Muscle of Love” proves that just isn’t the case. To be clear, this isn’t a bad record, nor even a mediocre one. But compared to the brilliance of the previous two years, “Muscle of Love” is certainly a head scratcher.

Alice Cooper was no stranger to writing hard rocking efforts at this point in their career, but most of these tracks lack the edge or bite that previous songs had. The hooks, while admirable, are not always all that catchy or memorable. The album has a handful of enjoyable songs, but ultimately struggles to compete against a very strong discography for Alice. The sole exception being the title track, which is instantly memorable due to its fantastic opening riff.

The album as a whole feels a lot like an Aerosmith record (particularly on a song like “Never Been Sold Before” or even some of the riffs in “Man With The Golden Gun”). There are definitely some bluesy riffs, and the album has a bit of a loose feel to it. All of the band members give a serviceable performance, but nothing quite as potent as in the past. Even Dennis Dunaway fails to impress as he did on the last few outings.

Muscle of Love” isn’t bad; it’s just unremarkable. Despite having owned the record for numerous years, it is one I rarely come back to. At least future Alice records would always have an interesting twist or theme to them, even if the songwriting didn’t fire on all cylinders. By contrast, “Muscle of Love” feels like a band trying to recapture an identity they never had. The band was always theatrical, and though it may have gone a bit too far at times, abandoning it was ultimately their undoing. Alice Cooper has done far worse in his/their career, but after a string of hits (with more to come), “Muscle of Love” is tough to appreciate.

"Big Apple Dreamin’ (Hippo)"
"Hard Hearted Alice"
"Muscle of Love"

Final Rating: 70%

Alice Cooper the Band Becomes Alice Cooper the Singer

After “Muscle of Love”, the band took a break to record solo albums. It didn’t take much foresight to determine this would work out much better for the singer (who was seen as the band’s namesake) than for everyone else. Before delving into Alice’s solo catalogue, it’s worth reiterating the three points made above apply much moreso to Alice’s solo career.

To be blunt, Alice hopped around a lot stylistically for the next 30+ years. Without the same band members to ground him, Alice ultimately explored a more diverse musical territory. This probably worked out best; as noted above, “Muscle of Love” is what happens when Alice Cooper makes a rock record that is just ok. Trying out different genres allowed him to find occasional bursts of creativity, and at least put together interesting albums when the songwriting wasn’t the best.

And because Alice Cooper no longer had the brilliant songwriting of Michael Bruce, or the creative bass lines of Dennis Dunaway, Alice’s lyrics took center stage more often. The old albums had plenty of good lyrics, but Alice would take things to another level over the following years. All of these factors would combine to result in some truly brilliant deep cuts that can stand against any of the Alice Cooper Group’s best work.

Personally, I am not as faithful to the Alice Cooper Group as most hardcore fans. Undoubtedly, most of the hits were written during that period, and as described above in excessive detail, several of those albums rank among my favourites ever. Solo Alice, however, not only has much more to offer (19 albums solo albums against 7 from the band), but it also explores heavy metal in two separate stints, and does so convincingly both times.

Finally, the last few years in particular have made it quite evidence that nostalgia has ended Alice’s creative peak. By no means do I think that “Dirty Diamonds” or even “Along Came A Spider” were some of the better Alice Cooper records, but a simple assessment of the last 10 years of Alice’s career shows a disturbing fact pattern. Up until about 2008 or so, Alice was constantly pumping out new records, occasionally changing his sound. Around the time “Along Came A Spider” was released, Alice pretty much stopped touring around his new albums. Sure, he threw a couple of tracks from the new record into the set (almost out of obligation), but there was no tour for “Along Came A Spider”. With few new songs, Alice primarily resorted to playing the same songs he has always played for the last 40 years.

And then there was “Welcome 2 My Nightmare”. Though the album will be discussed at length later on, the reunion with Bob Ezrin and the release of a sequel 36 years after the original just screams of an artist seeking attention. Once again, there was no tour to support “Welcome 2 My Nightmare”, as Alice opted to spend years opening for Iron Maiden and Motley Crue. Let’s be realistic here: Alice has been around long enough that grabbing a few extra Maiden or Crue fans will not do much for his bottom-line. It will, however, give him shorter sets (once again preventing new or rare songs from entering the set).

One would then wonder why it took 6 years for another studio album, particularly given that he only had one other break exceeding 3 years in his entire 48-year career. The answer (other than the excessively long Motley Crue tour) is because of Hollywood Vampires. This is a cover band formed by Alice, Johnny Depp, Joe Perry, and others to recapture the glory of the 1970s. Releasing a very mediocre cover album and doing even more touring, it serve as yet another distraction for Alice, preventing him from putting out another great record.

And then there are the reunions with the original band. On “Welcome 2 My Nightmare”, the original band played on / wrote 3 songs. There have been several informal reunions since, and the band will also be reappearing on two tracks on “Paranormal”. In fact, most of the discussion surrounding the new record from hardcore Alice fans has been about whether we’re getting two or three songs from the new band (eventually confirmed to be two). Like I said, I love those old records, but I don’t think an extra song from the old band 40+ years removed from their prime will be life changing. In fact, it is arguable that Alice made much of his best and most inspired music working with other artists.

Finally, it was recently announced that the original band is going to be playing a mini-set with Alice on one of his upcoming tours. This is yet another instance where it will be clear that Alice will ignore his vast catalogue (including his first new album in 6 years) in favour of nostalgia. It wasn’t so long ago that Alice was still a major creative force, and while I’m optimistic about the new album, there’s not a single doubt in my mind that the entity of Alice Cooper has become increasingly regressive over the last decade. There’s no shortage of groups that quickly become nostalgia bands (often by their 40s or 50s), but Alice held on longer than most, and it’s unfortunate that his creative efforts are continuing to dwindle. Of course, we still have another 40 years to cover first!

Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)

After reteaming with producer Bob Ezrin, Alice kicked off his solo career by releasing quite possibly his most original and innovative album in his 26-record discography. This album takes all the absurdity and theatricality of previous tracks like “Halo of Flies”, “I Love The Dead” and others, and turns it up to 11. It combines a variety of styles and sounds to create a truly haunting, nightmarish experience. Perhaps one of its best qualities is to take seemingly innocent songs like “Welcome To My Nightmare”, “Cold Ethyl”, and “Escape”, and make them feel just a little bit sadistic. Everything on this record that isn’t inherently scary almost feels like it has an ulterior motive, as even the truly rocking songs fit the theme of this album perfectly.

Welcome To My Nightmare” has a few different tones to it. Of course, Alice is well-known for hard rock efforts, and there is no shortage of them on this album. While “Department of Youth” and “Cold Ethyl” might appeal most to 1970s rock fans, it is “Devil’s Food” and “The Black Widow” that are heaviest. These songs could compete with anything metal bands were doing 5 years later, and are far ahead of their time. The riffs are truly monolithic, and while some of Alice’s earlier efforts lacked gritty distortion, these two tracks remain heavy even 40+ years later. Both of them once again display the brilliance of harmonized lead guitars (though this time around it would be Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner dueling). “Devil’s Food” also features an extensive spoken-word section from Vincent Price, reminding the listener that you can never truly be removed from the nightmare.

One of the great things about “Welcome To My Nightmare”, and really Alice Cooper as a whole, is its propensity to do things that make absolutely no sense, yet still work perfectly. The best example of this is “Some Folks”. Much of the song features some strange finger snapping as its rhythmic backdrop, amidst Alice adopting yet another of his unique character voices. The contrast to the heavy metal sounds of the prior two tracks is evident, but “Some Folks” manages to be just as potent. This is in large part due to the stellar lead playing throughout the track, which climaxes in two separate instances where the feel of the song speeds up.   

This album marks the beginning of Alice’s “ballad” era. For each of his first four solo records, Alice spawned a hit single via a ballad. And while hardcore fans seem lukewarm at best on some of the later ones, few people can deny the brilliance of “Only Women Bleed”. Lyrically, it is a terrifying yet all too true tale, but even musically, it hits the spot. It is one of two instances on the record where horns and symphonies are executed to perfection (the other being the title track). It also proves that despite some of Alice’s more unique and crazier voices, he really is a great singer in a more traditional sense.

