Getting Into: Alice Cooper
Getting Into: Alice Cooper
The articles in this series begun by our own Baz Anderson are designed to give a brief overview of a band's entire discography, so as to provide a clear point of entry for the uninitiated. It offers a different approach from the typical review format, for the curious newcomer to a well-traveled band.
Hard rock, heavy metal, glam rock, psychedelic rock, new wave, industrial metal, punk, experimental rock, pop
It would be impossible to quantify the vast influence that Alice Cooper has had on hard rock and heavy metal. The name originally described a quintet, who moved from humble beginnings as a psychedelic band under the aegis of Frank Zappa to international success with twisted hard rock hits and groundbreaking stage theatrics. By the mid-1970s, internal tensions dissolved the band and vocalist Vincent Furnier took the name for himself, becoming Alice Cooper the iconic solo artist. Called the Godfather of Shock Rock and lauded for his role in shaping the emerging heavy metal scene, Alice developed a persona marked by gruesome onstage antics and sinister themes, cultivating an enduring influence on all things dark and evil. Though Alice's vaudevillian blackguard character has remained an integral part of his career through the decades, he has experimented with a wide variety of musical styles and produced a vast array of works often overlooked by casual observers or overshadowed by his reputation.
|Pretties For You (1969)|
Alice Cooper started life as a very different band from what most people associate them with. Pretties For You is a bizarre, experimental album filled with jarring melodies and dream-like meandering. Only by the end does it begin to cohere, hinting ever-so-slightly at the emergence of their future classic sound, but for the most part the album resembles late-era Beatles taken a step further into the realms of the avant-garde. It is challenging and indisputably a product of the 1960s, without any of the bite of later Alice Cooper, but occasionally enjoyable for the adventurous fan.
Standout Tracks: "Apple Bush," "Reflected," "Living"
|Easy Action (1970)|
Instantly more recognizable and professional than Pretties For You, Easy Action takes a massive step away from the disjointed psychobabble of its predecessor. It relies on much more standardized song structures and a newfound confidence that gives it power. Some progressive or spacey influences remain, as does the obvious Beatles-worship, but most of Easy Action is rougher, stronger garage rock. It is still very much another early experiment, however, and rather inconsistent.
Standout Tracks: "Mr. And Misdemeanor," "Beautiful Flyaway," "Lay Down And Die, Goodbye"
|Love It To Death (1971)|
Love It To Death marked the true birth of Alice Cooper, and the advent of a new era in music. Finally, Alice had a personality, and connected to his/their audience. Combining reckless rock'n'roll with a keen sense of melody and a newly-discovered dark side, Love It To Death surges with energy. It balances a wild, youthful abandon with emotional intensity in nine tracks of supreme musicianship. The slightly tongue-in-cheek fascination with the horrific complements the maniacal drama of tracks like "Ballad Of Dwight Fry" and "Second Coming," and the incomparable strength of its songwriting made it a landmark in the evolution of hard rock and heavy metal upon its release. If there were one Alice Cooper album that was absolutely necessary, this would be it.
Standout Tracks: "I'm Eighteen," "Ballad Of Dwight Fry," "Black Juju," "Is It My Body"
Rarely has there been a better tag-team of albums than Love It To Death and Killer, which together form a 17-hit combo of titanic proportions. Once more weaving together raw, ragged rock ("Under My Wheels"), more intricate melodic sensibilities ("Halo Of Flies"), and extended ventures into the nightmare realm ("Killer"), Killer lives up to its name impressively. Just like its predecessor, the supremely powerful songwriting and unique application of the sinister established Killer as a classic, and it remains a defining work in the early years of hard rock and heavy metal.
Standout Tracks: "Dead Babies," "Under My Wheels," "Be My Lover," "Halo Of Flies"
|School's Out (1972)|
When most people think of "Alice Cooper," their minds immediately flick to the immortal title track of the band's 1972 album. While that song needs no description, most venture no further into the album, which immediately takes a more unusual turn. School's Out drops the most overtly macabre aspects of its predecessors, but continues to develop the quirky, occasionally off-putting musical tone; even if they checked their avant-garde side at the door of Love It To Death, Alice Cooper could never abandon an interesting melody or progression. Despite the utter straightforwardness of the title track, most of School's Out is a more interesting, occasionally jazzy album that, while a definite step down from the previous two albums, rarely gets the credit it deserves as an experimental piece and a platform for the hit single.
