ALICE COOPER REVIEWS:
Pretties For You (1969)
Pretties For You (1969)
Album Score: 10
A lot of people who were Alice Cooper fans in the '70s think that Love it to Death was the first Alice Cooper album, but that's their third one. Before we can begin discussing this band's breakthrough album, we have to talk about about the two albums the group did beforehand. (Thanks to the advent of online downloads, these once-obscure albums can be enjoyed by all!!!!)
(Now's a good time to mention that the term 'Alice Cooper' is a confusing one. Before 1975, 'Alice Cooper' was the name of the entire band. The man who became known as Alice Cooper in 1975 was previously called Vincent Furnier. OK, now that that's cleared up.) If anything, this album proves to me what a talent this guy is. It's nothing like what this band became famous for. Instead of straight-ahead, hard-rock classics like "I'm Eighteen," we get stuff that closely resembles early Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa. This is stuff that sounds straight out of the acid '60s movement, and it's great stuff.
Granted, it wasn't revolutionary at all. But I find it just about as enjoyable as anything from that genre. It might prove how misguided I am as a reviewer, but this album achieved a similar score as Piper at the Gates of Dawn ....... but you know what a flawed classic that is.
As you might have guessed, this album is pretty messed up at times. Although, usually I'd think the songs are pretty normal if you stripped down all those freaked-out tones and cluttery sound effects. Notably "Reflected" has a very similar melody as "Elected" from Billion Dollar Babies. Usually the melodies in the album are entirely decent. The album's lesser spots are where he's trying on some of the weirdly stuctured stylings of Frank Zappa notably ... They do it well, but it's clearly not their strong point. "Today Mueller" is an interesting song, because it seems to point to Cooper's theater-rock future.
There are so many interesting songs that I want to mention them all here, so in this case I'll let my track reviews stand on their own. If you're a Cooper fan who hasn't heard this album, you may be shocked, but it's definitely worth a listen.
Read the track reviews:
Easy Action (1970)
Album Score: 10
A stark difference from the previous album. The acid-rock pretenses are mostly gone, and what is left can be described as a ... um ... transitional album? ... I almost don't want to use that term, because Love it To Death was such a 180-degree turn for them.
What would be fairer is to say this album points to all of Alice Cooper's albums up until Welcome to My Nightmare as well as the previous one. The album title is from The West Side Story, and they quote from the movie in track #3. They would revisit that musical again in School's Out. "The Return of the Spiders" is perhaps the song that most closely resembles Love it to Death with its hard rock mentality. (That song also features some of the most energetically played drums of all time!) The opening track, "Mr. and Misdemeanor" (that also happens to be my favorite) is another reminder of theater rock.
Unfortunately, the acid-rock is a lot less convincing here. The ending track is notably pretty hard to sit through much of it ... it's so uninspired and has an extreme reliance on nonsensical sound effects. "Below Your Means" tends to drag on and on as well. The blame for this is said to be the producer, David Briggs, who didn't have much vision for this type of music. Whatever's to blame, this isn't such an enjoyable album. Cooper fans ought to appreciate some of these songs, but ... I doubt they'll like it much.
Read the track reviews:
Love it to Death (1971)
Album Score: 13
This where Alice Cooper reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally begins. Granted, I still say it's wrong to ignore the two albums he cut before this, but who's to say that he didn't make a *huge* turn for the better? Gone are Alice Cooper's attempts to be psychedelic. Now they're going polished, hard-rock 100 percent of the way! Much of the thanks to that direction is given to producer Bob Ezrin. Heck, anything would have been better than that previous producer!
The funny thing is, they don't really do anything too unique here ... I mean, the song production just consists of the usual orchestration. No sweeping synth-passages or mellotrons or anything. Very much, you can consider this hard rock. But that doesn't even do it justice, because there's a good amount of theatrical material on here. "Black Juju" and "Ballad of Dwight Fry" are rather lengthy epics. The latter one is the obvious favorite!
Naturally, the album is probably more famous for the single "I'm Eighteen," which very appropriately gets tons of radio play to this day. That was an anthem that struck a pretty large chord in the kids of the day (according so some guy I talked to at an Alice Cooper concert), and who's to say it didn't? That song is flippin' awesome! I'm going on a limb and calling the energetic rocker "Long Way to Go" my favorite track of the album. I love it when they rock out!!!
The greatest aspect of the album is its diversity. No two songs sound alike! Furthermore, there isn't a moment in here that sounds misfired. Every song on the album deserves an 8.0 or above; not once do I second guess myself about that. This album is even loaded with catchy melodies. Heck, give me this stuff over Led Zeppelin any frikin' day of the weak!
It's a classic album, and I love it!!!
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 14
Though we will always love Love it to Death for its general tendency to be awesome, we're always going to have to look at Killer for its unmatchable solidness. The songwriting is absolutely brilliant from beginning to finish. Everyone with a prior idea of Alice Cooper probably thinks of him/them as a disgusting, underground group that's mostly unlistenable and strictly hard, sloppy rock. Get that notion out of your head immediately! These guys are artists! Don't believe me? Just listen to this album.
Naturally, they'll begin the album with two solid hard-rock numbers to get things started on the right foot. There's no sense in getting too weird before your audience is fully engaged! "Under My Wheels" and "Be My Lover" are excellent tracks that are not only drenched with catchiness, but they feature some excellent guitar work from good old Michael Bruce.
After that, there's the wholly mindboggling "Halo of Flies," which is more than eight minutes long, but I'd wager it has enough ideas to fill up an entire album. I'd say very few bands, even progressive ones, do not come close to matching that one for ideas. "Desperado" is also a great, dramatic song that was meant to be a tribute to the fallen Jim Morrison.
A huge highlight, and arguably my favorite track (I could be schizophrenic --- part of me says I am), is "Dead Babies." This track was apparently controversial in its day even though it's anti-child abuse! (I looked this up on Wikipedia, so it must be true.) I say, that's a great song because of the melody and the weird tones these guys use.
Nope, there's absolutely nothing shoddy about this album. Shock-rock does not mean it's trashy! These guys are as tasteful and artsy as can be. Off you go to hear this for yourself.
Read the track reviews:
School's Out (1972)
Album Score: 12
This album is unrelentingly enjoyable. Sure, Killer is a much better album. It's seamless, wonderful, tuneful and complex. School's Out is looser around the edges, a little less consistent and much less serious......
But as it turns out School's Out is unrelentingly entertaining, and I'm much more likely going to be caught listening to this rather than Killer. That's just the way I am. (P.S. Much of the music I listened to in my childhood up until my last year of high school were showtunes ... or classical music. I still like them, so that probably explains it.)
So let's talk about this monumentally entertaining album. Gosh, I like every single one of these songs. "School's Out" has got to be my favorite although a few other tracks vie for that position. That one's his famous anthem that's not only hugely catchy and interesting in the artistic sense, but spirited. It captures the attitude of school-ridden youngsters perfectly who are counting down to that glorious day that is the last day of school. He even matches the 'mood' with "Alma Mater," which helps me recall vividly the moments as youngsters would leave the school for the last time --- you know, happy but sort of sad and sentimental at the same time.
Of course, this isn't a concept album about school. That's just two songs. The rest he uses to elaborate on the showtunes that Vincent Furnier was more interested in than his serious, harder albums as Love it to Death and Killer. He frequently quotes The West Side Story and creates a more glitzy image for himself and his songs. A certain fan base felt betrayed by that move, but I like it!! Again, that's my personal taste speaking there. I'm too much of a Monkees fan to like hard-rock anyways...
"Blue Turk" is a hugely impressive song and arguably the greatest display of songwriting on the album. It's done in Vegas show-tune style, and it even gets a bit jazzy (with some excellent horn noodling!!!). Most importantly, the melody is catchy, and it's just fun. FUN!!! I like fun music. You know that, right?
This is a great album! I found it to be an accurate statement of youth... and the showman posturing is hugely entertaining.
Read the track reviews:
Billion Dollar Babies (1973)
Album Score: 13
Billion Dollar Babies was quite a commercial success for Alice Cooper, and it's the only album of his to chart #1 on the U.S. pop charts. It didn't only do that, but it topped the British pop charts. If only people would buy tasteful music in such large numbers these days! And what a fantastic album this is! Alice Cooper continues to write music in the same showman's vein that he had started with School's Out except this manages to be more furious and even more solid.
What else should I need to point out other than "Elected?" That's a furious song with glorious arrangements and a pompous mood that absolutely nails its subject matter. It's difficult to think about any other song that captures the pompous, self-glorifying spirit of politicians in election campaigns. Yeah, Alice Cooper was exaggerating that feeling, but I can easily picture any political candidate running that song through the mind while on the campaign trail.
"No More Mr. Nice Guy" was the famous pop-hit from the album, and that's a famous song for excellent reason. It's just a good, catchy track with an extremely memorable chorus. I still remember hearing Alice Cooper singing this song at his concert I attended in 2005 as if it were yesterday... The title track is another hugely memorable one. There are so many good ideas, but the one that I can't get out of my mind is his idea to sing the chorus like usual but also have a sinister voice speaking them. It also helps that the melody is wonderful anyway.
All throughout, this band proves why they're so highly regarded among rock enthusiasts. There's nothing like those guitar licks and solid solos --- they accomplish this while always keeping the focus on the songwriting. There is hardly a wasted note.
Every single track on this album is great, but there are a few tracks present that keep this from becoming a total masterpiece. "Generation Landslide" might be loaded with ideas, but it seems like a comparatively weaker effort compared to the rest of the album. Also, "Raped and Freezin'" might sound pretty solid and accomplished --- but that just doesn't have the same amount of wild ideas as the rest. But these "weak spots" I speak of only exist because of the impossibly high standards Alice Cooper has set.
This is a hugely enjoyable album through and through with wholesome creativity! I don't want to refund a single second of the time I invested in listening to this. In fact, I'm going to listen to it many times again! Hooray!!!
Read the track reviews:
Muscle of Love (1974)
Album Score: 10
This seems like a real step back for the band, which had just come off from doing the spectacular Billion Dollar Babies... and well, it is a step back. Right from the first moments of the opening track, "Big Apple Dreamin'," that's pretty obvious. The song is loose and not very memorable. If you go back to any previous Alice Cooper album, they've all had much more explosive beginnings except arguably the debut album.
Indeed, this album's biggest sin is that it's middle-of-the-road... It's so middle-of-the-road, that an Alice Cooper fan can't help feeling a tad disappointed in it. This album seems tossed-off--- Well, it wasn't really tossed off, but it's clear these guys were holding themselves back. They came out with classic after classic, and here is a bona fide non-classic... Oh well. But that said, is Muscle of Love bad? Of course not! This is all perfectly entertaining! It's just that none of this stuff even threatens to capture my attention, or get me excited. There aren't any great melodies for me to memorize that characterized Billion Dollar Babies nor any great instrumental moments that characterized Killer. This is kinduva "ho-hum" release. No wonder Furnier just decided to go solo after this!! His "muscle of love" wasn't into it... and neither am I. (By the way, he tells us that the "muscle of love" is his heart...)
My favorite song is "Man With a Golden Gun," but even that doesn't seem to be anywhere near as spectacular as I know this band was capable of. What I liked about that song was his interesting incorporation of the James Bond theme song with his usual brand of heavy rock. However, the most convincing rocker is probably "Never Been Sold Before," which has the cleanest instrumentation. But that's contrasted by relatively bland (but still entertaining) songs like the generic rocker "Workin' Up a Sweat" and the quasi-gospel "Teenage Lament '74." It's almost painfully evident that they were treading water with this release! ... I'm sorry I can't come up with too many inspiring words to say about this, but such is the effect of this non-inspiring album!
A bit 'o history: This is where the band says goodbye to Alice Cooper. The band wanted to return to the hard-rock days of Love it to Death, but the frontman (Mr. Furnier) wanted to go even more down the showtune route... And as you probably know, he would...
Read the track reviews:
Welcome to My Nightmare (1975)
Album Score: 13
This is where Alice Cooper the band became Alice Cooper the man. He donned a tuxedo and top hat, and he did what he always wanted; make a glammy showtune album! This career decision wasn't surprising or unexpected. Apart from the album cut directly previous to this, Muscle of Love (usually considered a black sheep), all of Cooper's albums had elements of showtunes, but never to this degree. Cooper famously teamed up with producer Bob Ezrin who co-wrote most of these songs... Many people have mixed feelings about him, but I like him, if nothing else, for making two Kiss albums tolerable. And anyway, if he co-wrote this album, then he can't be all bad!