As great as all of the aforementioned songs are, the centerpiece of the album is the trilogy of “Years Ago”, “Steven”, and “The Awakening”. If you’re looking for a real nightmare, this is it. “Years Ago” is perhaps the most terrifying song ever written. With its deserted carnival feel, one can only wonder firstly how someone would create something this twisted, but also how anyone could have thought it would be a good idea to include on the album. But this is supposed to be a nightmare, and no track captures that feeling better than “Years Ago”. Alice adopts yet another strange character voice, perhaps his creepiest ever. Word of advice: don’t listen to this song if you’re home alone at night.

Steven” is what happens if you take the dark, disturbing atmosphere of “Years Ago” and add some musical credence to it. Driven by the best piano line of Alice’s career, this song quickly shows Alice imitating a child’s voice (once again displaying the diversity of his sound) before exploding in the choruses. This song is one of many examples of the stellar guitar playing on this record, as the outro features intricate, memorable lead work. It is the pinnacle of drama interwoven with music, and though not the end of the record, it feels like an appropriate climax to the album.

The Awakening” is definitely one of the stranger tracks on the album. After a short intro featuring primarily only Alice, an eerie piano comes to life to support Alice singing a tale of how he killed his wife. The song builds and builds as the rest of the band joins the fray. In many ways, this track feels a bit more like an interlude the first few times you hear it, but upon repeated listens, it’s actually a pretty brilliant little tale. It feels more like an epilogue to “Steven” (not necessarily lyrically, but instead musically).

Finally, “Welcome To My Nightmare” closes with “Escape”; a song that is a 180-degree turn from the previous tracks. This is an upbeat rocker that has a much more positive outlook. If Alice didn’t want to end things on the nightmare trilogy, then this would be the only other appropriate track to close the album, simply because it feels like one waking up from the nightmare. It’s not necessarily one of the strongest tracks on the record, but that’s because this album is overflowing with brilliant music.

Welcome To My Nightmare” was the defining release for Alice’s solo career, and it’s easy to see why. The stage show continued to grow as the music became more absurd, and 1975 marked the highlight of this point. Over the next couple of records, Alice’s descent into alcoholism would take an increasing toll on his career, and the music suffered. While it appears he was an incredibly heavy drinker in these days too, it clearly wasn’t impacting the man too much yet. Substance abuse aside, 1975 was perhaps the best year to be an Alice Cooper fan!

"Welcome To My Nightmare"
"The Black Widow"
"Cold Ethyl"

Final Rating: 100%

Goes to Hell (1976)

After a record as earth-shattering as “Welcome To My Nightmare”, it would be impossible to release something equally potent, but the question remains as to if Alice could keep up putting out strong releases. Unfortunately, “Goes To Hell” answers that with a resounding “no”. It’s unclear exactly what went wrong on this record; it’s still got the Cooper/Ezrin combination, and both of Alice’s great guitarists stayed on board. But this album just completely missed the mark, with a few exceptions. Likely the best answer is that Alice’s alcoholism was really beginning to effect his career; after all, the tour for “Goes To Hell” was cancelled due to Alice getting extremely sick.

To the record’s credit, there are a few decent tracks. “Go To Hell” is the obvious standout, with Alice penning some great lines about all the reasons one could end up down below (“you’d even force feed a diabetic a candy cane”). Most importantly however, it’s a rocking track with solid riffs, and some actual volume behind it. It isn’t afraid to be loud and boisterous, which is the real problem that “Goes To Hell” suffers from as a whole. So many of these tracks are quiet, boring, and unimaginative. This isn’t simply a matter of turning the amps to 11; instead, it’s just that there isn’t much to enjoy for a rock fan. One clear example is “I’m The Coolest”, where absolutely nothing happens for the entire song. It’s one thing to criticize a record as a new listener for being unmemorable and uninteresting, but having owned this album for nearly a decade, very few of the tracks even have a riff or vocal line that comes to mind until relistening to it. It doesn’t even seem like Alice is singing on this track; Alice is a master of different voices, but this is far outside anything else he’s ever done. 

Ironically, one of the standout tracks is a ballad. “I Never Cry” seems to be Alice’s scream for help about his alcohol problems. Though less dramatic than “Only Women Bleed” (there are relatively minimal orchestrations to support this track), Alice once again delivers a charismatic vocal performance that rivals anything he’s ever done in his career (at least, up to this point). Fortunately, there is a third worthwhile track on this album and that is “Guilty”. Much like “Public Animal #9” on “School’s Out”, however, this track is effective because it is a rock and roll song on an album otherwise devoid of that sound. It can’t stand up against Alice Cooper’s best work, and so although it is enjoyable and has some decent riffs, it can’t salvage the record.

Some of the remaining songs on “Goes To Hell” aren’t completely offensive. The disco-esque “You Gotta Dance” is hilarious for what it is. “Didn’t We Meet” builds to a decent climax in the middle. But when these are some of the songs kicking off the record, concern should set in. Some of the true misses are near the end, coming in the form of “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” and “Going Home”. The former track features plenty of quiet time before a frustrating chorus, while the latter song just features an incessantly annoying repeating of its title.

Goes To Hell” had too much to live up to given its predecessor, but even across a lengthy and divisive catalogue, it stands out as one of Alice’s weakest efforts. And unlike some of the other disappointing albums he has done, this isn’t due to stylistic choices (the first two albums, the early 1980s era (but even most of those are better), and “The Eyes of Alice Cooper” / “Dirty Diamonds” (more on those later)). It isn’t even a performance issue either. This is simply just weak songwriting, and can only be recommended to the most hardcore Alice fans. The good songs all show up in various live releases, so “Goes To Hell” is only for the collectors.

"Go To Hell"
"I Never Cry"

Final Rating: 64%

Lace And Whiskey (1977)

Coming off one of the weakest records of his career, and given the fact that Alice Cooper was continuing his dark descent as an alcoholic, it wasn’t really clear if solo Alice Cooper was anything more than a one-hit wonder. Though Alice was actually able to play live supporting this album, the performances could be pretty dreadful (check out Alice singing the title track to “Lace and Whiskey” on The Tonight Show for all the evidence you need). The befuddled concept behind this record only seemed to raise the level of concern further.

Despite that, “Lace and Whiskey” shows Alice trending in the right direction once again. For one thing, this album brings the riffs. The opening riff to the album comes from “It’s Hot Tonight”, and it stands against absolutely anything in his entire catalogue. This riff provides the backbone for the track, but the middle solo/lead harmony section is adventurous, and helps the song sustain its length. Even the chorus has a nice melodic sensibility to it. The title track is up next and brings back the bouncy feel that “Go To Hell” had. This is yet another absurdly catchy track, with a killer chorus. The vocals feel a bit buried, particularly coming off “It’s Hot Tonight”, but Alice’s singing is still on point.  

As with the past two records, “Lace and Whiskey” features another hit ballad (each successive one seemingly being less popular than the last amongst fans though). This album’s effort is “You and Me”, often mistaken as “What We Are Is What We Are” based on the lyrics of the chorus. Relative to the previous two ballads, this one truly does feel like business as usual, and while it doesn’t have much new to offer, it is a nice, heartfelt tune.

At this point, one might think “Lace and Whiskey” isn’t all that different from “Goes To Hell”. After all, there have been two rockers and a good ballad, but the primary difference is that the remaining songs, while not necessarily hits, don’t drop the ball. These songs aren’t afraid to use distorted guitars, or even crank up the speed. This album’s disco-inspired effort (“(No More) Love At Your Convenience”) tends to receive a lot more flak from hardcore Alice fans than its predecessor, but to Alice’s credit, it’s a surprisingly memorable little number. It might be a little heavy on the backing vocals, but for a man who has made a career out of doing different sounds, this successful experimentation is appreciated.

Some other deep cut highlights include “King of the Silver Screen” and “My God”. The former is one of the more authentic sounding Alice Cooper Group tracks; in other words, this would have fit in well with some of the 1971-1973 work without hesitation. It’s got that slight cleverness and silliness to the lyrics, and classic rocking feel. Alice sometimes had a tendency to go overboard with his theatricality in his solo career, but this song retains the nice balance found in the band’s peak. “My God” is a highlight simply for the mesmerizing guitar solo. One shouldn’t forget that the duo of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner is still in tact on this record, and while it had some mediocre results on the prior record, the group gets their swagger back here, both with heavy riffs, and impressive fretwork.

Overall, there are any number of reasons why “Lace and Whiskey” could be considered a superior record to “Goes To Hell”. Ultimately, however, it is more focused, and so despite Alice’s dangerous levels of drinking, there wasn’t much of a negative musical impact. Certainly, this is nowhere near his best work, but it is a nice rebound after the previous album. Much of this album might be ignored by Alice in a live setting these days, but it is well worth owning for a few top-tier Alice tracks, and a handful of other solid efforts.