Standout Tracks: "School's Out," "Luney Tune," "Blue Turk"
|Billion Dollar Babies (1973)|
Another illustrious feather in Alice's cap, Billion Dollar Babies was the most streamlined album up until that point, and as such was their most successful, but they achieved this without sacrificing the gleeful sadism or uniquely memorable melodies. It unfortunately marks the beginning of the end for the group itself, as lead guitarist Glen Buxton's alcoholism led to him being replaced by several studio musicians, including the legendary duo of Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, who would continue working with Alice for many years. The internal tensions do not reflect on the music, however, and songs like "Elected," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," and "Billion Dollar Babies" remain some of Alice's signatures.
Standout Tracks: "Billion Dollar Babies," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "Hello Hooray," "I Love The Dead"
|Muscle Of Love (1973)|
Muscle Of Love has a reputation as the first real misstep in the Alice Cooper discography (once they had gotten it right with album #3). That's true to some extent, as it doesn't boast as many memorable songs or any real hits to speak of, but it is no more guilty of this than School's Out (title track aside), and that's ultimately an unfair assessment. The band remained intact (minus Buxton, plus Wagner and Hunter) and brought their instantly recognizable sound with them once more, and even if it is a drop in quality, Muscle Of Love sports some severely underrated tracks.
Standout Tracks: "Muscle Of Love," "Working Up A Sweat," "Teenage Lament '74"
|Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)|
After Muscle Of Love, the Alice Cooper band finally disintegrated, leaving frontman Vincent Furnier to rechristen himself as Alice Cooper the solo artist. Welcome To My Nightmare proved that this could work. Alice exploded into a whirlwind of creativity and theatrics, resulting in this meticulously-orchestrated masterpiece - and while you don't hear his legendary stage show on the album, you can still feel the passion and the spectacle. As a rock opera, Welcome To My Nightmare is flashy, extravagant, and deeply catchy, but it doesn't spare the horror themes, and the bridge from "Devil's Food" to "The Black Widow" narrated by Vincent Price is simply exquisite. This is easily the quintessential Alice Cooper solo album.
Standout Tracks: "Welcome To My Nightmare," "The Black Widow," "Cold Ethyl," "Steven"
|Alice Cooper Goes To Hell (1976)|
The title doesn't lie - starting with this album, Alice's career went to hell. Despite a relatively strong opener, Alice Cooper Goes To Hell quickly degenerates into an awkward, semi-disco pop party. The songs expand on the orchestral elements of Welcome To My Nightmare, but completely abandon the grotesqueness and edge of Alice's previous work, leaving them a series of overwritten, far-too-polished dance numbers and show tunes that sound like a very poor shadow of the real Alice Cooper. It consists largely of cheesy late-'70s pop songs that have aged poorly.
Standout Tracks: "Go To Hell," "Guilty," "Wish You Were Here"
|Lace And Whiskey (1977)|
Lace And Whiskey continues with the same direction as its predecessor, with some soppy ballads and toothless, campy productions. At least it still features the talents of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, even if it woefully misuses them. This is essentially a slightly better version of Alice Cooper Goes To Hell, but not enough so to justify its existence. Few songs are at all memorable, and all pale in comparison to the vicious, rasping, sadistic Alice Cooper of just a few years prior. In short: too much lace, not enough whiskey.
Standout Tracks: "It's Hot Tonight," "King Of The Silver Screen"
|From The Inside (1978)|
From The Inside picks up the pace and leaves behind some of the excess fat of the two preceding albums; Alice took the scenic route, but it turns out that he was heading for the glam rock scene this whole time. It's still too self-indulgent for its own good, and revels in its funky, multi-layered flashiness on occasion. At least it takes a small step back towards the garage rock of the classic era, but on the other hand there is still too much ludicrous cheese to succeed as a serious work - and yet, on the third hand, some of that is intentional and sardonic, and on the fourth hand, it shows a marked improvement. Ultimately, it leaves a question mark.
Standout Tracks: "From The Inside," "For Veronica's Sake," "Serious"
|Flush The Fashion (1980)|
Though Alice had conquered his personal demons between Lace And Whiskey and From The Inside, he slipped off the wagon and hit the ground hard. Plagued by addictions, he attempted to reinvent himself once more in the new wave scene. It worked to some extent; Alice sounds more at home on Flush The Fashion than he did on the last few albums. The whole Huey Lewis thing bears some acceptable results and might have gone farther had Alice possessed the wherewithal to be as exciting and innovative as he used to be, yet too much of it is generic or uninspired, and as a result of Alice's troubles, also becomes oddly disconcerting and lifeless at times.