It begins with the title track, a funky song with strong Broadway leanings. It's quite a nice introduction with its catchy melody and its well arranged brass section that's design to rile up the listeners and set the tone for the rest of the album! That's followed up with the excessively campy though entertaining dialogue bit from actor Vincent Price (he's sort of the ideal person to get for this sort of thing). Even though there's a lot of Broadway stuff here, Cooper doesn't forget that he's still considered hard rock in some parts! "Cold Ethyl," the ultimate shock-rocker about necrophelia, is the straightest hard-rock song. "The Black Widow" has a better riff though it incorporates much more theatrical ideas! "The Department of Youth" is more of a pop-rocker, but that one's especially well-done with the catchiest melody of the whole album, and an extremely memorable chorus.
The "masterpiece" work comes at the end with a three-part suite --- a sort of psychological horror story about a boy named Steven with a double personality. The aesthetics in "Years Ago" was masterfully done, and the main song, "Steven" ranks as one of the best written songs of the whole album also with brilliant arrangements. "The Awakening" is a little less passionately done, and the instrumentals aren't nearly as interesting, but even that one has some merit.
As far as I'm concerned, Welcome to My Nightmare fully deserves its status as one of Alice Cooper's most celebrated albums. The foremost reason for that is, obviously, the songs are very well-written, and the arrangements are rather inspired. Furthermore, the campy horror movie theme is a complete blast, and that's a quality that manages to make this work stand out as among the finest and most unique albums in rock 'n' roll.
Read the track reviews:
Alice Cooper Goes to Hell (1976)
Album Score: 11
Nobody can deny the utter fantastic run that the entity known as Alice Cooper had on coming up with such great, memorable albums. I mean, just scan his discography and try to refrain from drooling at their utter greatness. However, you’ll probably notice that after Welcome to My Nightmare, his albums cease to be famous. Yup, it is natural to group Alice Cooper Goes to Hell in the 1976-1983 grouping of not-so-highly-regarded albums. But if you bother to listen to them, I’m sure you’ll find that they are incredible pieces of entertainment! All of Alice Cooper’s albums tend to be worth hearing, which is something that I don’t say too often about such prolific artists.
This is pretty much a sequel to Welcome to My Nightmare, except it’s less serious. Half of these tracks sound like they’re right off of a Broadway soundtrack… and the other half wouldn’t have been that inappropriate on one. “Go to Hell” is such an excellent song that I only wish it was in an actual Broadway play! It’s an incredibly fun track that features an angry mob singing a highly catchy melody amidst some terribly rockin’ heavy metal instrumentation. (One thing that most Broadway plays never did well was rock ‘n’ roll… but here is Alice fulfilling that need in my life.) Much more cutesy but perhaps more entertaining is “Give the Kid a Break.” The ‘50s style piano-boogie-cum-Broadway strongly recalls the Kinks’ A Soap Opera … and Alice’s song is so catchy and the play acting is so entertaining that I’m sure that Ray Davies experienced some pure pangs of jealousy if he heard it!
To anyone who doesn’t care for the cheesy Broadway stuff, “Guilty” marks a return to straight rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s a very catchy tune, too. It sounds a little like he was trying to write another “Department of Youth,” but it’s not quite as good. It’s still a fun and catchy song, though. And “Wish You Were Here” is even more heavy rocking. Although the vocal melody probably could have been stronger … and while that rock jam thing at the end was cool, it could have been less cliched. Ah well… I do like hearing it regardless.
One thing Alice could have bothered to work on a bit more was his ballads … but even those are very good by most standards. But they do have a bad tendency to be overly pompous without the soul and melodies to back them up. That said, I liked “Wake Me Gently” enough to give it an A-, so there you go. I find that song terribly enchanting… as it starts out as almost a Renaissance ballad, and then it turns into a sort of sing-a-long power chorus. “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” is a similar song, except it was misfired completely. The melody is OK, but the instrumentation sounds very awkward. And constantly quoting “Over the Rainbow” did terrible damage to the song development. “Going Home” is a nice, happy power chorus that sounds designed to leave us exiting the theater with big smiles implanted firmly on our faces! Well, it does that job well, although there seems to be something missing from that song … Maybe it’s not orchestrated well enough, or maybe it’s just missing heart.
A pair of odd tracks surfaces early on in the album. “You Gotta Dance” is an unexpected foray into disco music… although thanks to the ultra-sharp instrumentation, catchy melody, and Cooper’s campy vocal performance, it’s hardly a cheap one. “I’m the Coolest” is an even odder track, which features a really cool, laid back groove whilst Cooper talk-sings in a very sinister way. Some listeners choose that song as the best of the album, but I fail to find the grand appeal of that one… I find it rather boring, frankly.
While this hardly matches the greatness of Welcome to My Nightmare, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell is something of an undervalued album in my book. There are a number of valuable gems strewn throughout this album, and there are more than enough creative ideas to keep it interesting. Cooper has always made great efforts to write entertaining songs, and this album is just another example of his good work.
Read the track reviews:
Lace and Whiskey (1977)
Album Score: 11
If you thought that tight disco song on Alice Cooper Goes to Hell was too uncharacteristic to be believed, just wait until you hear this album. You will hear rockabilly, Euro-dance, country-western, church music and a sappy love ballad. Really! The rest of the songs are the far more expected heavy pop-rock and theater music. This diversity is crazy!!! There’s nothing better than an insanely diverse album... if you want my opinion... even though it does end up causing some problems. But I’ll talk about that later.
First, let’s talk about the opening three tracks. All of them are the heavy pop-rockers, and thus nothing that you haven’t heard Alice do before. ...But they’re certainly worth hearing, because they’re awesome! “It’s Hot Tonight” is a has a pretty wicked, heavy riff with a guitar soloing throughout. It’s not his best hard rock effort, but its texture is wonderfully done, and it’s thunderous. A solid opener! The title track comes next, which has a sort of tango rhythm. Yeah, that’s a little prissy to be sure and I almost wish that it was mixed better, but the melody is catchy and the captivating harmonies make it that much nicer. “Road Rats” is the one song on here that all Alice Cooper fans really need to hear. That bluesy riff in the verses packs quite a punch, and that transition to the more pop-rock oriented chorus was an excellent touch.
After that, the album gets weirder. “Damned If You Do” is the country-western song I was talking about, but it’s not true country-western, because it’s too good. The pace is too fast and the beat is too driving. Plus, the melody is too original and the harmonies are not cliche enough. Yeah, Alice Cooper was so good at it that he would have been booed right off the stage at any tavern in the American South!! That electric guitar mimicking the slide guitar is an especially fun touch... Yeah, that electric guitar sounds too good for country, too. (Take that, country music!)
After those four enjoyable, harder rocking songs are finished playing, Alice gives us a ... er ... silly love song? It’s called “You and Me,” and my first impression was that it would have been something good for Barry Manilow to sing. I then looked on Wikipedia, and I discovered that I wasn’t that far off ... Frank Sinatra actually covered it. Yeah... Alice Cooper wrote a song that Frank Sinatra covered. Really, it’s not such a terrible song. The hooks are very strong, and the harmonies are rather gorgeous. The symphonic strings are drenched a bit too much with high fructose corn syrup, but it’s nothing Alice should feel too embarrassed about. ...The only major problem I have with that song is its placement. After those four heavier rock songs, it sounded like I accidentally switched on a Carpenter’s album or something! Icky!
What comes next is a multi-part Broadway suite called “King of the Silver Screen.” You’ll like it depending on how much you like Broadway. Well, I like Broadway!! There are some really awesome, bouncy electric guitar parts throughout. How he works in a bombastic rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is hilarious.
The last four songs of Lace and Whiskey are some of the most diverse though the album’s weakest in my opinion. Surely they’re still worth hearing. “Ubangi Stomp” is a surprisingly straitlaced attempt at 1950s rockabilly where Alice seems to have taken the role of a crowd-pleasing, fancy voiced stud who’s probably hoping to get laid that evening. “(No More) Love at Your Convenience” is the Euro-dance song. Considering how much I adore ABBA, you’d think I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But it’s a rather flat sounding albeit overproduced song with hooks that mostly fall flat. (It’s better than Arabesque at least!) “I Never Wrote These Songs” is surprisingly moving if you read the lyrics ... I believe this is the first time Alice ever tried anything confessional before. But lyrics aside, the song doesn’t ever catch fire. The final song is also confessional in which Alice tells us that he’s looking for more spiritual fulfillment in his life. It’s interesting lyrical stuff, and I like those “heavenly” arrangements, but this one seems to be too long.
Ah well. Lace and Whiskey ain’t the perfect album. But at least it’s a lot better than its reputation. There’s plenty of stuff on here to keep me entertained. Alice dabbling in other genres might not have been a massive success, but he seems to be giving them his best shot. Nothing on here seems like a toss-off. Even that one song Frank Sinatra covered. The album score was veering toward a 10, but the diversity gave me reason enough to keep it at an 11.
Read the track reviews:
The Alice Cooper Show (1977)
Album Score: 11
Alice Cooper had iconic status for his live shows, but somehow that reputation didn't translate to his live albums. The Alice Cooper Show was his only live release in the '70s, and it has a reputation of sucking. Part of that might be understandable; his live shows were most notable for their theatrics, which obviously we can't witness on an audio recording. What ends up bothering people about listening to this is it's a much sloppier and looser than the fine-tuned originals, and Alice Cooper the band purists will probably resent that this live album was released in the solo era. But honestly, it's not that bad. The instrumentalists are not only competent but they rock. Alice Cooper is a terribly fun vocalist who oftentimes adopts a sort of creepy growl in his performances at the delight of his fans as though he were in a musical stage version of a Vincent Price movie. (The Vincent Price-ness extends to Vincent Price himself; his recording of the “Black Widow” monologue is kept fully intact.) And the audience loved it, surely.
He always seemed to love giving performances to his screaming fans (that can be frequently heard); he knew what they paid money to see, and he gave it to them. Nothing is more evident of his love for the fans as the song selection. There are 11 tracks here and only two of them came out of Alice Cooper Goes to Hell and Lace and Whiskey, his two most recent works that hadn't been a bit of a commercial and critical disappointment. Instead, he concentrates on his 1971-1975 peak albums with special attention paid to Welcome to My Nightmare, of course, because that's his most popular work. Even when I saw him in concert in 2005, he concentrated mainly on that album. (I guess he never gets sick of it!) That brings me to mentioning the reason I used to be so reluctant to score these sorts of live albums. Considering he only plays his most popular songs, this is more like a greatest hits album.
He does have two full selections from his two recent albums, and they're curiously both ballads. (“Go to Hell” and “Wish You Were Here” are included in a three-song medley that I will discuss later.) There's “I Never Cry,” a well-written if not terribly memorable ballad given a somewhat unenthusiastic vocal and instrumental treatment. And then there's that awful piano “You and Me,” which is going to be groan-inducing no matter who performs this or how. Of all the songs from Goes to Hell and Lace and Whiskey, why do these ones? ...Oh well. Let's not dwell on those.
The album opens with a cool rendition of “Under My Wheels,” that incredible pop-metal song from Killer that (despite the relative lack of popularity) is arguably the Coop's masterpiece. Don't expect it to pack anywhere near the same punch as the original—it has a much looser feel. But the guitars still crunch along mightily, and that melody is difficult to be beat! Since no Cooper concert would be the same without a rendition of “Eighteen,” one of his most celebrated anthems. His growl-singing did seem to go a bit too far with that one, but it remains a terribly fun performance of a fantastic song! There's also a one-minute snippet from “Sick Things,” in which the theatrics in Cooper's vocals are heightened so much that I can only imagine what weird things were happening on the stage. He also does a rendition of “Is It My Body” from Love it To Death. That's not one of the songs I remember most from that album, but it's great and they make it a fun experience.
But the centerpiece of the album is surely the “ Devil's Food/Black Widow” number, which I already mentioned has much of that Vincent Price monologue intact. I listen to it and try to imagine what he was doing on stage... It makes me wonder if this wouldn't have been better served as a concert release! Anyway, this is a great rendition of a great song! Probably the creepiest moment here occurs on the first part of the “I Love the Dead/Go to Hell/Wish You Were Here” medley. Wow, those guitars were originally more pounding and rocking, but here they're calculated and sinister. That's the sort of interesting change-up, specifically, that I look for in live albums. The remaining parts of the medley aren't nearly as interesting although “Go to Hell” is a blast as well!