"It’s Hot Tonight"
"Lace and Whiskey"
"You and Me"

Final Rating: 76%

From The Inside (1978)

After “Lace and Whiskey”, Alice’s alcohol problems worsened once again, resulting in him needing to get treatment. For some reason, he was sent to a mental health facility, where most of the other patients weren’t dealing with alcohol-related issues. The characters he met there inspired his 11th album: “From The Inside”. This is one of the few Alice Cooper solo records (along with “The Last Temptation”, and arguably “DaDa” or “Along Came A Spider”) that doesn’t really have a place in his discography. Most of Alice’s solo career was focused on certain genres or themes, but “From The Inside” is a strange one-off record that doesn’t really represent his previous or later work. As a result, it’s a bit more difficult to evaluate against the rest of his discography.

The album also marks a significant change in personnel. Bob Ezrin is out as producer, and David Foster takes over. Equally important, however, is the addition of Bernie Taupin to assist in songwriting. Taupin would be very influential outside the musical realm (more on that in the next review), but obviously also changed the direction of the songwriting. The result is that “From The Inside” is a much more piano driven record. Sometimes it feels like the guitars take a backseat, even though Dick Wagner still co-wrote and played on this album.

Unsurprisingly, this makes “From The Inside” a strange record because it isn’t a traditional hard rock record. There are a lot of decent riffs, but this can be a very inaccessible album the first few times around. The title track is practically a disco song (nothing new to Alice on the last couple albums, but certainly as a lead off track, it is daring). Even if you don’t like disco, it’s got some nice bass pops and a convincing, storytelling performance from Alice that is worth hearing.

The rest of the album is a bit of a mishmash of styles based on the character that Alice is singing about. The strange duet of “Millie and Billie” is among the least characteristic tracks in Alice’s discography, yet somehow works well. Then there are the more classic sounding efforts like “Wish I Were Born In Beverly Hills”, “Serious”, and “For Veronica’s Sake”. Though the album as a whole could be described as theatrical, the two tracks that best represent Alice’s level of absurdity are “Nurse Rozetta” and “Inmates (We’re All Crazy)”. The latter track provides a haunting close to the record, as both Alice and a chorus of vocalists constantly sings out “We’re All Crazy”. Once again, there is another ballad that would be the hit from the album (“How You Gonna See Me Now”). It is definitely the weakest of the four hit ballads Alice had done since 1975, but isn’t all that bad compared to some of the weaker material of this era.    

Buying “From The Inside” as your first Alice record would be a major mistake. But the story of Alice Cooper can’t be told without this album. Quality-wise, it’s up there with any of his more average records, even if it is sonically different. It’s great that even in a time where Alice has been less adventurous with his setlists, tracks from this album are still regularly featured (“From The Inside”, “Wish I Were Born In Beverly Hills”, and “Nurse Rozetta” have all been played in the last 12 or so years; “Serious” was also brought out briefly in 2003). Overall, for an experimental record, “From The Inside” definitely shatters expectations!

"From The Inside"
"Wish I Were Born In Beverly Hills"

Final Rating: 74%

Flush The Fashion (1980)

The collaboration with Bernie Taupin wouldn’t last beyond “From The Inside”, but Taupin was responsible for the direction of the next few albums thanks to introducing Alice to cocaine. Alcohol no longer proved to be Alice’s vice, and each of the next three albums took a very different turn as a result. Though Alice denied this for decades, everything finally came to light in “Super Duper Alice Cooper”, a documentary that was released just recently.

Substance abuse or not, “Flush The Fashion” marked a serious change in Alice’s musical direction. Updating to a more modern, new wave sound (and not the good new wave either [NWOBHM]), each of the next three albums is a strange time in Alice’s discography. “Flush The Fashion” is arguably the most coherent of these records, and probably the only one Alice actually remembers.

This album has two big hits: “Clones (We’re All)” and “Pain”. Unlike the past few records, neither of these songs is a ballad. “Clones (We’re All)” is an upbeat tune driven by a catchy synthesizer. Interestingly, the song isn’t actually written by Alice, so it’s a bit unfortunate that the best track on the record isn’t even an original.

At 4 minutes, “Pain” is the longest song on the record (and that should tell you something about how hyped up the drugs were making Alice). It is the closest to any of his classic efforts, even though it is very piano-focused. Perhaps it is because Alice uses his more normal voice on this song (which is a bit of a departure from the rest of the album), or because the song isn’t quite as fast as the surrounding tracks, but this song would have fit on anything released from 1975-1978.

The rest of the album is a fairly high-speed, coked-up affair that doesn’t really have anything in common with Alice Cooper (one listen to “Leather Boots” or “Aspirin Damage” makes that clear). Sure, it’s his voice, but it really sounds nothing like what you’d expect from him. One look at any of the pictures from this era would show you how messed up he was (and it would only get worse on the next record).

Ironically, however, “Flush The Fashion” is still a decent album. Neither of the following two albums have anything as enjoyable as either “Clones (We’re All)” or “Pain”, and the remaining tracks are all serviceable. Because there are three albums of new wave, it’s pretty easy to hear what this sounds like when it goes off the rails (“Special Forces”), and that most definitely does not happen on “Flush The Fashion”. It also helps that the songs are all so short, and almost bleed into one another. Many of the tracks on this record are between 2-3 minutes, which is the perfect length for this bizarre set of songs. By contrast, the slightly longer “Special Forces” really struggled to maintain its length. “Zipper Catches Skin” is a bit of a different story altogether, as discussed below. Regardless, “Flush The Fashion” was a bold new direction for Alice that wasn’t necessarily a failure in terms of quality, but also wasn’t a bright spot either. All things considered, it’s not as bad as it should have been.

"Clones (We’re All)"
"Aspirin Damage"

Final Rating: 68%

Special Forces (1981)

“Flush The Fashion” was a big change for Alice, but the execution was fairly strong, so even for a rock or metal fan, it could be enjoyable. Sadly, the same can’t be said of “Special Forces”. Alice’s continued drug use had pretty much destroyed him, and unfortunately he didn’t really have anyone in his band that could salvage the record. There are three decent songs on the album and one of them is a cover. “Who Do You Think We Are” is certainly the best track, and is closest to old-school Alice, as it’s a straight-up rock song. It obviously doesn’t stand against his best work, but considering the time period, this is one of the better songs from the 1980-1983 era.

One of the other decent efforts is “Seven and Seven Is”, which is a cover of the band Love. This is a high energy song that actually fits the coked-up nature of Alice Cooper at this time. It’s easy to see why it was covered, as it’s primarily driven by 16th notes for the entirety of the song. The vocal patterns feel a bit sporadic at times, but Alice delivers them surprisingly well considering his state. Finally, there is “You Look Good In Rags”, which has a fairly memorable guitar lick driving the chorus. Unfortunately there’s a weird backing vocal section about two-thirds of the way into the track that takes over until the end. It’s easy to see how, with better execution and a larger spotlight on Alice, this could have been a huge hit for him. The guitar lick is too catchy to ignore.

The remaining songs on this record are similar in sound to “Flush The Fashion”, but there honestly isn’t anything memorable here. Moreso than any other Alice Cooper album after “Pretties For You”, this album just totally misses the mark. It’s coherent, so it certainly can’t be considered the worst Alice Cooper record, but there aren’t really many hooks, and the ones that do exist aren’t good.

Special Forces” would be the last album Alice toured for prior to getting clean, and it’s easy to see why. For some reason, there’s a lot more footage of this tour out there than for “Flush The Fashion”, but it’s clear Alice is in a bad state. There is a full show from late 1981 floating around on YouTube that’s actually terrifying to watch. Alice at this point was scary because the danger was real. One watch of Alice Cooper’s interview with Tom Snyder will make that clear. Be forewarned if you’re squeamish, because Alice is legitimately difficult to look at in this interview.

Surprisingly, “Special Forces” would be the low point of Alice’s career. He still had drug problems on the follow-up, “Zipper Catches Skin”, but that album was far more creative. Dropping the cocaine for alcohol again, 1983’s “DaDa” was a creative high point. It’s not quite clear what went wrong on this record considering the other albums of this era were far superior, but “Special Forces” is only for the most diehard Alice fans. Listen to “Who Do You Think We Are” and "You Look Good In Rags", and then you’ll have heard everything you really need to.