Standout Tracks: "Talk Talk," "Clones (We're All)," "Pain"
|Special Forces (1981)|
Although Alice's personal life took a nosedive in the late '70s and early '80s, his musical output strangely rebounded with Special Forces. It takes the new wave approach of Flush The Fashion and tightens the screws significantly, with more confident songwriting and a much fuller sound. Synths appear more frequently and have a greater role in driving the songs, but the album also introduces a punky aggression and speed that hearken back to prime Alice. Due to his addictions, Alice can no longer recall the recording of this album, but despite his collapse and the undeniably un-Alice sound, Special Forces stands out amongst his subpar years as a surprisingly presentable album.
Standout Tracks: "Who Do You Think We Are," "Seven And Seven Is," "Skeletons In The Closet"
|Zipper Catches Skin (1982)|
Another one of Alice's "blackout albums," Zipper Catches Skin follows in the same vein as Special Forces, but with less emphasis on the new wave and something of a regression to a glam rock style (but in a more sensible and less overblown way). Dick Wagner returned to the band, resulting in a more guitar-oriented sound that reflects what their partnership had once been. While flighty and silly and sometimes stuck in its time, Zipper Catches Skin also shows an Alice searching for a way back into his glory days and trying to write interesting songs again; it has enthusiasm and spirit, and even though it's still quite far away from true Alice Cooper, like Special Forces before it, this album might be worth a listen.
Standout Tracks: "Zorro's Ascent," "Adaptable (Anything For You)," "Tag, You're It"
|Da Da (1982)|
The third in the trilogy of "blackout albums," Da Da starts off very promising. The title track, penned by former and at-last-returning producer Bob Ezrin, suggests a new, dangerous, experimental, avant-garde Alice Cooper: eerie, malevolent, and atmospheric. Da Da largely drops the charade immediately afterwards, squandering a fantastic opportunity to reinvent Alice as something truly original and creepy; instead, he returns once more to his glam rock ways with a series of quirky, bouncy, and otherwise run-of-the-mill rock songs. "Former Lee Warmer" picks up the atmospherics again, but aside from frequent synth abuse, Da Da has little else to offer, made all the more disappointing after the tantalizing opener.
Standout Tracks: "Da Da," "Former Lee Warmer," "Scarlet And Sheba"
After an unusually long hiatus, Alice emerged clean and sober once more, this time for good. After getting his personal life back on track, he set out to do the same for his career, and, feeling the need to update his sound, latched onto the glam metal craze that was sweeping the musical landscape at the time. Constrictor will never rank among the great "comeback" albums, but it at least has the consistence, sanity, and simplicity that Alice had lacked for some time. Boasting minor hits in the form of "Teenage Frankenstein" and "He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask)," which served as the theme song for Friday The 13th Part VI, Constrictor is stronger than its predecessors and less flamboyant than its successors, but reaches no greater height than "satisfactory." This is straightforward, transparent glam rock like Alice produced before, but recast in the popular sound of the 1980s.
Standout Tracks: "The World Needs Guts," "The Great American Success Story," "He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask)"
|Raise Your Fist And Yell (1987)|
Constrictor set Alice on a safe path, if not a particularly interesting one. Raise Your Fist And Yell steps it up a notch: more memorable songs, more complex guitar work, and a great, big dose of energy. While this style of music is still thinner, shallower, and usually less frightening than what Alice is known for and capable of, Raise Your Fist And Yell definitely hangs around the grittier, heavier side of the glam scene (think Mötley Crüe), and as with all things, Alice does hair metal better than most. The album ends with a pair of fantastically dark, heavy, and King Diamond-esque horror metal crushers that have been most unjustly lost to time, proving once again that no one should ever underestimate Alice Cooper.