The whole album closes with a rousing rendition of “School's Out,” which is probably tied with “Eighteen” as his most memorable anthems. They give that song the thunderous spirit that it deserves... The guitars are chomping hard and the drums are pounding deep... all the meanwhile we can hear the insane wailing of all his excited minions (the audience). It's a lot flashier than the original, but that's what a crowd-pleaser like Alice Cooper does! (And I don't mean anything derogatory in the term “crowd-pleaser” ... Everyone's part of the crowd, and musicians ought to work on pleasing them. There's nothing scientific about such a concept.)
I have no way of knowing if Alice Cooper had better live performances in his career, and I regret that there aren't any live releases from the band era. Nonetheless, this is an altogether decent recording, and hearing Cooper perform these old favorites always proves to be a good time.
Read the track reviews:
From the Inside (1978)
Album Score: 11
So, Cooper was having such a rough time with alcoholism at the that it escalated to getting checked into an insane asylum. And he derived this album from those experiences. Read the lyrics, and you'll see that it's full of tales about the sort of people he met there. For example, there is someone wishing to be rich and famous, another longing to commit suicide, another with a gambling addiction, another horny for the nurse, etc. Even though these lyrics aren't usually as snarky or funny as those on his more highly regarded albums, these are terribly good lyrics. They were written by Bernie Taupin, no less. (...Bernie Taupin??!)
But nobody buys albums for the lyrics, do they? Musically speaking, this album has good melodies and fine arrangements. I'd wager that they do seem somewhat watered down, even compared to Goes to Hell and Lace and Whiskey, but I'd take a 'watered down' Alice Cooper album over most things. So should you.
There are a couple really nice gems in here, though. “The Quiet Room,” a ballad about the man who wants to kill himself, is the one that sticks out at me. Not only are the lyrics weirdly moving, but the melody is beautiful! It's a piano ballad at its heart, but the chorus is more intense and dramatic. It's a well-done tune! That said, I really think he overdid it with the ballads on this album. There are three more of them.
“Millie and Billie” is the most groan-inducing one of them all, where he duets with a very plain-sounding female singer to a terribly cheesy melody . It's not even good for camp value. Bleh. Although, “How You Gonna See Me Now” is quite good. It has a nice melody and a well-done string section, but it's not very distinctive, is it? Granted, it's a leg up from the infamous “You and Me” from Lace and Whiskey partly because of the more thought-provoking lyrics, but in the end I find it dull. By the time the penultimate track comes around, the ballad “Jackknife Johnny,” I'm broody sick of 'em! ... But even “Jackknife Johnny” has its redeeming qualities. A very cool organ solo is toward the top of that list.
Considering there are so many ballads in this freaking album, I really begin to appreciate the guitar-heavy rockers. “Wish I Were Born in Beverly Hills,” has plenty of them guitars, but that quality is a tad diminished here by the cheesy vocal melody... Eh, but that just accents its camp value, eh? I like it anyway. “Serious” is a brief, but energetic rocker with growling vocals, catchy melody, toe-tapping rhythm, and that '70s electric guitar sound that I never seem to get sick of for some reason. My favorite of the rockers is “For Veronica's Sake,” which not only has a catchy vocal melody but a catchy riff. Also, the attitude and inventiveness present in that song is reminiscent of his early '70s recordings before he decided to get all Broadway on us. Hooray!
It's not too surprising that the title track is one of the album's most enjoyable numbers, considering that's the way it's been for awhile in his discography. Although, it's a fairly normal pop-rocker with a bouncy piano and a sort of disco drum beat. It's unquestionably the blandest of the title tracks so far, but it's still very fun to listen to, and the melody is catchy. That bit in the middle with the windy vocals is the sort of weird thing that keeps it from getting stale.
The ending track is always notable in Alice Cooper albums for being the 'epic' one. From the Inside is no exception. “Inmates (We're All Crazy)” opens with a terribly dark and well-composed string section and eventually progresses to an enormous nursery-rhyme chorus. It's a little bit reminiscent of the 'Steven' trilogy from Welcome to My Nightmare, except it's not as atmospheric and more suitable for an off-Broadway musical. It's no masterpiece, but it's quite good.
As I've been saying for a few reviews now, the 1976-1983 era in Alice Cooper's discography is too unappreciated. While From the Inside has its flaws, mostly thanks to the unusually high number of boring ballads, it's a fun album chock full of catchy melodies. I surely don't listen to this as much as I listen to Welcome to My Nightmare, but it's definitely worth a listen or two.
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Flush the Fashion (1980)
Album Score: 12
Oh man, I've listened to these early '80s Alice Cooper albums so much over the past couple of years that they've gained a permanent place within my psyche. Somehow, I find it surprising to read over reviews of Flush the Fashion and the elaborate comments about how Alice Cooper betrayed his longtime fans and came out with a poppy new wave album. How can this album this excellent be considered a sell-out? Would the fans really have been happier if he spent the remainder of his years releasing clones of Welcome to My Nightmare? Well, maybe. But let it be known that they're dumb.
The reason we don't need a clone of Welcome to My Nightmare is because this album has “Clones (We're All).” It's like The Cars on crack. The Cars, because their producer Roy Thomas Baker was recruited for production duties, and on crack because Alice is rather demented. It's nothing more than a fun song to listen to. Some really cool, backwards-sounding guitars come in at just the right times, and there's little more delightful than these silly “robot” interchanges throughout. Also something I just learned today, it's a cover of an obscure punk composer named David Carron. I've listened to this original, and it's a sloppy, attitude-ridden punk song! Alice's version is completely different! Certainly, Carron should be commended heartily for this melody, which couldn't possibly be catchier.
“Talk Talk” is also a fantastic cover of a '60s garage-rock song, which opens the album. If nothing else, Baker should be commended for making these electric guitars sound so gruff while adhering to his synth-pop aims. This is much edgier sounding than The Cars, but it's the same sort of thing! However, the prize for the album's most interestingly produced tracks belongs exclusively to “Aspirin Damage,” a song that somehow manages to sound lighthearted and mean at the same time.
“Pain” is also one of the album's most accomplished arrangements, although I'm not too wild about the rather empty melody. Nonetheless, the pounding drums and quiet synthesizers have combined to create quite a delicious treat. Possibly the least 'substantial' song of the album's first half is the cute rockabilly throwback “Leather Boots,” but that's also a terribly fun song. Cooper gives a vocal performance that sounds like he's emulating one of those new wave pop-nerds, but he's really good at it!
The synthesizers take a backseat to the second half of the album, which contains more traditional guitar-based rockers. The fast-paced “Nuclear Infected,” does reek of a 'new wave' pace, but these are the same sounding guitars on his classic albums, and they're playing a catchy riff. Find anything to complain about? “Grim Facts,” on the other hand, is a looser hard rock song that could have appeared on From the Inside. Not only is the style the same, but the quality of the crunchy guitar riffs and the melody proves that it would have been a good fit there. So, fans who've been avoiding this are really missing out on a treat!
The tighter and trashier “Model Citizen” featuring one of The Coop's classic Broadway-performance vocal performance sounds right out of Billion Dollar Babies. The back-up vocals are fun and playful, and they provide more than their fair share of hooks. The blues-based “Dance Yourself to Death” is probably the worst of the guitar-based songs, but it's still impossible to not enjoy those crunchy riffs. The only place where the song production doesn't impress me much is the closing track, “Headlines,” but that one still sounds nice. I just wanted the album to go out on more of a punch...
One notable thing about this album, something that we haven't seen since Welcome to My Nightmare, is that not one of these songs falls below the mark of “above average.” I enjoy listening to everything here quite extensively. Even though Alice Cooper's personal life was a mess at this point as a suffering alcoholic, you would never have guessed that listening to Flush the Fashion. This album shows him on top of the world, successfully tackling new styles of music and fondly revisiting some of his older ones. This is an excellent listen. Don't pass it by.
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Special Forces (1981)
Album Score: 13
This is yet another chapter in the saga of these under-loved 1976-1983 Alice Cooper albums, and for my money this is one of the finest of the lot. What sets Special Forces apart from the others is it's an especially dark album. Throughout the first half, Cooper only sings with his famous sinister-evil voice more intensely than he did on Welcome to My Nightmare. The second half of the album tends to favor novelty songs, but even those are a little bit menacing. With all the emotion present throughout this disc, not to mention the plentiful hooks and great production standards, Special Forces is undoubtedly one of the rock's foremost under-appreciated gems.
“Who Do You Think We Are?” opens the festivities. You might notice that it begins with an extended synth-scape intro, but it's not nearly as flashy and ridiculous as most bands from this era. It's not a great intro, but it doesn't do any harm either. It suddenly turns into a drum-and-guitar heavy song, one that you can enjoy no matter what era of rock you like most. The melody is catchy, the riffs are good, and I love listening to the dark atmosphere. The second track, “Seven & Seven Is” is equally as good. It has a little more of that '80s influence with that fast-paced bass-synth and regular drum-machine sound, but it actually provides an interesting and original texture.
He attacks the police force for some reason in “Prettiest Cop on the Block,” and that's also a fun song! Those rapid drums will always pack a punch, and the melody he comes up with is good. It's not quite as great as the two opening tracks, but it's still a fun song to listen to thanks to Cooper's first-class, growling vocal performance and those tightly-played electric guitars. “Don't Talk Old To Me” is another unforgettable song that goes back and forth between a pounding, drum-heavy verses section and a slightly sweeter, more melodic chorus.
Smack dab in the middle of the album he, for whatever reason, sneaks in a live version of one of his classicest songs, “Generation Landslide.” As I've said more times than I'd care to point out, putting live tracks in the middle of studio albums is usually a bad idea. True, that's the lowest-scoring track of the album, but that's not such a terrible live rendition. More accurately, I welcome the chance of listening to that great song again.
“Skeletons in the Closet” marks the beginning of the novelty songs, and that is undoubtedly one of the finest novelty songs ever written. I'd take this over “Thriller” and “Monster Mash” any day of the week! An extremely catchy synth-bass riff plays amidst a campy drum-machine beat along with some buzzy synthesizers vaguely resembling a harpsichord. Best of all, Cooper gives us his finest campy-horror-movie chops, and he gets more paranoid as the song progresses, ending with him screaming “WHAT?! WHAT DO YOU WANT!!” bringing the song to an abrupt end. Brilliant.
The following “You Want it, You Got it” is the most synth-pop-like song on here, and it's strangely innovative. The groove is bouncy and catchy, and the busy texture of drums and array of synthesizers always keeps the experience alive. But the real star of the show is Cooper's vocals, of course. Funny, he basically repeats the song title over and over again, but listening to all the creative ways he does that never grows tiring.
I'm running out of space, but I still want to mention the final three songs! The Blondie-like rocker “You Look Good in Rags” is another one of the album's purest delights, and has one of the catchiest melodies that Cooper has ever come up with. God, and that smooth guitar riff is so tasty that I want to eat it up. “You're a Movie” is really hilarious, too, with Alice sounding like an American Yuppie sporting a fake British accent. “Vicious Rumours” is easily the most furious song of the album with such fast-paced guitars that you could call it 'punk' if you wanted to. Anyway, that provides this album an exciting and memorable ending.
Scan through the track reviews, and you'll notice that I gave all of these songs an A (except for the live rendition of “Generation Landslide,” but that's probably technically an 'A'). I've said this about every Alice Cooper album of the 1976-1983 period, but I especially mean it here. PEOPLE DON'T LIKE THIS ALBUM ENOUGH. YOU'LL LIKE IT!! I PROMISSSSSSSE!
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Zipper Catches Skin (1982)
Album Score: 10
I've done a lot of talking about how these unloved 1976-1983 albums deserve more attention. Not only are all of them laden with good melodies and endless amounts of creativity, but they are also some of the most completely entertaining albums I've ever heard by anyone! Sure, Zipper Catches Skin also earns a gold star for being awesome, but I have to say I'm excited about this one the least. The reason for that is simple: This is a very plain guitar-oriented album. Keyboards are a scarce commodity on this album. They surface only once or twice, and even then it's not for very long. Naturally, fans of plain guitar arrangements might want to bypass my opinion and get this album first!
At any rate, most of these songs are quite good regardless of how they're arranged. In general, the melodies are fine, and guitarist Dick Wagner returns to lend Alice his professional and solid guitar chops. If you like Alice's play-acting vocals, they're also here in full force, delivering some of his more amusing vocal performances of his career. (Conversely, though, I would think guitar-rock fans would rather he just sing normally without pretending to be in a Broadway musical or something.) But the lyrics are usually funny, and I think you'll enjoy sifting through them.