"Who Do You Think We Are"
"Seven And Seven Is"
"You Look Good In Rags"

Final Rating: 55%

Zipper Catches Skin (1982)

1982’s “Zipper Catches Skin” sees former guitarist Dick Wagner returning to help Alice. From the onset, however, that’s the only positive looking element to this record. From the unfortunate album title, to its confusing cover art, and atrocious song titles, there isn’t much reason for optimism given Alice’s personal and career descent. Ironically, “Zipper Catches Skin” is actually a step forward after “Special Forces”. The songwriting is much, much catchier, and the songs are more coherent. There’s no doubt that the biggest musical influence on this record is still cocaine, but at least Wagner’s was helping this time around.

The result is that “Zipper Catches Skin” has more than a few decent guitar parts, which can’t be said about the past couple of records. Of equal importance is the fact that the bass playing on this album is on point. It almost feels like Dennis Dunaway came back to record this album because the bass is loud, and unleashing plenty of cool lines throughout. It’s easy to see how, in the right contexts, many of these tracks could have fit in with some of Cooper’s mid-70s work. The galloping opener “Zorro’s Ascent” would have fit on any number of Alice Cooper albums with a different production and Alice’s more classic voice. Nonetheless, it is a solid effort here, and a good fit for the album.

Most of “Zipper Catches Skin” is fairly similar musically, but the one track that does stand out as being different is “I Am The Future”. This is a much slower, spacier track that almost gives the record a distant, atmospheric feel. Unsurprisingly, it’s the only song not written by Alice, but it suits him nonetheless. The remainder of the album is filled with potential hits. There’s no reason that “Make That Money (Scrooge’s Song)”, “No Baloney Homosapiens”, or “Adaptable (Anything For You)” couldn’t have been successful for Alice. In 1982, however, he had absolutely no label support from Warner Bros. and also didn’t tour behind this release, resulting in nearly every single one of these tracks being ‘obscure’.

As great of a lyricist as Alice is, sometimes he got a little too carried away on this record. To be fair, some of the songs have some outstanding lines, but tracks like “Tag, You’re It” and “I’m Alive (That Was The Day My Dead Pet Return To Save My Life)” feel just a little bit over the top. In general, however, the songs on this album are all so short that they’re over before they can really get frustrating if they are a bit weaker. Overall, it makes “Zipper Catches Skin” an easy listen because it’s perhaps the most focused of the three drug-riddled albums, and also has lots of enjoyable guitar work.

"Zorro’s Ascent"
"I Am The Future"
"Adaptable (Anything For You)"

Final Rating: 70%

DaDa (1983)

DaDa” is often considered along with the three records that preceded it to all except hardcore fans, but the truth is that this record is another like “From The Inside” that can’t be likened to any of its predecessors or successors. Alice traded in drugs for drinking again, and teaming with only Dick Wagner and Bob Ezrin, created one of the most terrifying unique records ever. As noted in the last review, label support was virtually non-existent, so “DaDa” only existed to fulfill contractual obligations. This album was primarily written by Cooper and Wagner in a hotel in Toronto, and represents one of the purest artistic visions ever.

When I said “Years Ago” was the creepiest song ever written, it came with a caveat: “DaDa”. The title track to this album is absolutely the most frightening thing ever made, and you should never listen to it alone, at night, or if you’re in any sort of state of paranoia. It’s a 4-minute intro featuring a terrifying melody that culminates in Alice talking to Ezrin (the therapist). You don’t even need to fully hear the words (which are purposefully quiet) to get the sense that this Alice is a killer.

Once this track ends, the haunting atmosphere mostly comes out of the fact that this album is a total juxtaposition of sounds. The lyrics are often sadistic (“Enough’s Enough, “Former Lee Warmer”, "Fresh Blood", “Pass The Gun Around”), and songs range from happy and upbeat (“I Love America”) to intensely emotional (“Pass The Gun Around”), to pure dark music (“Former Lee Warmer”). Somehow, “Scarlet and Sheba” manages to be both optimistic and sadistic in the chorus alone.

Most of this album actually hits the mark pretty well. Other than “I Love America”, none of the songs are truly bad. This track just has far too many lyrics, and the common melody throughout the song isn’t that captivating. Aside from this, however, there are a lot of highlights on this album. One of my favourites is "Fresh Blood", simply because of the sheer hilarity of the tune. It's got a funky rhythm that suits Alice's voice perfectly. However, the best song is undoubtedly “Pass The Gun Around”. Naturally, the entire song is a euphemism for Alice’s drinking problem, but the brilliance is how the lines work on two levels (“Pass the gun around / give everyone a shot). Dick Wagner gives quite possibly the best guitar solo of his career on this track.

On the note of Dick Wagner, if you are a serious “DaDa” fan, there is an unbelievable hour-long podcast with Dick Wagner and two guys from the Decibel Podcast. They cover every single track in depth, with tons of obscure info that comes straight from the source himself (and since Alice can’t remember anything from this period, Wagner would be the only other person along with Ezrin who could add any insight).

Truthfully, “DaDa” is not a favourite of mine. It is a seriously unique entry in Alice’s career, and the fact that it came when he was at his sickest is unbelievable. But it’s very strange musically (I don’t know of anyone who could categorize it into a genre of music), and essential to hear. The only track I pull out often is “Pass The Gun Around”, but it is fun to revisit once in a while for something very different.

"Enough’s Enough"
"Fresh Blood"
"Pass The Gun Around"

Final Rating: 75%

Out of the Dark… and Into the Light

The past decade’s worth of reviews have all mentioned Alice’s various substance abuse problems. It’s unfortunate to focus so much on it, but clearly, it impacted his career considerably after 1975. In 1983, Alice reached a breaking point and almost died. Shortly after this, he finally got sober, and would remain drug and drink-free for the next 30+ years! Fortunately, you won’t have to read about it anymore!

Musically, the post-1983 period marks a significant increase in quality for me. While two separate stints in metal help, even the non-metal stuff is more memorable than much of Alice’s non-hit records. Alice always found a way to make his music relevant and interesting, working with a variety of different musicians who are essential to telling the Alice Cooper story, and that begins in 1986 with Kane Roberts and “Constrictor”.

Constrictor (1986)

Alice’s comeback record wasn’t exactly a return to form musically. With the help of Kane Roberts (i.e. Rambo) on guitar, Alice tried his best to get with the times and play heavy metal. For a first try, “Constrictor” is a respectable effort. For the average Alice Cooper fan, it might be a nice dip into the subgenre, but for any metal enthusiast, it’s likely to be too shallow to enjoy. It’s not particularly heavy, and by 1986, people were making much more advanced and complex metal. Truthfully, this album would have been great in that 1980-1982 period before thrash erupted, but nonetheless, it was slightly behind the times. To be fair to Alice, this album was more about re-establishing his presence, and the tour that accompanied it did that as well.

Of course, we aren’t in 1986 anymore, so it’s worth evaluating “Constrictor” for the music it presents. While not the best Alice album of the era, it has more than a few great tracks. “Teenage Frankenstein” kicks things off with a memorable, albeit very predictable-sounding chorus. The real highlights, however, are deeper into the record. “Life and Death of the Party” is a major winner for its intense chorus, which is one of the only successful attempts at creating atmosphere on the record.

The recently unearthed “The World Needs Guts” is another highlight. For anyone who regularly indulges in heavier music, this track gets the job done, opening with some killer tapping leads, and an energetic, driving pace. It is undoubtedly the most powerful song on the record, and Alice’s harshest vocal performance as well.

Finally, there is “He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask)”. This song sticks out like a sore thumb on the record, with its synth-laden intro, yet somehow fits the cheesy feel that the record has. It was written for Friday the 13th, but caps off the record nicely. Ultimately, it is another song that is successful due to strong, memorable songwriting with good hooks.

The remainder of the record is not as bad as many Alice fans paint it to be. “Thrill My Gorilla”, despite the awful title, is another easy sing-along track. “Simple Disobedience” has a pounding, heavy rhythm that makes it very unique in Alice’s catalogue. Some tracks are a bit too light at times (“The Great American Success Story”), but nothing is downright awful. The slight variety in the record makes it much more enjoyable.

Alice picked some incredible musicians to join him in his comeback. The aforementioned Kane Roberts can shred with the best of them, and though he definitely restrains himself at times on “Constrictor”, a track like “The World Needs Guts” shows his immense potential. On “Life and Death of the Party”, he unleashes some fantastic leads to kick things off, and it makes for an instantly memorable song. He has no shortage of riffs on this record. Providing the thumping bass is Kip Winger. I’ve always found Winger’s (the band) reputation to be a bit of a joke, but the man is a great bass player. “Constrictor” doesn’t offer him too much room to show off his skills, but it doesn’t surprise me that such a talented musician would end up with Alice.