Standout Tracks: "Gail," "Roses On White Lace," "Freedom"
As the centerpiece of Alice's five-album hair metal movement, Trash is appropriately the strongest (though Raise Your Fist And Yell offers strong competition). It steers Alice in a slightly different direction, toward the poppier, slicker, sillier, and more overtly chart-oriented side of the glam scene. The mega-hit single "Poison" gave Alice his first real notoriety in far too long, and introduced him to a whole new generation of fans at a time when image was everything. This album drips with 1980s nostalgia - the hookiest glam hooks, the goofiest synthesizers, the kitschiest pop attitudes - and while it becomes too ridiculous for its own good at times, Trash ultimately shows itself to be an unexpectedly well-written work.
Standout Tracks: "Poison," "Bed Of Nails," "This Maniac's In Love With You"
|Hey Stoopid (1991)|
Hey Stoopid succeeds Trash as Raise Your Fist And Yell succeeded Constrictor: the same, but more so. That is not to say that Hey Stoopid outdoes Trash, for they share a mix of hits, non-starters, and popcorn tracks - but it is heavier, more mature, and more substantial in most aspects. Unfortunately, just like Trash, it still sounds pretty dated sometimes, particularly the singles, but it also has a bit more staying power for less-than-purely-nostalgic reasons.
Standout Tracks: "Hey Stoopid," "Feed My Frankenstein," "Little By Little"
|The Last Temptation (1994)|
Thus ends Alice Cooper's glam pentalogy. Where the other four pursued a more heavy metal-oriented style, albeit from the pop side of it, The Last Temptation has just as much in common with Alice's older glam rock material. Unfortunately, this does not necessarily spell success, as it seems to lack the spark of life that Alice had rediscovered a few years prior. The album had one single in the form of "Lost In America," but, truth be told, none of the songs feels strong enough to carry the album; it has standouts by happenstance, not by design. The strangely funky "Bad Place Alone" definitely deserves more recognition, but for the most part, this album suffers from the same energy drain and undercurrent of dismalness that afflicted Constrictor.
Standout Tracks: "Bad Place Alone," "Lost In America," "Cleansed By Fire"
|Brutal Planet (2000)|
The time came for Alice to shed his skin and assume a new identity - and this time, instead of the macabre-yet-comic theater villain that made him famous, he emerged a bloodthirsty hellbeast. Brutal Planet takes after Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, and other such sadistic industrialists and fuses their cold, seething, metallic power with the vindictive ghastliness of a purely angry man. This isn't spookshow Alice anymore; Brutal Planet is to Alice's past what the Guinea Pig films are to Nightmare On Elm Street V. This is a dark, intense, blunt, and powerful album; the creepy is replaced by the evil, the tongue-in-cheek by the sardonic, and the quirky garage rock by lethal, monolithic industrial metal. Alice Cooper is at his most dangerous here.
Standout Tracks: "Brutal Planet," "Pick Up The Bones," "Blow Me A Kiss," "Pessi-Mystic"
Not since Love It To Death and Killer 30 years prior had such a perfect pair of albums been crafted. Dragontown follows Brutal Planet to resounding success: thunderous, hellish, disturbing, and bent on sonic torment. These songs writhe with devilish fury and bleak grimness in which Alice sounds right at home, and the unnaturally heavy duology shows up competition from bands half Alice's age. Dragontown also follows Alice Cooper traditions slightly more than Brutal Planet, but keeps the same level of consistency. "Deeper" is very likely the most unnerving song that Alice has ever written.
Standout Tracks: "Triggerman," "Deeper," "Dragontown," "I Just Wanna Be God"
|The Eyes Of Alice Cooper (2003)|
Switching gears once more, The Eyes Of Alice Cooper casts Alice as a Detroit punk in the style of Iggy Pop or The MC5. For the first time, Alice scales back and delivers a pure, raw rock'n'roll album - no cumbersome flourishes, no overwrought orchestrations, no meandering or experimentation, just a bunch of guys in a garage somewhere cranking out grungy punk songs. The stripped-down and uncomplicated setting imparts this album with a genuineness of previously-unseen depths and charm unmatched by most of Alice's other albums. It's brash, loud, and energetic - like Alice is 18 all over again.
Standout Tracks: "What Do You Want From Me," "Between High School And Old School," "Novocaine," "Detroit City"
|Dirty Diamonds (2005)|
Alice Cooper sure loves to do things in series. Dirty Diamonds picks up the thread of The Eyes Of Alice Cooper, with the gritty, minimalist rock fueling yet another successful venture. It sounds even rougher than its predecessor - almost unfinished, at times, though for positive effect. The sound isn't as fresh the second time around, and neither the songwriting nor the exuberant energy holds up to the first attempt, but Dirty Diamonds still succeeds admirably. Like many of Alice's albums, it doesn't hold itself to any one sound, expanding on the punk elements sometimes, the bluesy elements other times; in fact, the best songs are the ones that break the mold.