“Zorro's Ascent” begins the album, and it's vaguely Latin-sounding, but the only instrumentals he uses are tight guitars and drums that play a sort of thunderous trot. Alice speak-sings the lyrics about Zorro's death with a thick pretend-Spanish accent. It's a terribly amusing song if you're reading the lyrics, but music-wise I have trouble getting caught up in it. Perhaps the melody doesn't compel me enough, but I also suspect that the instrumentation is too plain. It's memorable in the sense that there aren't too many songs out in the world like this, but I'm also not likely to go listen to it again.
However, the follow-up “Make That Money (Scrooge's Song)” is as entertaining as the dickens. It's a gruff hard-rock song with a catchy riff and a compelling melody. The lyrics are about the pre-enlightened Scrooge, and Alice's growling vocal performance hits the notes perfectly.
With guitars tight like they should be in new wave and a fitfully catchy melody, “Adaptable (Anything to You)” and “I Like Girls” are both among the album's better moments. Both of them give a decent showcase of Wagner's talents, and they are bouncy and danceable if you're into that (particularly the latter). If it wasn't for Alice's decidedly showman-like vocals, “I Better Be Good” would be as dead-cold punk! But that's also one of the album's sheer highlights with its highly memorable melody and a great, tight guitars.
Lyrically, the most memorable song is “Tag, You're It,” which is a parody of slasher flicks. I've never actually seen a slasher flick (except for the first Scream movie, but that doesn't count), so I probably wouldn't get as much of a kick out of it as someone who has seen all of them. It's not so much of a jokey song, but it sort of reduces slasher flicks to its most basic level, which of course is pretty freaking ridiculous. Musically speaking, that's another song that I don't get wholly caught-up in, but it's OK.
The only song that I don't actually like in this album is “No Baloney Homosapiens,” which is a shame because the lyrics are very funny and sci-fi! Not only does the melody not quite click with me, but the general pacing comes off as clunky and tedious. But you're into rock music for the lyrics and you like these... (And don't you say we're easy prey / 'Cause buddy, that's the day / Your underestimation will defeat you / But don't worry, we're civilized / And we won't eat you).
So, I'm not a huge fan of this album. It's by far the one I listen to the least out of his 1976-1983 catalogue. However, I suspect the major reason for that is because it's so guitar-centered, and the instrumentation is incredibly plain. But my strongly pro-keyboard tastes makes me suspect that I'm exhibiting a sort of bias here. If you generally prefer the simple guitar to elaborate keyboard arrangements, then you might just enjoy the crap out of this, and so you should take a chance. Hey, at least there ain't no corny AM radio ballads on here!
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Album Score: 13
Masterpiece. There is no other word for this. Alice Cooper might have been at the nadir of his commercial powers—nobody bought this album and he didn't even support it with a tour—but this is one hell of a fascinating record. Contained within, you'll find dark, serious themes pertaining to schizophrenia, estranged family members, cannibalism, alcoholism, vampirism, and more. Needless to say, this isn't quite like the jokey albums he had been releasing lately! He re-teams with record producer Bob Ezrin (who previously produced Welcome to My Nightmare), and he does a brilliant job making these really, really dark arrangements to these catchy melodies. I know Ezrin gets a lot of flack from record reviews... but for the life of me, I have no idea why.
We get to hear Bob Ezrin in full control of the first track, a dark and creepy near-instrumental. It starts with a repetition of the word “dada” that sounds like it's coming out of a (possessed?) doll while a deep and pounding electronic drum pattern fades in and out of our speakers. Dark synthesizers pads come in later to make the atmosphere even darker and creepier. But then, some brighter, sweeter bell synthesizers pipe up! It was a tortured experience all along, but somehow those bells make it seem glorious. After awhile, we get to hear Cooper have a surreal conversation with someone who I assume is a psychiatrist (or is it himself?!?!??!??!???!).
After that, we get to hear some actual songs, and it doesn't get much better than “Enough's Enough.” Alice Cooper has abandoned the plain guitar-led numbers from the previous album and returned to doing guitar-heavy versions of synth pop. It begins quirky, but that chorus come almost out of nowhere and takes us on a helicopter ride from hell. There, he delivers these oddly moving lyrics about his sinister father who killed his mother. It absolutely sends shivers down my spine. Brr!!
Even more weirdly moving is “Former Lee Warmer,” a ballad about a cannibalistic kid who is kept locked up in the attic. I'm fairly certain that they're only using guitars and synthesizers, but there's almost a full orchestra's worth of instrumentation going on, and it all went to creating this very heavy, moody piece. It's tough to say, but I think that's my favorite song of the album...
I'm also terribly moved by the ending ballad, “Pass the Gun Around.” This time, the lyrical themes aren't out of some creepy miserable horror movie, but they're out of Alice Cooper's creepy miserable life. It was no secret that he was an alcoholic, and here he is bearing his soul for all the world to hear. Musically, it's an 'epic' sort of song with a repetitive ending that has the same sort of effect as “Hey Jude.” Perhaps if the lyrics didn't contain such strong suicide imagery, people might be compelled to sing along with it in droves! Ah, but maybe Dada was designed only for us nerds to listen to all by ourselves... Makes sense!
Dada is one of those albums that I just want to talk endlessly about, but I have to force myself to be concise about it. With any luck, you're already compelled enough to take a listen to this for yourself, and there's a great chance you'll discover some of the things I've noticed but haven't discussed. I've already talked about my top-favorite songs of the album, and I'll close this review by giving a quick run-through of the rest.
“Scarlet and Sheeba” is a very strangely structured song. It starts out as a sort of dark synthscape with a Middle-Eastern synthesizer piddling around. After that, it turns into a sort of harder-rock song with a memorable power-pop chorus. “No Man's Land” has a little bit of that synth-pop influence, but the instrumentation consists of dark guitars and organs. It's not my favorite track, but I like it well enough! “Dyslexia” is even more like synth-pop, and its groove could probably be considered 'quirky,' but the tone of it is deathly serious. The only song on here that could be called non-serious is the parody of generic Americans, “I Love America.” Well, it's hilarious! It's really a nice break from all this darkness and seriousness.
The only song that doesn't make it for me is “Fresh Blood.” The album might have been a 14 without it. Weirdly enough, I downloaded that song ages ago on Napster and put it on a mix-CD that I listened to frequently. The artist was mislabeled, though, so I was very shocked to hear it again! I loved that song back then; it has a catchy melody, a memorable chorus, and weirdly serious lyrics about being a vampire. But the song production is rather poor, and it offers nothing of the dark complexness of any of the other songs. Lyrics aside, it sounds like a simple electronic-pop ditty that you would hear alongside Madonna. ...Well, maybe not alongside Madonna, but on the same station and after 10 p.m. It wouldn't have been bad on that radio station, but I don't think anyone really played it. Ah well.
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Album Score: 7
Oh! NO! If I wanted to listen to a bad album, I would listen to Kiss. If I wanted to listen to a really bad album, I would listen to Tommy Shaw. But who would I listen to for a really, really bad album? A lot of things, for sure! But the last place I would expect to find that would be Alice Cooper. His albums from 1969-1983 have been nothing but an endless string of pure awesomeness! Few other artists have had such a great back-catalog ...But as Frankenstein is my witness, this album is BAD BAD BAD BADDY BAD BADDY BAD. (OK, it's not as bad as Tommy Shaw solo albums, but humor me, OK?)
Where were you when the monkey hit the fan? THRILL MY GORILLA! Where were you when the monkey turned to man? THRILL MY GORILLA! Those are surprisingly Darwinist lyrics for someone who had recently become a born-again Christian. (Shocking, but true.) He also gave up alcohol, which is great. I'd imagine he was also listening to the radio a lot and noticed that pretty much everyone was making a crapload of money with watered-down versions of his pop-metal style from the '70s. Evidently, is newly sobered and religiously enlightened brain thought he should be see some of that sweet mula. Sure, his brilliant, heartfelt albums earlier that decade like Dada were fantastic, but nobody buys stuff like that. So, he released Constrictor where the over-processed guitar sounds are as wholesome as American cheese, and the melodies are as memorable as the average crap that I take.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to make money. I support Capitalism, and all that it entails. If I could make $1 million by releasing a cheesy-metal album, I would. But couldn't Alice Cooper have at least written music that's worth listening to? This should have been so easy for him since he's merely imitating his imitators! But dammit there's nothing on here that even approaches his imitators. Do you think “The Final Countdown” by Europe, is a great song? That's an example of something idiotic that should have been easy for Alice Cooper to match. But nothing on here even comes close. Nothing. Not even “He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask).” Alice Cooper was just being lazy. He should have changed his name to Lazy McLazylazy.
My favorite song on here is “Thrill My Gorilla.” Considering I already sort of made fun of that song, it gives you an idea of how much of a doodie this album is. The thing I find decent about that song is the sort of synth-pop guitar groove makes my foot go a-tappin'! But, oh, that chorus is so embarrassing, isn't it? No, that's not a good song. The best song on here melody-wise is “Teenage Frankenstein,” but when I say it's the best melody, I don't mean that it's a *good* melody. It's simple and dumb. It can get stuck in my head, but my head isn't better for it. Everything about that song makes a mockery of all the good things he had done previously in his illustrious career. Even his trademark growl-singing vocal performance seems overprocessed and fake. Booo! The best song on here production-wise is that synth-poppy theme song for the film Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives, “He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask).” I admit that I like the Michael-Jacksony synths and drums, but the melody is terrible. Man, there were so many other rock stars in the '80s that made bad music like this, but why Alice Cooper? WHY!!!
And those were the best songs in Constrictor. So what about the rest? They're worse!! I mean, they're not outlandishly miserable, or anything; there are worse things that exist in the universe. It's all just very generic and bereft of life. Songs like “Give it Up” and “ The Great American Success Story” sound like they're right out of the soundtracks of forgotten cheesy '80s movies. The latter was slated to be a theme-song for an '80s movie, Back to School, but it was rejected because the movie was too good for it. “The World Needs Guts” sounds hilariously like a bad '80s montage music for a Rocky clone. “Trick Bag” is probably my least favorite song on this album, a really clunky, clumsy excuse for a cheese-metal song. Blah.
The good things about Alice Cooper at this point in his career is that he kicked his alcoholism habit and that he started to make money again. I can be a man enough about it to admit that those two things are more important than hurting the feelings of some bored Blogger from 2008. But still! He hurt my feelings, and he must face the repercussions of it! So, here it is. I WROTE A NEGATIVE REVIEW OF IT! TAKE THAT, MAN!!!!!
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Raise Your Fist and Yell (1987)
Album Score: 8
Well, Alice Cooper is still doing that banal hair-metal stuff, but at least he had the good sense to make it sound nice. The guitars are well-polished and can deliver those lightning-speed solos the way God meant them to, even though everything they do is blatant rip-offs of Iron Maiden, Van Halen, and every other freaking hair-metal band of that decade. But since we're already over the shock that this once respectable art-rock composer succumbed to writing this sort of pap for an easy buck, let us get off this soap box and talk about what I should be talking about.
Some of these songs are very fun to listen to! Let's talk about the opening song, “Freedom,” since it's probably the best of 'em. I might be about as excited about these rapid-fire guitar licks as I'm excited to breathe when I wake up in the morning, but I can get an air-guitar thing going if I really wanted to. (And I don't.) What I like most about the song is that Alice actually came up with a halfway decent anthemic melody to sing! And he sings it well, too. As you'd expect he sings it in his trademark growl-singing voice. That's how he was singing in Constrictor, but instead of coming off as bland and mindless, he actually sounds as though he were engaged in the process. A little bit of campy play-acting goes a long way!
“Lock Me Up” is also a terribly fun/banal metal song with a well-constructed melody. It's an audience participation type of song, where you're obviously supposed to respond to everything he says in the chorus with calls of “ohh-ohh oh ohh-ohh!” If I was watching him perform this in a live setting, I probably would respond with that! BECAUSE IT'S FUN! I WANT TO HAVE FUN AT ROCK CONCERTS!
What happens when one of these metal songs fails to be fun? Well, I just sit here and shrug my shoulders at it! The major reason I never listen to hair-metal, and the reason that I hate reviewing hair metal is because they all sound alike to me. I'm racist!! ...There are two types of songs on Raise Your Fist and Hell: The fun ones and the boring ones. “Step On You” is a perfect example of a boring one, with its mind-numbing, clompy rhythms and so-so vocal melody. That could be the worst song of the album, but it's a far cry from how terrible things were getting in Constrictor.