Constrictor” is an interesting point in Alice’s career. Most fans would agree that it was an essential album and helped to spark a comeback, but few enjoy it or readily defend it. It’s easy to see why given that the three following albums would all exceed it, but that doesn’t mean it is worthless. In fact, this is an excellent record that has a number of great songs, and is still essential Alice Cooper!

"Life and Death of the Party"
"The World Needs Guts"
"He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)"

Final Rating: 84%

Raise Your Fist and Yell (1987)

“Constrictor” was a nice comeback record for Alice, but really, it was just a warmup for “Raise Your Fist and Yell”. This is Alice starting to catch up with the heavier more metal bands of the day. Sure, he’s not hitting Slayer levels, but this does not feel tame or watered-down like “Constrictor” did (to some extent). This is no more evident than with the exploding opening anthem “Freedom”. Much like “Elected”, this is an easy winner for Alice that everyone can get behind, but musically, it’s a different beast altogether. Kane Roberts came prepared with some fierce riffs all throughout this song and the record. His lead work is faster and more blazing than ever, and probably the pinnacle of what Alice would see in his career. This song even has double bass on it!

Though nothing quite as fiery and anthemic as “Freedom” exists on the rest of the record, there is no shortage of hits on “Raise Your Fist and Yell”. “Lock Me Up” is another sing-along track, complete with a whoa-oh section in the chorus. “Prince of Darkness” lives up to its name, showing that Alice, and not Ozzy, is the true prince of darkness. The song has some softer acoustic moments sprinkled in amongst some of the most potent riffs on any Alice track. The album closes with a 3-song concept effort, highlighted by “Roses On White Lace”, a high-speed affair that takes no prisoners. This song could compete with just about anything going on in the metal scene in 1987.

Raise Your Fist and Yell” has only limited flaws. There are a couple of weaker tracks (“Step On You” and “Not That Kind of Love”), but they do little to slow down this high-energy record. Certainly for the average fan, the album might feel a little one dimensional, but there is a good variety of speeds and sounds. Even one of the aforementioned lowlights, “Step On You”, has a great stomping rhythm that is not found elsewhere on the album. In many ways, this album feels very similar to something Ozzy would put out, but it does feel a tad heavier at times. Despite my prolific record of reviewing metal albums, it’s easy to keep this one short because all you really need to know is that it’s the point in Alice’s career when he was at his most metal. The only reason it doesn’t score quite as highly as “Killer” or “Welcome To My Nightmare” is that the stronger tracks, while great, simply aren’t as great as his best work. Nevertheless, this is one of many essential Alice Cooper albums.

"Prince of Darkness"
"Time To Kill"
"Roses On White Lace"

Final Rating: 88%

Trash (1989)

After an absurdly heavy album, Alice took a step towards the lighter side of metal with his next release: “Trash”. Ditching Kane Roberts, Alice brought in Desmond Child as his main co-songwriter and set out to create an album that could compete with the hair bands of the day. Not only did “Trash” do that, but it absolutely annihilated most of those groups. As great as that scene was, it spawned a lot of one-hit wonders, and few bands could write an entire great album. “Trash” is definitely a major exception, as front to back, this is one of Alice’s strongest records, with only a little bit of filler. Not only that, but its commercial success brought Alice back to the spotlight, and is arguably the reason he’s still going today. This is probably the most important record of his career released after 1975.

Trash” begins with the lead single “Poison”, which is both the best song and the most commercially successful. Alice left heavy riffs behind in favour of catchy hooks, complete with plenty of backing vocals and huge choruses. The lyrics moved away from violence, horror, and other things in favour of more romantic escapades. Sometimes Alice took these too far (“Bed of Nails”, “Trash”, “I’m Your Gun”), which is arguably the reason why many of these songs don’t get played live anymore (due to finding religion a few years after this record’s release). The funniest part is that Alice was 41 years old and married with children when this album came out, and he was annihilating kids half his age in terms of how extreme the lyrics are, and at other times, how good they are. Fortunately, “Poison” is probably one of the tamer instances on the record, and so its success is no surprise.

These lyrics are often the reason why people berate the album, but taking a step back, it’s actually an impressively written release. Firstly, there are serious riffs all over this album. “Spark In The Dark” is driven by an incredibly basic set of notes that is ever so catchy. “Why Trust You” is a non-stop power chord fest of riffs. “Bed of Nails” brings the speed, and is probably the heaviest track on the record. “Trash” has more of an old-school feel, and is comparable to a band like Aerosmith. This is probably the single most underrated part of the record because many are quick to dismiss it as a vapid, commercial release, but look beyond the choruses and you’ll find real riffs.

Of course, those choruses are also part of what makes the album succeed. Every song successfully builds and builds until it hits an irresistible chorus that will be burned into your brain for days. A track like “Bed of Nails”, for example, has cleverly written vocal patterns that follow the main riff of the song. This song has a guest appearance from former Alice shredder Kane Roberts, and he puts his spotlight to good use! Another highlight is one of the two ballads on this album, “Hell Is Living Without You”, which has a brilliant chorus that moves through several sections where the last word of the first line would be the opening word of the next line. It is something that you don’t hear too often, but is executed to perfection.

 Why Trust You” is another effort where the vocals excel because the riffs slowly get more potent through the verse, pre-chorus, and finally chorus and the vocals follow suit. Even the second verse flows perfectly from the first chorus, and so it feels like one consistent sing along. If one were to rank the most underrated Alice Cooper songs (something I will do at the end of this writeup), “Why Trust You” would be an instant contender for the top spot!

Though I do love “Trash”, there are a couple of weaker songs. The first ballad, “Only My Heart Talkin’”, doesn’t have anything particularly exciting to offer. Unsurprisingly, it is the only song that Desmond Child doesn’t have a songwriting credit on, so it’s clear that he had an unquestionably positive influence on this record. The other weak point is “This Maniac’s In Love With You”, which is a little too strong on the keyboards and lacking in riffs to excel as the other songs do.  Regardless, these tracks are decent enough, and it’s such a short album that they don’t do too much harm.

Trash” is the most maligned Alice Cooper record from hardcore fans, but it really shouldn’t be. It is definitely slicker and more professional sounding than much of his discography, but the awesome riffs and vocal lines are still there. The lyrics, while a different direction from the old stuff, are still fairly potent, especially when compared to Alice’s peers at the time. “Trash” is yet another highlight in an already awesome catalogue, even if it is one-dimensional.

"Spark in the Dark"
"Why Trust You"
"Bed of Nails"
"Hell Is Living Without You"

Final Rating: 95%

Hey Stoopid (1991)

With “Trash” being such a hit, one would think that the logical direction for Alice to take would be to make “Trash Pt. 2”. While “Hey Stoopid” certainly has some similarities, it would be fairer to say that this album is a step towards more traditional hard rock or heavy metal. In some ways, it is a combination of the two albums that preceded it, rather than being a direct continuation of either. Due to the success of “Trash”, however, Alice was now a much more high profile artist again. “Hey Stoopid” features guest appearances and collaborations with Slash, Joe Satriani, Ozzy Osbourne, and Steve Vai, to name a few. And while none of these artists necessarily make the album great, their presences are definitely known. Interestingly, Desmond Child did not work on this album at all, aside from co-writing two tracks.

Hey Stoopid” is a fairly diverse record. With 12 tracks, Alice had plenty of room to try out different sounds, and he does all of them fairly successfully. Tracks like “Dangerous Tonight” and “Feed My Frankenstein” are heavy songs that would likely appeal to fans of “Raise Your Fist and Yell”, while there are also more traditional rockers like “Hey Stoopid”, “Snakebite”, “Hurricane Years”, and “Die For You”. One of the singles, “Love’s A Loaded Gun”, is a bit of a tamer rock track that almost has a ballad-esque feel to it.

Any disillusioned long-time fans were likely very happy to hear “Wind-Up Toy”, which remains one of the most mind-blowing songs Alice has ever done. This is one of the few instances where he perfectly melds hard rock with creepy atmospheres. It features the return of Steven, and succeeds by having slow, haunting verses with a more upbeat and catchy chorus. Though not my favourite track, this is definitely amongst the most unique and interesting songs Alice has ever done.