Standout Tracks: "Run Down The Devil," "The Saga Of Jesse Jane," "Dirty Diamonds"
|Along Came A Spider (2008)|
In all of Alice Cooper's solo discography, Along Came A Spider does the best job of re-creating the sound and feeling of the original band's classic material. It takes a step forward from the barebones rock of the last two albums, layers it over with some more complex melodies and instrumentation, and ties it together with a narrative about a serial killer - just like the old days. On top of that, several of the songs sound very influenced by Soundgarden or Alice In Chains (perhaps another interesting direction Alice could take in the future), and it is hard to deny how much it sounds like Alice is enjoying himself.
Standout Tracks: "I Know Where You Live," "Vengeance Is Mine," "I'm The One That Got Away," "I Am The Spider"
|Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011)|
As evidenced by the title, Alice intended this album as a sequel to his debut solo record, Welcome To My Nightmare; while sequels are always risky, Alice pulls this off brilliantly. Every song offers something different, from the magnificently dramatic "I Am Made Of You" to the guttery brass of "The Last Man On Earth" to the wholly unexpected dance tune "What Baby Wants." Alice experiments more heavily here than on most of his past works, and it pays off, with so many personalities and musical styles coming together to create a surprising and lively album. The diverse elements might occasionally alienate some listeners (which is always a risk with Alice anyway), but it's hard to argue with a well-constructed song, especially when three of these tracks feature the original Alice Cooper band back in action.
Standout Tracks: "The Last Man On Earth," "I Am Made Of You," "I Gotta Get Outta Here," "When Hell Comes Home"
An unusually long hiatus preceded Paranormal, a return-to-roots hard rock album that takes after Alice's mid-2000s material more than the eclectic carnival of Welcome 2 My Nightmare. Singularly horrifying opener aside, Paranormal is one of Alice's safer ventures, focusing on blues- and psych-infused rock tunes that bend a little bit to clean production; the raw, garage-level quality of The Eyes Of Alice Cooper did not survive the journey across several similar albums, leaving Paranormal feeling slightly artificial. Nonetheless, Alice's storytelling snarl persists, and the songs are energetic and catchy even if more conventional; Paranormal also features a few more exciting performance and writing credits from members of the original Alice Cooper band.
Standout Tracks: "Paranormal," "Paranoiac Personality," "The Sound Of A"
|Detroit Stories (2021)|
With greater intention and much more elaborate production than Paranormal, Detroit Stories executes a full-scale operation to revive the Detroit sounds of Alice's youth; not limited to rock alone, though certainly preoccupied with it, Detroit Stories combines covers, guest musicians, and a stylistic safari for another of Alice's more varied and, unfortunately, hit-or-miss releases. The elaborate arrangement risks stifling the energy and the writing often fails to hold up to the ambition of the concept, with little of Alice's persona observable amidst the rock-and-nostalgia blend. Like any Alice Cooper album, Detroit Stories manages a few memorable tunes, but it is at best a fun diversion that falls short of Alice's previous attempts to revive this sound.
Standout Tracks: "Wonderful World," "Hanging On By A Thread (Don't Give Up)", "$1000 High Heel Shoes," "Social Debris"
Alice Cooper has been a part of the music business for over 50 years; he's seen and done it all, since the days when The Beatles still existed, "hard rock" was what people threw at hippies, and "heavy metal" was what Tony Iommi operated for a living in his factory. The name "Alice Cooper" - whether referring to the original band of horror-fixated hard rockers, the master of operatic orchestrations, the brutal metal vigilante, the glammed-up chart-stalker, the rough-and-tumble street punk, or simply the Godfather of Shock Rock himself in all his face-painted glory - holds a special significance in the hard rock and heavy metal world that few can approach. Alice is a man of many styles, and he never rests on his laurels; he constantly seeks out new inspirations, adapts himself to new scenes, and pursues the best possible incarnation of himself.
||Written on 03.05.2015 by I'm the reviewer, and that means my opinion is correct.|
Comments page 2 / 2
Comments: 37 Visited by: 212 users
Hits total: 8892 | This month: 15