“Prince of Darkness” has an OK melody, but all the issues I hear raised about the lyrics are entirely justified. If he's going to write about Satan, the least he could have done was have a part in it where he screams “And he's after your sooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuullll!!!” at the top of his lungs in the most ridiculous, screeching voice imaginable. But instead, it's a very straightforward, Biblically accurate character description of him. ...*lame*.
The album closer “Roses on White Lace” goes in thrash-metal territory, which the musical equivalent of putting a jackhammer to your skull, but he does it as convincingly enough. Alice's thrash-metal is as good as we could have hoped him to do at this point ... which is not that good, but at least it's bearable. The guitars sound OK—they're fast albeit lifeless—and his vocals work well in that plastic-evil way. I also enjoy one of his other attempts at an anthemic metal song, “Time to Kill.” If I was a metal-head, I would so listen to that one again!
The only song on this album that can't be defined as a “generic hair-metal posturing from a middle aged man” is a song called “Gail.” It's a ballad that predominantly uses the harpsichord and organ. Considering that sounds a lot like the stuff he composed ages ago, the prospect of such a song in this album has me positively excited. But after you listen to it, it's nothing but a let-down. It has a boring melody. Now, that's just not fair. The one song that I could have potentially loved in this album is as boring as the heavy metal stuff... BUT LIFE ISN'T FAIR, SONNY! GET USED TO IT!
Yeah, I know life isn't fair. If life was fair, I would be lazing on a beach in Hawaii right now sipping on some fancy drink that a pineapple sacrificed its life for instead of sitting up here in Eastern Washington with a warm Diet Coke freezing to death in this 9-degree weather. Let those pot-heads who grew up in Hawaii take my place for an afternoon!!! I could have been a sport and give this album the same rating as the temperature is outside right now, but I won't. If this heavy metal album would have done more to warm me up by getting my blood flowing more, then we could talk. But this 8-rating will have to stick.
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Album Score: 8
I have a bone to pick with this album. I was listening to it a lot the weekend before finals week in preparation for this review, and I discovered that the song “Poison” is so unrelentingly catchy that it was running in my mind during my linear algebra final torturing me the whole time! I mean, it was hard enough remembering that weird stuff I was supposed to remember for that final when my brain was completely free and clear of cheesy pop-metal songs!
Well I still got an A in the course, because nerds like me always do well in math classes. And, even though it tortured me, I actually consider “Poison” to be a good song as far as anthemic pop-metal goes. Of course, I care about pop-metal as much as I care about Britney Spears' private struggles, but at least Alice came up with a catchy melody! ... It's too catchy, as I found out the hard way. And, oh boy, you can immediately tell that thing was born and bred for the radio. It's Alice Cooper looking through the sunglasses of Guns N' Roses. ...Yeah. Nobody needed that. And anybody who wanted that needed a good whoppin'.
Even though Alice Cooper hadn't ceased writing the pop-metal pap and Trash is another bad album for the most part, I can sense a little flicker of hope through it all. I mean, we all might have bottled up anger directed at “Poison,” but I can't deny that it has a well-composed melody, the guitars sound good without resorting to ultra-obvious cliches. I even find his chord progressions interesting, particularly the chorus. To come up with chords like these would have required Alice to actually have spent a few hours planning it out. That's a big improvement considering I'd just assume he made up so many of his previous songs on the spot. I also like “Spark in the Dark,” another anthemic song that would have required some previous planning. The guitar riff is tight and exciting. The chorus is very catchy. I even like how polished it all sounds.
Things tend to go far downhill after that. “House of Fire” is a decent composition, but we also start to get a taste of the weird, strained way he decides to sing on half of these songs. I don't know who he was trying to imitate, but it was someone who was a worse singer than Alice Cooper! He was also forgetting how to pronounce simple words like “fire” and “baby,” instead pronouncing them “fyah” and “baybuh.” Maybe that was supposed to be cute, but that really gets on my nerves after about 10 seconds.
The Coop lays the first real bomb of the album with the fifth track, a ballad called “Only My Heart Talkin'.” I remember when I thought his ballads couldn't possibly get any worse than “You and Me.” ...I miss those days! “Only My Heart Talkin'” is barf-er-iffic. The melody might have been OK, but he continues to adopt that awful vocal strain, and the instrumentation is cheesy, cheesy, cheesy in a bad way. “This Maniac is in Love With You” isn't as intrinsically offensive, but it's one of the most bland compositions I ever remember hearing out of Alice. It consists of a lot of huge, blocky guitar and synthesizer chords and no vocal melody to speak of. Boo! 1989 sucked. I was in first grade at the time. It was a hard life. My teacher was mean, I couldn't read very well, and I had trouble coloring in the lines.
...Where was I? Oh. There are a few decent songs in the last half of the album, which is nice considering everything sucks so much. The title track is good in the sense that it reminds me more of '70s hard rock than '80s heavy metal. It's funny how '70s-style rock automatically sounds better than '80s style rock! “Bed of Nails” is pretty decent as far as his anthems have been going. That's also a good piece of evidence that he made some sort of attempt at writing a good composition... even though he was aiming it directly for the radio. It has fairly advanced development, even working in a small handful of different themes throughout. The ballad “Hell is Living Without You” is also fine in that respect. It's a miserably radio-oriented ballad, but I like listening to how it develops.
I did like this more than I remember liking Raise Your Fist and Yell (and album that was so memorable that I don't remember much about it even though I reviewed it very recently). The songwriting has improved slightly, and it contains one song that I'll never forget for life (for better or worse). Now, all he needs to do is ax that horrible, strained singing voice he adopted on half of these songs, and stop worrying about the kids liking you. Also, the melodies needed to be better... And I don't know who this guy is duetting with you sometimes, but he should get the guillotine. And I don't mean one of those fake guillotines from the stage shows.
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Hey Stoopid (1991)
Album Score: 10
Alice Cooper is still writing radio-ready songs like a bastard, but at least he finally took some time to tone down the mindless commercial drone aspect of his recent mentality and develop an album with good compositions on it! Trash was already a step in the right direction, but relatively speaking Hey Stoopid is a gigantic leap. I know how I went off in that review about how good I though “Poison” was even though it got stuck in my head and tortured me one fateful Tuesday. I'd say about half of the melodies on this follow-up are better than “Poison.” Luckily for me, the standards have improved drastically, and this is actually an enjoyable album to sit through. More or less.
The main problem with Hey Stoopid is that it's so dated! It's one of those plasticy heavy metal albums that ran rampant in the early '90s in that short gap before the grunge guys completely took over the scene. I'm not a huge grunge fan myself, I must admit, but as long as they put an end to albums like this becoming popular, then I'm glad that they oozed out of Seattle. (Although that was pretty much inevitable... There's a lot of ooze in Seattle, and it's all got to go somewhere.)
“Hey Stoopid” starts the festivities off on a loud, heavy, and exciting route. It's an obvious stadium rock song with audience-participation style choruses and ultra-polished loud guitars, but the melody is catchy and it's actually fun to listen to! Oh... if only all songs like that were so good. The album closer “Wind Up Toy” is similarly exciting... It even contains a little bit of creepy horror-show play acting reminiscent of his glory days on Welcome to My Nightmare. It's not nearly as intricate as what he pulled off on that album, but it's still nice to hear him do that stuff again!
“Love's a Loaded Gun” is my vote for the best song of the album; its melody is so catchy that it might just rank among the best that Alice had ever written. The melody is actually complex, and the chorus soars. Oh, of only he wouldn't have made it sound so '90s! That's the only thing getting in the way of me putting it on a mix playlist somewhere. Despite it being a good song, I simply cannot abide by the plastic sound. (We're going to forget that I gave a few glowing reviews to Kylie Minogue songs... I'm not putting those on any mix tapes either.)
“Snake Bite” is another exciting song, a rip-roaring feat that recalls his pre-showtunes days. That's a great song to listen to with the volume turned up as high as it possibly gets. And “Feed My Frankenstein” is a great song on those terms as well. You probably already know it from Wayne's World. We're not worthy, indeed!
The ballads pose a bit of a problem for Alice, which isn't a surprise since he was never consistently good at them. “Burning Our Bed” has a bland melody, and listening to him sing in that self-pitying voice gets on my nerves pretty quickly. “Die For You” is nearly unbearable with its plastic, radio-ready instrumentation and crappy melody. On the other hand, “Might As Well Be From Mars” is an engaging power-ballad with a chorus that's almost soaring enough to launch my soul into outer space. That's a mightily bombastic song, but it's actually well-written enough to warrant all the glitz!
There are other songs on the album, but I think I said everything that needed to be said (and things that didn't need to be said). Despite the horrid datedness of this album, I would say that it's still enjoyable in spite it. I might go so far as to say it's something that I would recommend to longtime fans! ...Hm, on second thought, I'm betting the overbearing '90sness is going to get in the way. But if there's anyway you can possibly see past it, then this might be worth your while.
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The Last Temptation (1994)
Album Score: 11
By 1994, the kids had grown tired of heavy metal and were giving their undivided attention to those unkempt brats from Seattle playing so-called “grunge” music. Alice apparently saw that as an opportunity to finally quit it with all that heavy metal commercialism that plagued his 1986-1991 albums, and returned to writing the sort of music that God intended him to: Pop-rock! The result is, without a doubt, Alice's finest record since Dada. It, indeed, finally marked the return-to-form that I'm sure his longtime fans were on their knees, hoping and praying for through the past decade.
Although, I probably shouldn't get too carried away with that. While The Last Temptation is a solidly written album, it's really nothing like anything he had ever made. There are some small occasions where he borrows ideas from his previous albums (notably the West Side Story undertones in “Bad Place Alone” and Welcome to My Nightmare-style dialog and sound effects strewn throughout). Also some songs veer back toward heavy metal. But for the most part this is a very new-sounding record. You could call it alt-rock if you want to. I'd rather call it pop-rock, but I guess my definition of that term is too rooted in the '60s and '70s. (Madonna and Mariah Carey were “pop-rock” in the '90s. I guess.)
The fact that his hard-rock/heavy-metal riffs are actually actually is a huge cause for celebration. The arrangements throughout this album are appealingly textural and atmospheric, usually providing a nice mixing of acoustic guitars and electric guitars. The melodies are even excellent for the most part. Naturally, this album lacks anything to the caliber of the monster hits of his past, there are a good handful of tasty ditties here. “Lost in America” is my favorite one with its ultra-pounding hard-rock riff, funny lyrics and a catchy vocal melody. The electric guitars sound is excellent here, finally, not only concentrating on just being *loud* but also contributing to the texture. The chorus is wonderful, and I give kudos to those extra-bouncy drums! Woo-hoo!
Another keeper is the wonderfully produced “Nothing's Free.” That's also guitar-heavy and borrows a bit from his heavy metal past... but get a load of that druggy atmosphere! Who in their right mind would want obnoxious hair metal when they could have ATMOSPHERE! I also adore his vocal performance, speak-singing the verses in that theatrical way of his. That's a fun song, and it's catchy too. “You're My Temptation” is very hard-rocking, and it's freaking excellent. I love it from beginning to end. Try not to poop your pants when I tell you this, but it was co-written by Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades. Crikey!!!!! How could a pair of people who suck much as they do be associated with something this good? “Unholy War” probably has the evilest arrangements of the album... those very dark guitar chords he plays amidst faint 'ghoul cries' does tend to send shivers up my spine. And while I say it's 'evil,' it's still comes off as very accessible and lightweight. I mean, this is like ABBA when you compare it to the evil ways bands like Ministry sounded. It's probably more lightweight than Welcome to My Nightmare, although I wouldn't call “Unholy War” campy. As I said earlier, this is a different sort of album.
He even puts forth an entirely decent power-ballad, “Stolen Prayer.” It's not *great* or anything, but I can sit through it contently. That's a huge improvement from his previous power ballads, because it doesn't make me want to bash my head against this computer. He's also bringing back some of that creativity in “Lullaby” which switches back and forth between a sweet children's song and a spooky and guitar-heavy chorus. “Bad Place Alone” tries a similar thing, switching between heavy metal and a Broadway song, but that one didn't seem work so well. It ain't bad, though, and that's my least favorite song of The Last Temptation. So, that means is a consistently *good* album. FINALLY!! (I know I gave Hey Stoopid an overall positive review, but I sorta want to forget about that whole heavy metal period, thank you.)