As noted above, Desmond Child co-wrote two tracks here, and they are probably the two strongest cuts on the album (interestingly, they seemed loved by most Alice fans despite the general disdain most have for “Trash”). “Dangerous Tonight” is the first of these songs and is a brooding effort that features some truly sadistic lyrics. Much of the song is built around a slow rhythmic chug with a quick pause between each set of notes, but it ultimately explodes into a huge chorus (as one might have predicted with Child’s name on it). This entire track is easily one of the best vocal performances in Alice’s career.

The next song he helped with is the ballad “Might As Well Be On Mars”. At over 7 minutes, this is one of the longer Alice Cooper tracks, but it is well worth the runtime. The verses of the song feature a clean guitar, repeating a simplistic pattern that perfectly captures the atmosphere of the lyrics (“The city streets are wet with rain tonight / The taxi drivers swerve from lane to lane / A lonely guitar man playin' down the hall / Midnight blues comin' through the walls”). Again, this song features a stupendously huge chorus, as well as some of Alice’s best lyrics. Much like “Dangerous Tonight”, it marks another high point for Alice vocally, though it is much more demanding than the former song.

Weak points are few and far between on “Hey Stoopid”. The lyrics of “Dirty Dreams” are perhaps more absurd than anything on “Trash” (ironically no worse than what he’s done before on “Nurse Rozetta”), but don’t ruin the song. “Burning Our Bed” is never bad when playing, but fails to make a lasting impact otherwise. On the flip side, this is one of those albums that is so strong from start to finish that it’s easy for a few tracks to get lost in the shuffle (particularly when there are 12; 13 if you include the smokin’ Japanese bonus track “It Rained All Night”). “Hey Stoopid” was pretty much the perfect follow-up to “Trash” because it managed to be different, while still retaining both the quality, and the heavy metal feel of the last few years.

"Hey Stoopid"
"Love’s A Loaded Gun"
"Dangerous Tonight"
"Might As Well Be On Mars"
"Hurricane Years"

Final Rating: 95%

The Last Temptation (1994)

Much like “From The Inside” and “DaDa” before it, “The Last Temptation” is something of an oddity in Alice’s catalogue. After 4 albums of various metal sounds, Alice once again rolled with the times (somewhat), and opted for a more stripped down rock album, with elements of grunge. This is most evident because of the contributions of Chris Cornell (Soundgarden), who wrote one song and co-wrote another. Outside of these two tracks, the album largely leans towards hard rock, with varying levels of success. One notable reason for the inconsistency of the record is that there were 4 different producers on this record. Alice tends to co-write with just one or two people on each record, and while none of the producers have any songwriting credits, they undoubtedly had a hand in the album’s sound.

The Last Temptation” as a whole seems to have been shuffled to the side, other than Alice occasionally bringing out “Lost In America”. Whether because of the multiple producers, lack of a hit single, or the fact that it was a considerable period of inactivity for Alice (he put out only 2 albums in the 1990s compared with 7 in the 1980s, and barely toured to support “The Last Temptation”), this album doesn’t get its due from anyone other than fans. It does, however, have some of his best songs. The opening trio of “Sideshow”, “Nothing’s Free”, and “Lost In America”, are the most potent tracks. The last of these three has some of the most humorous lyrics of Alice’s career. All three songs, however, succeed because of irresistibly catchy vocal lines from Alice. “Nothing’s Free” is a bit of a twisted, slow burner that feels like classic Alice despite being quite different from anything else he’s ever done.

The remaining songs tend to be hit or miss. None are as strong as the first three, but tracks like “Bad Place Alone”, “You’re My Temptation”, and even the ballad, “It’s Me”, have their moments. “Bad Place Alone” in particular has a bouncy chorus, but the main riff that drives the verse doesn’t hold up as well. The two Cornell-penned tracks are by far my least favourite, and not just because his vocals show up. They lack interesting hooks, which shouldn’t be a surprise given Cornell’s grunge background (yes, I have a huge grudge against that style of music for killing metal’s mainstream popularity!).

And so much like “From The Inside” and “DaDa”, “The Last Temptation” is also a record that has some of the best material Alice has ever cut, and some of the more questionable material. Essential? Yes. But you shouldn’t expect a groundbreaking release, nor one that can compete with the classics. It is likely a welcome break from the metal that would come before and after if you don’t like the heavier stuff, but the songwriting just wasn’t up to par with either era.

"Nothing’s Free"
"Lost In America"

Final Rating: 78%

Brutal Planet (2000)

Another album, and another change in style for Alice! In the late 1990s, nu-metal and industrial were both heavily in style, and while those styles are absolutely awful, Alice took significant influence from them on “Brutal Planet” with outstanding results. Put simply, “Brutal Planet” is the shining gem of Alice’s career post-1975. This is not only the heaviest album Alice has ever done, but one of the best. The songwriting is unparalleled, both from a musical and lyrical standpoint. Even the tour was spectacularly sinister (check out “Brutally Live” for a sample).

Mentioning individual highlights is almost pointless since practically every song is a winner, but the strangest part about “Brutal Planet” is that Alice and co. didn’t even promote the best songs on it. Naturally, the title track was heavily advertised, and “Gimme” was also released as a single. Both tracks have a constant chugging feel, allowing Alice’s hypnotic vocals to lead the way (the former song also featuring some female lines). Infectious? For sure, but nowhere near the best the album has to offer.

Wicked Young Man” remains a staple in Alice’s set even up until recent tours, and is a disturbing tale of a school shooting. It is a high-energy affair that has a marching rhythm in the verses, and a bouncier one in the chorus. Not to be outdone in the speed department, “Sanctuary” is even more potent. This is one song that doesn’t seem particularly cherished by anyone in the Alice camp, but is a definite highlight. This is another instance of Alice’s unique brand of comedy, and is probably amongst the funniest (and unfortunately most accurate) songs he has ever done.

The real meat of the album comes with “Eat Some More” and “Pick Up The Bones”. The former is essentially Alice going doom metal. The song revolves around a slow, oozing riff that redefines the word “heavy”. The lyrics are great too, and incredibly truthful about the amount of food wasted by the Western world, while others are starving.  Pick Up The Bones” is a semi-ballad with monstrous chorus, and a face-melting guitar solo.

The remainder of the album is on par with the first half. If any song could be considered a misstep, it would be “Pessi-Mystic”, but even that is a grower and gets better every single time around. One real gem of the record is “Cold Machines”. The song actually borrows a Marilyn Manson riff as the centerpiece of the song, but it can’t slow down the track, which is catchier than anything Manson has ever done. One of the reasons it stands out is for its exceptional lyrics, which likens the office environment to cold machines: “You don't know my name / You don't know my number / You don't know my face at all / We walk right past each other, every single day / Like cold machines, we're marching on and on…” It’s a bit exaggerated, but definitely hits home quite strongly.

Brutal Planet” truly is an enigma. It’s not clear why Alice reverted to metal (and in a different form), and why it managed to be better than almost everything else he’s done in his career. Even a lot of his non-metal fans seem to enjoy this record. Perhaps it was the return of Bob Ezrin, who was executive producer (though the sole track he has songwriting credits on, “Blow Me A Kiss”, is not among the best work). Or perhaps it was teaming up with Bob Marlette, who produced the record and co-wrote every single track. Regardless, Alice did something very right here, and the end result is an album that will go down forever as one of Alice’s best!

"Wicked Young Man"
"Eat Some More"
"Pick Up The Bones"
"Cold Machines"

Final Rating: 98%

Dragontown (2001)

The only logical way to follow-up a career-defining album late in your career is to make a follow-up that sounds identical. At least, that was the idea behind 2001’s “Dragontown”. The album was heavily connected to “Brutal Planet” in terms of lyrics, theme, and to a lesser extent, sound. The team of Cooper/Marlette was still in tact, and the album was similar in length. Yet, for various reasons, “Dragontown” just didn’t turn out as well as “Brutal Planet”. This is a common sentiment amongst most Alice fans, and the reasons are fairly easy to understand.

Firstly, despite being a heavier Alice album, “Dragontown” lost the sadistic, twisted vocals that Alice was employing previously. Often times, his approach to getting heavier on this album was to do things that were slower, but that wasn’t always more effective. Compared to the constant screaming of “shut up” on a track like “Pessi-Mystic” from “Brutal Planet”, “Dragontown” ultimately feels rather tame. Alongside the weaker vocals are less impressive lyrics. There really isn’t a track here that comes to mind as a standout lyrically, despite the occasional good line.