I'm sure a lot of old-time Alice Cooper fans from the '70s have not heard this album. I can't even say for sure how much they would actually enjoy this, especially since I'm not nearly as enthusiastic over this as I am albums like Dada and Special Forces, which old-time fans probably haven't heard as well. But seriously, all the old fogies out there who have ignored Herr Alice should stop it with that nonsense! Listen to all his records! (Except for those 1986-1991 ones. Those were crap. Even Hey Stoopid was crap, even though it was decent crap.)
Read the track reviews:
A Fistful of Alice (1997)
Album Score: 12
My only regret about this Alice Cooper live album is that I don't get to watch his stage performances at the same time. If you've been to an Alice Cooper concert (and I have), his stage theatrics are often on equal terms with the music itself, which isn't always easy to do. (Hell, Broadway frequently has a hard time with that, and that's what it does for a living.) Yes, I love listening to A Fistful of Alice and you'll probably like it too if you're a Cooper fan, but I'll tell you right now this wouldn't be as fun as it would be if we had a DVD of the event! I mean, he's usually known to cut his own head off with a guillotine and reemerge later from a coffin! Who wouldn't want a DVD of that?
Besides the whole decapitation thing, this concert was an event of DVD-making proportions if I may be so bold. He brought out some of his old friends from his '80s metal days to play guitar and help with the lead vocals. The guest spots include Sammy Hagar, Slash and Rob Zombie. ...Granted, this trio playing together is my idea of the supergroup of hell, but at least Slash can play a pretty mean guitar! He sounds especially good when he's playing songs that are worth a good guitar performance!
At least I can use this live album to fondly recall my own blessed occasion that I saw Alice Cooper live. I know, that's a silly thing to romanticize, but I don't live a very exciting life, after all. That concert was terrific, and Cooper proved to be a great showman. You can tell that listening through this solid live album based on how exciting his vocal renditions are. His signature campy, growl-singing style was perfected to an art by this point of his career, and you can bet that his singing alone electrified every single person in his audience. Also like a great showman should, he generally concentrated on his most famous songs. He opens the album with “School's Out” and “I'm Eighteen,” unquestionably two of the finest hard-rock songs in existence. They not only *ROCK* but they have *MELODY!* That's right, folks, Cooper albums are living proof that rock 'n' roll and inventive melodies *can* go hand-in-hand! They are extremely fun to listen to in this live album, and the renditions are as solid as it gets.
“Desperado” from Killer comes next, and I love that song to pieces of course. I probably would have preferred “Under My Wheels,” but this more Spanish-oriented ditty does serve to liven up the variety a bit. Frankly, Killer is such a great album that I would have been happy to hear anything from it! Arguably the most electrifying moment of this live album is “Elected,” the song that every politician probably whispers under his/her breath every time the new election season runs around. That song, in particular, will make you really wish you were standing there in the audience watching him perform it. Believe you me.
Due to his status as a classic rock star, he concentrates mostly on his 1971-1975 albums. However, he also covers some of his more recent albums. When you hear him perform “Lost in America” from The Last Temptation played amidst the monster-classics, you might be surprised at how solidly it holds its ground. “Poison” is pretty good, also. For some reason I was expecting “Feed My Frankenstein” to rock out a little harder, but I guess it's hard to recreate that stompin' performance captured in that studio version! Unfortunately, there's only one song represented from his under-appreciated 1976-1983 era, but that's not really a surprise considering that only the true geeks in the audience would've wanted to hear that stuff. The only song from that era is the ballad, “I Never Cry,” which I'll admit probably wasn't a good idea. I'm also scratching my head over the inclusion of “Teenage Lament '74” from Muscle of Love, which sorta sucks. Hm. The very final track is a formidable studio song, “Is Anyone Home?” It's a very pleasant, Beatles-esque pop song that I enjoy listening to but I sort of have trouble remembering it when it's done playing.
I hope this review didn't come off too much like starry-eyed fanboy drivel, but I enjoyed this live album well enough for it to actually deserve such treatment. (Besides, if I didn't write the review like this, it would be dishonest, wouldn't it? Down with pretend-objectivity in music writing!) It might not be the greatest live album on the planet earth, but this makes a terribly fun listen. I think you'll like it, too, if you're an Alice Cooper fan. Give 'er a whirl!
Read the track reviews:
Brutal Planet (2000)
Album Score: 11
The '00s seemed to be the decade when all the old rock stars who haven't croaked yet decided to quit screwing around and get back to the business of what made them great in the first place: great music! Alice Cooper was no exception to this. His Brutal Planet very much marked his return to serious songwriting in which he strives to create an overarching musical statement with an exceedingly good production and catchy melodies. That's something we haven't seen this solidly in him since Dada. Not that his previous album The Last Temptation wasn't excellent, but that wasn't as deeply focused as this album is.
Alice changed his sound quite a bit; it's much, much, much harder and darker than he'd ever sounded before. I guess you would call this nu-metal. You know, it's that ultra-hard, dark heavy metal music that bands like Korn and Godsmack made famous. It should be no surprise to you when I say that bands like these are the exact opposite of what I usually like to listen to. I don't even make any apologies for not liking them. I mean, why would I want to listen to a bunch of cocky men with tattoos playing dark, toneless notes and vomiting into the microphone? Oh, wait. Alice Cooper pretty much invented these guys, didn't they? Uh huh, it's all making sense now!
I'm guessing Brutal Planet exists because Alice Cooper wanted to show these clowns who's their daddy, even if he wasn't so cognizant about it. Alice Cooper knows how to make his guitars as dark and degrading as possible just like them, but that's very easy to do. What he does is actually writes *SONGS*, that is songs with melodies that are actually interesting. Oh yeah. Take that, Slipknot.
What a better way to start the album than with the title track, which establishes this DARK atmosphere right from the beginning? The riff is simple but ear-catching, and the melody (particularly the chorus) is quite memorable. He follows that up nicely with “Wicked Young Man,” a similarly seedy song that also has its fair share of hooks. You see, these two songs are perfect examples of my idea of what nu-metal should be like. Fans of that genre also might find it worth their while to check out the crunchier and exciting “It's the Little Things” and the perfectly epic closer “Cold Machines.”
Even though Brutal Planet is rightly considered Alice's “comeback” album, you might have noticed that I gave it the exact same score as his previous album The Last Temptation. There is a very simple explanation for that: Diversity. See, I get tired with Brutal Planet after hearing dark nu-metal song after dark nu-metal song. I'd imagine that wouldn't be so much of a problem for music listeners who actually *like* the genre, but even putting my bias aside, I always prefer albums that show a little more variety in moods. The Last Temptation, while it was a very scatter-shot and unfocused album, exhibited far more diversity and so I was a little more engaged in the overall experience.
That said, there are two non-metal songs on here. One is a ballad similar to “Only Women Bleed” called (perhaps not-coincidentally) “Take it Like a Woman.” It's passable, I suppose, but it's not very captivating. It only goes to further Alice's reputation of being a rather terrible ballad-writer I'm sad to say. “Pick Up the Bones,” on the other hand, is more of an atmospheric power-ballad, and it's much more convincing! So, that's a good one! Even though these songs aren't classified as nu-metal, I can't say they lend to this album's diversity too well. They still retain that very dark, and serious-toned atmosphere that I get a little bit tired of. Hm.
I'll say something about the lyrics. They have been said to revolve around veiled Christian themes in a similar way that C.S. Lewis's Narnia books are. That's possible; I've picked up a little bit of that in places. But this is an album where I'm just not too intrigued by the lyrics. I read through them briefly, and I shrugged. Their imagery is very dark and seedy, similar to the way these songs sound, and I'm just not into this sort of stuff! (Sorry...)
I definitely have my complaints against Alice Cooper's Brutal Planet, but they're really minor compared to the fact that this is his first absolutely solid-sounding album since 1983. While nu-metal isn't my cup of tea, this stuff does sound a lot better than most of that sort of music that I've patiently sat through before. Of course it's just my opinion, but I think Alice's decision to pay attention to melodies is an ideology that most nu-metal bands ought to practice more often.
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 13
This is another major step in the right direction for Alice Cooper who is now so far removed from his late-'80s/early-'90s career nadir that I have effectively forgotten that it even happened. Dragontown is a terrific album from beginning to end that's filled not only with melodies that are catchy-as-hell, but thoroughly engaging dark and sinister atmospheres. This is considered a sequel to his previous album, Brutal Planet, and this is indeed musically very similar. The concentration here is on nu-metal. As a general rule, I hate nu-metal music like I hate visiting the dentist, but listening to a nu-metal album as awesome as Dragontown would be just as awesome as finding out that Jean-Luc Piccard is my new dentist. Yeah, Dragontown must be pretty freaking awesome, then!
The overall quality of the songwriting has improved only marginally from the also-awesome Brutal Planet, which as a near-12 as it was. What Dragontown improves so much to earn this album a weak-13 is its diversity! Writing these track reviews wasn't such a dang labor; I didn't feel the need to begin every one of them with some variant of “Well, this is another nu-metal song...” That's right; there's something plainly distinctive about most of these songs! It's stone-cold serious, just like the previous album, and it centers on seriously handled topics as Hell, sin, Satan, spirituality... all very personal matters to Alice Cooper himself. And, yes, listening to this can be a very spooky experience, indeed! *Brrr*
But if it's possible to enjoy a nu-metal album about Hell, then this is probably as close as you're going to get. The album opens with “Triggerman,” a well-paced and guitar-heavy song with a great-sounding riff and a vocal melody so catchy that it wouldn't be surprising to go back to the '60s and hear The Turtles doing a convincing cover of it. The second song, “Deeper” is even more dark and depressing, but it's more of a heavily atmospheric song, and it keeps me quite engaged. The loud, dark and violent guitars don't sound that way just to be a major ear-sore; they actually contribute to the sound of DEATH that Alice was trying to convey in almost a theatrical way.
The title track is also very atmospheric, and those Middle-Eastern undertones throughout give it a texture completely distinguishable from the rest of the tracks. And does that song have a catchy vocal melody? You freaking betcha. Great song development, too. “Sex, Death and Money” is heavily distinguishable thanks to its creepy and menacing drum rhythm and bass-line. I should also mention that Cooper's vocal performance in this track, and all throughout this album, are terribly engaging. He's being very theatric with his vocals, of course, as he's been doing throughout most of his career, and he does that as well as ever.
Since I'm writing about these songs in the order they appear in the album, I'll next bring up “Fantasy Man,” which is notable for its funny lyrics and the playful, catchy, though hard nu-metal riff. “Somewhere in the Jungle” is another fascinating nu-metal song with yet another catchy melody and evil, sinister that any self-respecting nu-metal artists would be drooling over. “Disgraceland” is a weird combination between nu-metal stylings and Elvis Presley... no kidding! What's perhaps even weirder about it is the idea actually works, and Cooper's Elvis impersonation is terribly fun to hear. “Sister Sara” starts off as a more run-of-the-mill sort of nu-metal song, but it is occasionally interrupted by a very sweet girl-sung chorus in 3/4 time. That idea is eerily similar to Lee Hazlewood's “Some Velvet Morning...”
The only song on this album that doesn't fail to completely impress me is a BALLAD called “Every Woman Has a Name.” I don't know what makes Alice think he has to rewrite “Only Women Bleed” for every single album, but this practice must stop PRONTO! He makes up for that oversight by giving us “I Just Wanna Be God” that is without a doubt one of the finest nu-metal songs in existence. Seriously, if you're a fan of the genre and haven't heard it, you're going to have to listen to it and DARE deny it. “It's Much Too Late” isn't so much nu-metal as it is power-pop, but it's yet another terrific song with a memorable melody and more hilarious lyrics. He ends the album with a dark, nu-metal type bang with the atmospherically dark and engaging “The Sentinel.” It's not the finest nu-metal song of the album, I'd wager, but it's still quite freaking good.
So here we go. Dragontown is a great nu-metal album. And I never thought great nu-metal albums existed! Is it the best nu-metal album of all time? I'll probably never find out. But it's certainly the best nu-metal album that I've ever reviewed. (Never mind that I've only reviewed two nu-metal albums so far... this and Brutal Planet.)
Read the track reviews:
The Eyes of Alice Cooper (2003)
Album Score: 11
Well, I had a lot of fun with this record, even though certain parts of it had me wincing as though I just ate a lemon. The Eyes of Alice Cooper is a much more casual, humorous, and diverse record compared to his previous albums, which were two very serious nu-metal-ridden concept albums. In one respect, it's a relief to listen to an Alice Cooper album full of simple rock and pop songs that's not meant to take us into a frightening journey into Hell. While I do adore Dragontown and Brutal Planet very much, I'm not exactly a person who particularly enjoys listening to music all the time that is meant to be taken extremely seriously. Give me more lighthearted pop-rock any day of the week.