But the biggest failing of “Dragontown” is its lack of consistency. To be fair to the album, it is very strong, and even in the top half of Alice’s discography, but coming after “Brutal Planet”, it noticeably lacks direction. The first four songs get things off to a similar eerie start (even if “Triggerman” is slightly more upbeat, it fits in fairly well). “Deeper” and “Dragontown” are just otherworldly and take you to a truly darker place (reference intended). The title track in particular has several references to the previous record and captures the mystical feeling of a track like “Pick Up The Bones”.

But shortly after this, the album becomes directionless. “DisGraceland” is an out of place tribute to Elvis that honestly is not all that good. “Every Woman Has A Name” is a weak sequel to the ballad from the previous record “Take It Like A Woman”. As the album rolls on, it becomes clear that even when Alice was successful as replicating the sound of “Brutal Planet”, he struggled to represent the sheer authenticity and anger of the record. “Fantasy Man” is a great example of this, as it retains the crushing guitar tone and is mostly a chugging affair, but lacks killer hooks to bring everything together.

In many ways, “Dragontown” is to “Brutal Planet” what “Goes To Hell” was to “Welcome To My Nightmare”: a sequel that nearly completely missed what made the original great. One saving grace is the bonus track on this record “Clowns Will Eat Me” (which was actually recorded during the “Brutal Planet” sessions), which is a poppy Kinks-esque tune. In fact, the song is practically a rip-off of “You Really Got Me” (with Simpsons-inspired lyrics?). Nevertheless, it is a positive way to cap off a somewhat disappointing record. Unfortunately, “Dragontown” marked the start of a downward trend for Alice, but there is still worthwhile material to come.


Final Rating: 80%

The Eyes of Alice Cooper (2003)

The Eyes of Alice Cooper” marks a new era for the 50+ (at the time) singer. He traded in heavy, downtuned guitars for a more laid-back production and 1970s garage rock feel. This album also set the groundwork for the follow-up record, “Dirty Diamonds”, which was incredibly similar. My introduction to this era came via the 2006 live CD/DVD “Live At Montreaux”. Sadly, that performance led to unrealistic expectations for the album. Alice played the opening two cuts from “The Eyes of Alice Cooper” on that release, and they were both high energy, rocking songs, complemented by Alice’s deep gravelly vocals. The version on the actual album? Not so much. Both tracks were slowed down significantly, and felt lethargic by comparison. Worst of all, Alice’s vocals sound processed and almost like a pop punk singer all throughout the record. Ironically, one of these tracks, “What Do You Want From Me” suffers the least from these blights out of any song on the album, but compared to its live counterpart, it falls flat.

This unfortunately is the story of both “The Eyes of Alice Cooper” and “Dirty Diamonds”. There are a slew of fantastic, well-written tunes with some of the strongest hooks in Alice’s career. Unfortunately, the vocals sound awful, and I would take it a step further and say it doesn’t reflect Alice’s real voice very much. The verses of “Man of the Year” are absolutely brutal in this regard, which is unfortunate because it’s a succinct little number that would be in constant rotation if not for the vocals. “Novocaine” is another winner in terms of catchiness, and the vocal effects are a bit more restrained.

There is a little experimentation on this record, coming in the form of “The Song That Didn’t Rhyme”. It’s a slower effort that holds back on musical content so you can focus your attention on the lyrics, and like many of Alice’s songs, the lyrics are exceptional. “This House Is Haunted” is another song that doesn’t quite have the garage rock feel at all times, if only to be another nightmarish tune. Unsurprisingly, the ballad, “Be With You Awhile” also lacks this attitude.

With that said, “The Eyes of Alice Cooper” shines when it’s at its most rock and roll. Tracks like “Bye, Bye Baby”, “Detroit City”, and especially “What Do You Want From Me” are very solid Alice Cooper songs. If anything, the failings of this record are not due to songwriting; it’s due to execution. Any of these tracks played in a live setting would be absolutely fantastic.

"What Do You Want From Me"
"Between High School and Old School"
"Bye Bye Baby"

Final Rating: 70%

Dirty Diamonds (2005)

As mentioned earlier, the story of “Dirty Diamonds” is really the same as that of “The Eyes of Alice Cooper”. Both albums have largely the same successes and failings. Sure, the songs might be different, but that’s pretty much it. And much like with the previous album, my introduction to this record came from “Woman of Mass Distraction” and “Dirty Diamonds” being played on the “Live at Montreaux” album. Once again, one of these tracks (the title song) was definitely lacking in energy compared to its live counterpart. The song itself is still killer, but one can once again see these garage rock tunes excelling in a live environment.

To “Dirty Diamonds’” credit, the one area of improvement over the record is the lack of forced pop-punk sounding vocals. For the most part, the voice on this album is Alice’s, and that makes it much easier to stomach. One of the lone exceptions to this is “Perfect”, which is a downbeat classic rock tune with some weak vocals that barely resemble Alice Cooper. Once you get past this track, however, it’s one winner after another (at least, on the first half of the record). “You Make Me Wanna” is a no-frills old-school Alice Cooper song with a bit of a strange chorus, but it gets the job done. “The Saga of Jesse Jane” is a “Desperado”-styled track that would not be the first, nor the last of Alice’s songs about cross-dressing. This is a very eerie tune with some goofy lyrics that could only be pulled off by Alice. This is followed up with “Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)”, which returns the album to more of a rock song. It’s strange that this one never became a huge hit for Alice because it could have easily fit in on “Billion Dollar Babies”.

Subsequent to this, however, there isn’t anything truly inspired on the record. None of the remaining songs are bad (aside from the rap bonus track/collaboration “Stand”). Tracks like “Run Down The Devil” and “Steal That Car” feel simplistic, almost as if the magic ran out after the first 6 songs. Compared to records like “Goes To Hell” or “Special Forces”, the material here easily trumps some of Alice’s past work, but unlike more recent hits such as “Brutal Planet”, the album isn’t consistently mindblowing. Nevertheless, on the whole, “Dirty Diamonds” is better than “The Eyes of Alice Cooper”, even if it is similar in style and sound. The band tightened things up a bit, and mostly dropped the out of character vocals, and the result is an enjoyable, modern Alice Cooper record. For a guy in his mid-50s at this point, Alice was doing quite well. Even more amazingly, he wasn’t slowing down at all!

"Woman of Mass Distraction"
"You Make Me Wanna"
"Dirty Diamonds"
"Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)"

Final Rating: 76%

Along Came A Spider (2008)

While we live in an age of excessive hype and excited, “Along Came A Spider” had to be one of the most anticipated Alice Cooper records in decades. For his 25th album, Alice decided to create a concept album where each song featured someone being killed by an insane person who is re-creating a spider (or something along those lines). There was a huge promotional campaign, including featuring Slash on the first single, “Vengeance Is Mine”, which sounded like a return to the heavy metal Alice from just a few years prior.

I should also add that this is where I become an Alice Cooper fan. I discovered him via Guitar Hero in 2007, and had almost every single album by the time “Along Came A Spider” dropped in July 2008. Needless to say, I joined the hype train, and just like everyone else who heard this record when it came out, I was incredibly underwhelmed. In the subsequent years, my stance on the album has changed considerably, but the prevailing opinion in the Alice community is that the record was a failure.

The biggest problem is that the songs lack consistency. The opening song, for example, has several incessantly catchy melodies, but is dragged down by weird songwriting choices. The opening verse features Alice’s voice overtop an awkward repeating snare drum. It’s difficult to fathom who heard this and thought it would be a good idea musically, let alone for the lead track. Yet once the full band comes in, the song immediately redeems itself. Fortunately, “Vengeance Is Mine” immediately ups the game. This is a slow brooding heavy metal anthem. The riffing is a bit simplistic but leaves huge wholes for Slash to go absolutely wild with shredding (and he does for most of the track, even during the verses).

The following four tracks are generally more similar to the opener, “I Know Where You Live”. In fact, nowhere else on the album would Alice retread the heaviness of “Vengeance Is Mine”, but that isn’t a problem at all. All of “Wake The Dead”, “Catch Me If You Can”, “(In Touch With) Your Feminine Side”, and “Wrapped In Silk” are all solid rock songs with varying degrees of success. Relative to “Dirty Diamonds”, there isn’t quite the same garage rock feel to these songs, as they feel a bit more calculated. This songwriting approach doesn’t necessarily benefit nor hinder Alice; it’s just different from what came before. The better tracks generally have stronger riffs (“Wrapped In Silk” being a great AC/DC worship tune), but all of these four tunes have solid choruses.

After this, the album is more miss than hit. The ballad, “Killed By Love” is actually not too bad, but Alice ballads haven’t been great since “Brutal Planet”. “Salvation” is far too poppy and upbeat with its chorus, and just doesn’t suit Alice. The only small highlights in the second half of the album are the painfully catchy “The One That Got Away”, and the chorus of “I Am The Spider”. The remainder of the latter song isn’t overly thrilling. And while many bands are just about the chorus, Alice has had some unbelievably potent verses in his time, both musically and lyrically, so this song doesn’t quite get the job done. On the topic of lyrics, Alice almost feels restrained by the concept. There isn’t anything too clever this time around, though the lyrics do fit him thematically.

This review has been a little too harsh on “Along Came A Spider”. The truth is that this album never had a shot. Expectations were too high, and the co-writing team of Danny Saber and Greg Hampton just couldn’t pull it together the way some of Alice’s other co-writers have in the past. Nevertheless, Alice’s voice is still on point, and this is still a rock and roll album. There is more than enough great material here to enjoy, and it is certainly on par with “Dirty Diamonds” (maybe even better). If Alice had made another garage rock record, it likely would have sounded stale. Unfortunately, this is one of those albums where the concept was cooler than the music, and ultimately ended up engulfing the musical creativity.

“Vengeance Is Mine”
“(In Touch With) Your Feminine Side)”
“Wrapped In Silk”

Final Rating: 76%

Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011)

On paper, there is no worse Alice Cooper album than “Welcome 2 My Nightmare”. Does any part of a 36-year sequel to a fan favourite album, featuring original band members that weren’t on the album, Ke$ha, autotune, a disco song, a surf rock song, and a Rob Zombie appearance sound appealing to anyone? After being let down three years prior to this, Alice fans had every right to be skeptical. But the scariest part of it all is that Alice pulled it off. “Welcome 2 My Nightmare” is an astounding release that marks easily his best work since “Brutal Planet”. He was never going to hit on everything he attempted here, but this is unquestionably one of his most ambitious works that rarely misses the mark. Bob Ezrin is along for the ride once again, and his brilliance definitely helps this record move forward.

I Am Made of You” is a ballad that kicks off the album (another red flag?), and as terrible as autotune often is, it is used fairly tastefully. The song gradually bleeds out the autotune in favour of Alice’s more natural voice. As with many of his best songs, the track keeps building and building until it erupts with one of the greatest guitar solos in rock history from Steve Hunter (remember him?). And yes, another familiar name pops up on this song: Desmond Child co-wrote this track. This song really is the perfect storm for Alice, and the result is incredible. Despite being the opener, “I Am Made of You” feels like the centerpiece of the record.

What follows is a mishmash of various genres and sounds, nearly all of which Alice’s pulls off well. Tracks like “Caffeine”, “The Congregation”, “I’ll Bite Your Face Off”, and “I Gotta Get Outta Here” are old-school rock tracks hearkening back to the early 1970s. Appropriately, “Caffeine” is the most upbeat and possibly the best of these 4 songs, but they’re all pretty brilliant in their own ways. “The Congregation” features Rob Zombie doing his best Vincent Price impression (ala “Devil’s Food” from the original album). “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” was the single, and Alice often describes it as being similar to something The Rolling Stones would do. It’s simply just a good rock song. “I Gotta Get Outta Here” has the hilarious reveal of the album towards the end of the song, explaining how the nightmare ends (I won’t spoil it, but it was funny the first time around and still is at least 50 times later).

In line with the original album, “Welcome 2 My Nightmare” has a couple more atmospheric, nightmarish tracks in the form of “The Nightmare Returns” and “The Underture”. The former is mostly a play on “Steven” and “The Awakening”, while the latter runs through a number of melodies from both records in a fairly cohesive manner. In true Alice Cooper fashion, he mixes things up by putting it at the end of the record and calling it an underture, rather than an overture at the start of the album.

That’s about as normal as this record gets, because most of the other tracks push the boundaries of Alice’s already broad sound. “A Runaway Train” sounds exactly as the title describes, and is more of an acoustic rocker, featuring a stellar solo from Vince Gill. “Last Man on Earth” is Alice’s attempt at “Some Folks Pt. II”, as it has a very different tone and feel to it. The song relies on a thumping tuba beat, and is much happier than the rest of the record. Of course, Alice really wasn’t the last man on earth here, as there is some clapping at the end of the song that leads directly into “The Congregation”.

Things really get weird starting with “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever”. Alice is no stranger to disco songs, nor is he against doing them ironically. Admittedly however, this is somewhat of an updated version of disco. The song almost has a rap feel to it in the verses (though is nowhere near as objectionable as that genre). Alice always described this song as rock winning in the end, which is exactly what happens when the song speeds up and John 5 lays down a vicious solo. This is one experimentation that works well, but the following track, “Ghouls Gone Wild”, shows how this experimentation can go awry. This is a surf rock song that is far more annoying than catchy. Not much can be said about it because it honestly offers nothing interesting, and would best be cut from the album.

A surprising highlight on the record is “What Baby Wants”. Ke$ha may be a major pop star, but she can write some sadistic lyrics (“I’m gonna drain your veins, and bathe in your blood”), and supposedly, what she had previously written was too graphic for the album. Some may be turned off by her appearance, but looking past the name, this is actually a really catchy tune, with Alice and Ke$ha trading verses. The chorus similarly has effective interplay between the two voices, and simulates the story well.

There are a number of versions of “Welcome 2 My Nightmare” out there, each with different bonus tracks. If you were a keener and picked up the Classic Rock Magazine edition of the album, you received “Under The Bed”, which is somewhat reminiscent of “Wind-Up Toy” for being a rocking, yet scary song. This effort definitely deserved a spot on the main record, especially over “Ghouls Gone Wild”. “Flatline” is the vinyl bonus track, but really isn’t all that musical. This leaves only “A Bad Situation” as the last original bonus track, which was on the iTunes version of the album. It’s a little happier and more upbeat than much of the album, but it would have fit in as another classic rock and roll track. It also has some major “The Last Temptation” vibes at times.

No matter how you slice it, “Welcome 2 My Nightmare” was a major risk that shouldn’t have worked. The sheer number of guest stars couldn’t outshine Alice and producer/co-writer Bob Ezrin, as this should be remembered as one of his stronger solo efforts, especially for a man in his 60s at this point. If this had been the last album of his career, Alice likely would have gone out on top, but the man is completely restless. On top of constant touring for the last 6 years, he put together a new band (Hollywood Vampires) that recorded a covers album and also toured. The less said about that band, the better, but it is a testament to his work ethic. Hopefully “Paranormal” proves that album 27 is every bit as good as album 26!
“I Am Made Of You”
“Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever”
“What Baby Wants”

Final Rating: 90%

Final Album Ranking
1. Killer
2. Welcome To My Nightmare
3. Brutal Planet
4. Trash
5. Hey Stoopid
6. Love It To Death
7. Welcome 2 My Nightmare
8. Billion Dollar Babies
9. Raise Your Fist and Yell
10. Constrictor
11. Dragontown
12. The Last Temptation
13. Dirty Diamonds
14. Along Came A Spider
15. Lace and Whiskey
16. DaDa
17. School's Out
18. From The Inside
19. The Eyes of Alice Cooper
20. Zipper Catches Skin
21. Muscle of Love
22. Flush The Fashion
23. Goes To Hell
24. Easy Action
25. Special Forces
26. Pretties For You

Top 20 Most Underappreciated Alice Cooper Songs
20 might seem like a lot, but the man has almost 300 original songs! Here are my favourite 20 that don’t receive enough love (whether from Alice or other fans):

1. Dangerous Tonight
2. Why Trust You
3. Cold Machines
4. Pick Up The Bones
5. Pass The Gun Around
6. Hurricane Years
7. Might As Well Be On Mars
8. Prince of Darkness
9. Eat Some More
10. Hell Is Living Without You
11. Fresh Blood
12. Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever
13. Life And Death Of The Party
14. Nothing's Free
15. You Make Me Wanna
16. What Baby Wants
17. You Look Good In Rags
18. Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)
19. Lace And Whiskey
20. Bye Bye Baby

This sums up my thoughts on the career of my all-time favourite singer! No one else has had a career quite like Alice, and it's exciting to see what the future brings, both with "Paranormal" and any other future activity!

No comments:

Post a Comment