The first thing that can be said about the music in The Eyes of Alice Cooper is that Cooper has abandon nu-metal just as quickly as he seemed to pick it up. This album begins with a hard-rock song called “What Do You Want From Me” that sounds very refreshingly like the songs he used to write and perform in the early '70s. And, if I might be so bold, it's almost as good as that stuff, too, thanks to its catchy vocal melody, loud guitar riffage, and fun vocal play acting from Cooper and his rather goofy-sounding cohorts.
I mentioned in my opening sentence that certain parts of this album made me wince. Let's get into that now, since the wincing parts begin as early as the second track. The one thing I've got to inquire about “Between High School & Old School” is why does it have to sound so much like a modern teen-beat pop song? ...Granted, it would be one of the better teen-beat pop songs out there if it were indeed one, but I feel almost violated when I hear Alice Cooper performing such a thing—even compared to his cheese-metal period in the '80s. That feeling bleeds onto the following track, “Man of the Year,” which to add insult to injury features an annoyingly whiny vocal performance from Cooper. I'm also disappointed with the over-processed way the guitars sound on these teen-beat songs. ...Brrr. But I guess these teen-beat pop songs aren't such a big deal, since at least Alice was kind enough to write genuinely hilarious lyrics (which are way too “edgy” for someone like Hilary Duff, anyway) and the melodies have their fair share of hooks.
“Bye Bye, Baby” gets my vote as best song of the album although that was hard to choose. That's one of the songs that sounds exactly like his '70s hard-rock style, and compared to the teen-beat stuff, you'll find it blatantly obvious that he probably should have concentrated on that style! I'm also a big fan of the hard-rockin' “Detroit City,” which is a rather fond tribute to his hometown. (And I'd imagine it must be difficult to write a fond song about Detroit... but, hey, who doesn't feel nostalgic about their hometown? Even if it was on a rat's nest floating in the middle of the ocean!) The guitars and Cooper's vocal performance are much grittier there than they are on the rest of the album, and I pretty much crave that sound from him.
This album also has two ballads, but unlike his previous two albums, they don't comprise of its weakest moments! That's not only because there were annoying teen-beat songs to distract me; they're actually pretty well-written songs. “Be With You Awhile,” while hardly a masterpiece, is a rather charming love song. “The Song That Didn't Rhyme” has a nice melody too, but I think you'll find that one more memorable for its knee-slappingly hilarious lyrics that's right up there with the best comedy-rock that Weird Al Yankovich has ever managed. (“The melody blows in a key that no one can find / The lyrics don't flow but I can't get it out of my mind / A three minute waste of your time / No redeeming value of any kind.”) Cooper's delivery of that is very straitlaced with its sentimental lyrics that I can't help but emitting a hearty laugh throughout.
Since this album was basically a career and life retrospective from Cooper, I guess it wouldn't be complete if he didn't try to relive the spooky, horror-show play-acting from his Welcome to My Nightmare heyday. The central nursery rhyme melody of “This House is Haunted” is very reminiscent of his 'Steven' trilogy. I guess since he didn't have Bob Ezrin on hand, the instrumentation is startlingly bare, featuring only acoustic guitars and the subtle addition of a ghoul-like clarinet. It's not a great masterpiece or anything, but it's oddly engaging.
So, I would say that The Eyes of Alice Cooper is a very successful late-career addition to his discography. It's not a great work of art or anything, but it didn't try to be. Alice wanted to create nothing more than a fun album, and that's exactly what he did. So, kudos for him.
Read the track reviews:
Dirty Diamonds (2005)
Album Score: 10
Alice Cooper's previous album was scatter-shot as it was, but Dirty Diamonds takes that to a new level: He almost doesn't seem to care how spotty this is. Without a doubt, Dirty Diamonds contains the highest concentration of trite and generic songs since his '80s metal days, and that's rather frustrating fact for any Alice Cooper fan who enjoyed his recent albums Dragontown and Brutal Planet as much as I did. However, there is one main difference between this and his infamous metal albums: Its spirit. It sounds like Alice was having a fairly good time with these songs. He wasn't trying to create an “important” album, or even an album that would sell very well; he just wanted to enjoy himself.
The typical song on Dirty Diamonds is straight-up rock 'n' roll suited for a crowded bar. It's for that reason, I'd say this album takes most after Muscle of Love from his back catalogue. (Not the best album to take after, but ... never mind!) The opening number “Woman of Mass Distraction” might be just a generic rocker, but it's also fun to listen to and ends up getting things off on a solid note. “You Make Me Wanna” is another entirely forgettable song, but it's also good at-the-moment listening with enjoyable rock 'n' roll instrumentation. “Perfect” is almost a gem, and it has one of the sweetest and most engaging melodies on the album. I also really like the closer, “Zombie Dance,” which is most notable for its unexpectedly beautiful atmosphere—particularly around the chorus.
Not every song on Dirty Diamonds can be described as straightforward rock 'n' roll. There are also a handful of oddball compositions. The weirdest one is the title track, which is arguably the most bizarre song that Alice has ever done. It's based on a heavily droning computerized metal riff that's sprinkled with Henry-Mancini-esque jazz throughout. You wouldn't think those two things would go together very well... and, truth be told, they don't... but despite the odds, that's actually a very fun song for me to listen to. That computerized riff is mesmerizing, and the jazz themes strewn throughout are crazy enough to be fun.
The biggest surprise of the album is the inclusion of “Pretty Ballerina,” a Left Banke cover. If you're unfamiliar with Left Banke's original, then get thee to YouTube! Even compared to that speed-metal/jazz thing, this sounds terribly out-of-place in this album, but ................ IT'S SUCH A PRETTY SONG! Alice does quite a nice job with it, delivering a very sincere vocal performance, and bringing in a clavinet and some pretty synthesizers in the background. One of the most memorable songs of the album is the novelty number “The Saga of Jesse Jane,” which is about a transvestite trucker who goes on a murderous rampage. Making it even funnier is Cooper's utterly straight-faced vocal performance in which he sings at a register much lower than he usually does. That goes to prove my theory that there is nothing funnier than a transvestite with a deep voice.
That about does it for the good and adequate things. Let's talk about this song called “Steal That Car.” It's a fast riff-rocker with wimpy-sounding guitars and an extremely dull melody. I've got to tell you: That song reminds me of Constrictor, and I was hoping Alice Cooper was long through reminding me of that album. Even worse is “Six Hours,” a song that wants to be a slow blues, but it's so weak and spineless that it's a major snooze-fest from beginning to end. Alice also had the weird idea to collaborate with hip-hop artist Xzibit for “Stand,” which is included as a bonus track. ...I don't feel like I can adequately judge that song since I hate modern hip-hop about as much as I hate accidentally stapling pieces of paper to my forehead. All I can tell you is that I generally like the vocal hook Alice came up with, but I wish this Xzibit fellow didn't have to talk through so much of it.
While this is not one of his most satisfying albums he's ever released, there are plenty of moments in here that I like. Alice Cooper shows us that he can still write a good hook or two, and there's a lot of charm in some of these generic bar-rockers. That said, I wouldn't bother purchasing this album if I were you. It's kinduva waste of money. I mean, especially since you already have Billion Dollar Babies and Killer in your collection that are worth playing another time.
Read the track reviews:
Live At Montreux (2006)
Album Score: 12
I'm going to have to apologize that there is no way in hell that I'm going to be able to give this live album a proper review. I saw Alice Cooper live in concert in 2005, and the set-list he performed is 97 percent identical to this live album. So, I'm afraid that my nostalgic recollections of the concert might have inadvertently resulted in giving it a more inflated score than I would have otherwise.
The good news is that you can generate a similarly skewed opinion of this live album without having to travel back in time to see a live Alice Cooper concert in 2005. This album I'm reviewing is actually a companion piece to a concert DVD, which also contains a lot more songs than they weren't able to fit on this CD. ...I have not seen this concert DVD; I just have the album to listen to for now, but I saw this concert in person, so I don't have to watch the DVD!!!! (On second thought, it would probably be nice to see that show again sans that doodiehead in front of me who kept on standing up on his chair.)
Well, as I expressed in that disheveled review I wrote of the live show, I had a hell of a time! That concert was three-and-a-half years ago as I'm writing this, but I can still vividly remember Alice Cooper getting his head chopped off in a guillotine and then re-emerging later from a coffin! (Yup, cool magic tricks, too!) It's for that reason that I'm only going to heartily recommend that you go ahead and watch the DVD instead of only listening to this CD. If for no other reason, you can see how gorgeous his daughter is. ...Yeouch!
Let's actually talk about the music in this album before I completely run out of space! One thing that I could possibly get a lot of flack of for saying is that I think the guitars as a whole sound a better here than they did on A Fistful of Alice. I think it's pretty clear that these guys don't give quite as technically “accurate” renditions of these songs all the time; they flail around much more willy-nilly at times. They sound a lot more “garagey” than they did on the more post-metal renditions on A Fistful of Alice. Obviously, you're going to prefer one over the other depending on whether you prefer metal or garage... As for me, I go for garage...
As you'd expect, the best songs on this live album are overwhelmingly the ones from his classic era. I almost didn't need to say that. Songs like “Department of Youth,” “Billion Dollar Babies,” “Under My Wheels,” “School's Out,” “I'm Eighteen,” and “Welcome to My Nightmare” have stood the test of time, and it's a total blast hearing him do these songs once again! As you'd expect, he also performs a lot of songs from his more recent albums, although there surprisingly are only two songs from Dirty Diamonds, the album he had been touring to support. I'd say as a whole, they give the performances of the newer material the more powerful and pounding renditions compared to the classic songs. My guess is they didn't practice the classics songs as much as the newer ones, because they didn't have to. Anyway, I'd say the main highlight of this album is “Dirty Diamonds,” which also happens to be much improved over the more bizarre studio version. Simply put, it works better as a garage rocker.
The worst part of this disc is probably his rendition of “Poison” in the encore section, and that's not because I'm finally conceding that it's a bad song! I just think they could have done a better job with it. Alice's vocal performance sounds absolutely tired as it veers out of tune in spots, and the guitars sound rather bored. ...Then again, you can't blame them for getting tired, particularly Alice. I mean, this man had just spent the previous hour and a half singing with that incredible growl-sing voice! I dare you to try such a feat!
All in all, I really enjoyed this album. As I already said, there's a solid chance I'm being more subjective than usual in this review because I actually saw Alice performing on this tour, and this album aided me greatly in reliving that fond memory. ...But I am fairly certain that I would have enjoyed this live album if I went to that concert or not. Take that for what it's worth.
Read the track reviews:
Along Came a Spider (2008)
Album Score: 10
Ah, I had a lot of expectations for Alice Cooper's Along Came a Spider when I first heard about it. This is a concept album about the life and times of a serial killer, and it has a cover that looks undoubtedly cool. As you can see, the cover is a close-up shot of Cooper's face with twisted make-up and that grim look upon his face. Seeing that Cooper had been demonstrating to us in recent albums that he hadn't lost his knack for melodies over the years, I was really looking forward to what he would do with it. But that only goes to show why it's dangerous to have high expectations of a piece of music before you actually hear it, particularly if you're like me and you like to document your thoughts about them.
While Alice Cooper still has a knack with melodies—he's better than most musicians these days, that much is for sure—these ones come off as fairly unmemorable much of the time. After sitting through this album several times and scoring the track reviews, the only song that I can recall (barely) is “Wake the Dead.” It would have been nice if Alice could have written something along the lines of “I'm Eighteen” or something! But to be fair, a song of that caliber isn't anything you'd expect to hear out of him at this point, is it?
My biggest complaint regarding Along Came a Spider is that all these freaking songs start to sound the same by the end! Mind you, I'm glad that he's concentrating on hard-rock and not even touching that over-processed teen-beat stuff in his recent albums, but albums consisting of mostly mid-tempo electric guitar songs start to grow tedious. There are a few “deviant” songs here. One of which I already mentioned, “Wake the Dead,” is a highlight. Instead of the typical hard-rock drum-kit, it makes use of a rather menacing drum-machine beat. Making it even more absorbing is a buzzy guitar that flails around in the background. There's also an acoustic guitar ballad, “Killed By Love,” but that's unfortunately about as lame and boring as Alice Cooper ballads generally are. There's also a piano-centered power ballad “Salvation.” Even though I usually like Alice Cooper's power ballads, this one didn't take off. I mean... it's a power ballad about the serial killer seeking salvation, and it sounds exactly as you think it would sound. Hm.
I know this review has seemed way too negative for a 10-scoring album, and I do apologize for that! Rest assured, this is a strong 10. I could have gone for an 11, but I had way too many reservations about it. So with all the bad stuff firmly out of the way, let's get to the good stuff... First of all, I do like the concept. The lyrics combined with Cooper's chilling vocal delivery absolutely gives me the shivers! Probably the scariest point of the whole album is the opening lines of “The One that Got Away,” which he growls: “You look like you fit in the trunk of my car!” Later on in that song, Alice does a little play-acting with an actress, trying to lure her to the back of his car! ...She gets away, fortunately!
I also really enjoy listening to the power-anthem “Vengeance is Mine” almost for no other reason than to hear Alice sing “Vengeance is mine, mine, mine!” in his classic growl-sing voice. ...Geez, that guy makes a compelling serial killer! “Catch Me If You Can” is another highlight, a menacing rocker about this serial killer who is at the height of his evil rampage “She was not the first, and he won't be my last / My hunger and my thirst, My brilliant future and my ugly past.” I mean, these lyrics aren't Shakespeare or anything, but they're pretty fun to follow... The closing number “I Am the Spider / Epilogue” is also one of the more compelling songs of the album. It has a cinematic flare to it, sounding exactly like something played at the end credits of a hip, big budget Hollywood blockbuster. It's very slick.
Even though I wasn't as thoroughly pleased with Along Came a Spider as I thought I would be, I still had a good time with it. My main criticism against it is that most of these songs sound too much alike and I start to grow utterly tired of it by the end. I don't think I'll be listening to this album much as soon as I'm done writing this review, and its crippling lack of diversity is the reason why. On the other hand, I will note that this is certainly Alice's most focused and serious effort since Dragontown. He isn't goofing around like he was on Dirty Diamonds and The Eyes of Alice Cooper... But I sort of liked Alice Cooper as he was goofing around. Sure, the quality of songwriting was hit-or-miss, but at least there was tons of diversity!
Read the track reviews:
Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011)
I remember the album's opening song “I Am Made of You” annoying the ever-loving crap out of me the first time I heard it. If you are a fist-pumping fan of Cooper's '70s rock 'n' roll (and anyone who wants to listen to this album almost certainly is), then I bet it'll annoy you, too. ...It sounds like he wanted to modernize his sound or something to be like Katy Perry or Justin Beiber, or whatever the kids listen to these days. The worst thing about it is that Cooper's voice has been altered with an autotuner, which is a device that does nothing but SUCK the life out of voices. I mean, maybe one time in the '90s it was a device that did a pretty cool trick. These days, let's cast that thing into the same pit that the Palm Pilot disappeared to. That song's chorus is produced EPICLY, though, with huge militaristic drums and ominous-choir-synths, which has its appeal, but unfortunately its melody is also quite bland. So right out of the box, Alice Cooper's 2011 album isn't on good terms with me. (The reason I can't totally pan it is that I have to recognize that it's at least a little bit fun. The follow-up song, “Caffiene,” is kind of in the same class; it's loaded with a cutesy chorus and candy-coated guitars. The good thing about it is that it rocks more.
By the way, I don't really have problems with sequels, per se, although I wish he would have thought of a different name for it. I mean, from now on whenever I have a deep, intellectual conversation with someone about Alice Cooper, I'm going to have to somehow verbally distinguish Welcome to My Nightmare from Welcome 2 My Nightmare. Not that this dilemma is ever really going to manifest itself, because the last time I ever discussed Alice Cooper with anyone was never. That is except for Internet-people, and I guess I wouldn't really have that problem with them.
Fortunately after the first two songs are through, this album takes a turn for the better to become a decently entertaining album. I mean, take a listen to the goofy cabaret “The Last Man on Earth.” This album is meant to be taken lightly. ...But try not to flip out too much when I mention that one of these songs feature none other than Ke$ha. The song is “What Baby Wants,” and it's terrible! The melody is boring, and the vocal performances are even more boring. The lyrics are also very disgusting but not in the fun way. (“I'm gonna drain your veins and bathe in your blood”.) Yuck.
By the way, even though the original Welcome to My Nightmare was more or less a coherent album, this sequel is anything but. Every song is done in a completely different style. Maybe the most weirdly out-of-place one is a techno-rap, “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever,” which also happens to be a perfect example of a song I should probably hate but somehow find it a little too enjoyable for that. (I guess I find Alice Cooper doing some old-school rapping amusing for some reason. And it's also kind of a catchy, anyway.) A song that I should love, but can't really bring myself to is “When Hell Comes Home,” which is far closer to his classic '70s rock style, featuring heavy guitars and a snarling Cooper vocal performance. Unfortunately, after a minute or so of it, that heavy groove grows dull, and I can never seem to get into that melody.
A far better song is “The Congregation,” which is more heavy pop with Cooper's classic dark guitars and a pounding drumbeat that threatens to turn into a Gary Glitter song in a few spots. The melody isn't brilliant, but I find it to be catchy enough. And then there's the album's token piano ballad, “Something to Remember Me By,” proving that Alice Cooper still isn't very good at making ballads. (I guess some things never change! But daggum if that guy isn't going to keep trying.)
The first time I happened to listen to this album was in mid-2012, which was unfortunately right after that Face-Eating incident happened in Miami. So three guesses what immediately popped in my mind when I first listened to “I'll Bite Your Face Off...” But anyway, that's one of the album's few very good songs--a catchy, foot-tapping pop-rock number that comes close to capturing the spirit of the original album. Another fun tune is the penultimate number, “I Gotta Get Outta Here,” which features a bit of silly play acting. (I guess it's about Cooper trying to convince his subconscious to let him wake up from his nightmare.) This turns into “Underture,” which is a bunch of orchestral reworkings from songs off the original album and the current one. Huh, I guess we were listening to some dinner theater all along! But where's my mac & cheese? So anyway, there are enough fun songs on here to make this overall worth a listen. And it's meant to be nothing less than fun--unlike the insufferable seriousness of his previous album Along Came a Spider. So I'd only mildly recommend this to Cooper fans. Put this on the strongish side of a 10/15.
Alice Cooper and Cheap Trick Live: Topeka, Kan. (September 7, 2005)
And I have my hearing back, too! It wasn't looking good after the next couple of days, but my hearing totally resumed in full!
...I'm actually a very busy man at the moment, and I simply don't have time to dabble in all those irrelevancies that plagued my previous live concert reviews. That's right, there's a test somewhere that I'm not studying for. And, I'm listening to Joan Baez (I'm not lying, either), so those little irrelevancies don't seem very important. Besides, there's nothing much irrelevant to report! I left for the Alice Cooper concert right after my Paleoclimatology class got out. ... So, I didn't really have time to do anything irrelevant...
Although, there are a few very useful things I learned by attending this Alice Cooper/Cheap Trick concert in Topeka, Kansas on that very fateful September 7, 2005 evening.
1. 6'5'' long-white-haired men with goatees, a few missing teeth, who wear sleeveless shirts don't actually smell that much. In fact, 80 percent of male teenagers (e.g. the one sitting near me) smell much worse.
2. You'd think that being at a chair in front of really short people on the floor seating would be a good thing because you can see over their heads. But, nope. Their genetic misfortune and a digital camera gives them a good excuse to stand on the chairs.
3. Not all that odd people attend Alice Cooper concerts. I met my demographic with this one. The audience consisted of 30 percent geeks/nerds, 20 percent "regular cool people," 20 percent hayseed farm people, 15 percent elderly-I-have-no-idea-what-they're-doing-at-this-concert people, 10 percent people with baffling haircuts, and (to my uttermost shock despite Alice Cooper's costumes) only 5 percent people with that "goth" fetish. So, my demographic (geeks/nerds) was best represented at this concert, which is a first. (For reference, I was outnumbered by office employees at the David Bowie concerts, cowboys at the Bob Dylan concert, maybe-lesbians at the Sarah McLachlan concert, and total dorks at the Brian Wilson concert.)
4. Actually, Cheap Trick doesn't suck.
There was a local Topeka band that opened the show ... 30 minutes before it was supposed to start. They sucked, but not that much. They were "hard core heavy metal" ... which ... um ... I don't like that much. They did two songs and then, as the lead singer was building himself a great introduction to a third song (saying something about how great a guitar was) and then consequently being forced off the stage. (HAAAAHHH!!!!!)
And then, there was a big pause.
And then CHEAP TRICK CAME OUT!!!!!!!
... Actually, I owned the first Cheap Trick album for quite some time, and ... I don't listen to it ... ever. But the band totally didn't suck. I mean, if you didn't enjoy the music, you were at least entertained by the fact that each one of the guitar players changed guitars from one very peculiar guitar to an extremely peculiar guitar upon the advent of a new song! And a six-neck guitar, which gave me the impression that I should start using my mortality. And Cheap Trick really loves themselves ... or at least the lead guitarist (who I can accurately describe as a California raisin in a baseball cap) loves Cheap Trick. He kept on screaming "WHO ARE WE? ... WHO ARE WE? ... WE ARE CHEAP TRICK!" in the microphone, or some variant of that. And he threw about 126 guitar picks at members of the audience. I guess he figured that these Kansas people at home were wearing their fingers raw by plucking their guitars with their bare fingers. ... Anyway, he didn't throw one at me! I WANTED A CHEAP TRICK GUITAR PICK!!!!!!! BOOOTOTOTOTOTO!!!
But, I actually enjoyed the songs! They had that one song that I heard of once ... The one with the intellectual lyrics that goes "I want you to want me ... I need you to need me ..."
The lead singer is the only member of Cheap Trick who actually aged well. He still hasn't given up the hair-metal look (where the rest of the band members either went wrinkly or bald), but ... all the more power to you, blonde dude.
... And then ALICE COOOOOOOPEPEPERRRRR!!!
...After the intermission.
The stage was set up with a weird skeletal angel thing on the side (which would later be revealed as a guillotine), a coffin, and ... I forgot what else. What's widely considered Alice Cooper's greatest song (Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera") started playing and a very very frightening demonic scream was heard as Alice Cooper appeared on that Topekan stage. (Actually, I would discover later that the demonic scream was not produced by anyone associated with the stage act, but the woman standing behind me.)
Then, Alice Cooper started to sing ... a song ... (I honestly forgot what it was. I think it was "Department of Youth") and he was strutting around a ... showman's stick...
Overall, Alice Cooper's stage antics were most delightful. It was not only delightful because it was exactly what I expected out of an Alice Cooper concert (lots of weird B-grade horror movie props, snakes, coffins, violence, etc.) but ... IT WAS FREAKING HILARIOUS!!! ... I mean, I saw Alice Cooper doing things on Wayne's World and stuff, but ... whoah. Whenever he'd smack a guitarist or his daughter (who'd dance around on stage frequently wearing just enough clothes to not be considered totally indecent), he had his head chopped off via a guillotine and re-emerged in a coffin at one point ... it MADE ME LAUGH! ... Because, as we all know, violence is funny.
I was more amazed at Alice Cooper's personality. He didn't come across as a human being. Rather he was more of an actor who was sent from the netherworld to play with snakes, conduct fake violence, and deliver a rock concert. He didn't actually "talk" until the encore. It was all dancing, singing, and playing with props--
Oh yeah, Alice Cooper sang songs! ... Not only was Alice Cooper's stage antics meant to be unabashedly crowd-pleasing, but so was his set list! ... Very very few songs were actually from his latest album. (I know for sure that there was one, "Dirty Diamonds," but I think there might have been another.) Most of them were from his most beloved period between 1971 and 1975, including nearly every song from Welcome to My Nightmare. Seriously, I think he did every bloody song on that album except for one or two! (He even did that weird suite that appears at the end of it!)
I also don't think "Feed My Frankenstein" isn't that bad of a song ... Well, it is a bad song, but at least ... at least it's better than Joan Baez! (That's right, I'm a sexist Republican.) Also, seeing the song performed in PERSON and not on the radio or on Wayne's World is kinduva thrill.
That brings me to my last and final point. ALICE COOPER IS AWESOME!!! ... This was seriously an utterly phenomenal concert experience and anyone in the world who ever consciously forwent attending an Alice Cooper has their life devalued accordingly. Going to this concert seriously made me reconsider demoting the January 2004 David Bowie concert as the best concert I've ever attended. Anything doing that is seriously worth considering a mention in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
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