Alice Cooper - Road review
|Release date:||August 2023|
01. I'm Alice
02. Welcome To The Show
03. All Over The World
04. Dead Don’t Dance
05. Go Away
06. White Line Frankenstein
07. Big Boots
08. Rules Of The Road
09. The Big Goodbye
10. Road Rats Forever
11. Baby Please Don’t Go
12. 100 More Miles
13. Magic Bus [The Who cover]
“The road has taken a lot of the great ones. […] It’s an impossible way of life.” – Robbie Robertson, The Last Waltz
In Martin Scorsese’s 1978 concert documentary, which chronicles the legendary grand finale of The Band in 1976, guitarist/vocalist Robertson dwells on his apprehensions of life “on the road”, The Band’s 16-year career as a touring act weighing on his aging mind. I can only wonder what Robertson, who expressed his anxiety over potentially reaching 20 years of nomadic instability, would make of Alice Cooper’s 50+ years. Alice has lived on the road longer than many of his contemporaries have lived, so if there is one artist in the musical world who is entitled to give us a lesson in the devoirs and drawbacks of the lifestyle, it is he – and with that road having been unceremoniously yanked away for an uncertain stretch a few years ago, I expect that that long history seems all the more appealing as a subject for extended musical ode.
Road, therefore, occupies itself with the road and a lifetime of experiences thereon, gathering these insights into a loose concept album similar to Alice’s previous album, Detroit Stories. Further like Detroit Stories, and less fortunately, Road positions Alice as looking back rather than forward; it is another recapitulation, not a challenge. The 12 original tracks that constitute Road are overproduced catwalk struts with more attitude than inspiration and more accolades than attitude; the explanatory and self-referential lyrics feel more like a post-retirement Vegas revue than a rock’n’roll show, and it is difficult to imagine how Alice could evolve from here, given the self-imposed finality that this retrospective seems to deliver.
Moreover, and most puzzlingly, the reflexive arc of these last several albums seems intent on tracing roots out of which Alice was always too cool to sprout: ever since Welcome 2 My Nightmare, one of Alice's most experimental and representative recordings, if not his strongest, his albums have become increasingly homogenized into a bed of modern hard rock cliches that aim to meet expectations rather than exceed them. We see in Detroit Stories and now Road a preoccupation with preserving old stories in a form that suits the telling, which is an appreciable endeavor, but that form has been identified as a conscious adherence to formulas that ancient Alice albums had either the intelligence or the ignorance to avoid. On Road, riffs deal in tonnage rather than taste, songs plateau at the choruses instead of elevating, and Bob Ezrin's production reaches its present apex of sterility; songs such as "Go Away," "Big Boots," and even the single "White Line Frankenstein" present nothing that could not be found in more memorable fashion at least on Paranormal and certainly with more vim and verve on a hundred other rock albums. To look back at Billion Dollar Babies, perhaps the closest point of comparison in terms of sound, we see a similar streamlining of the band's recovering-psychedelic progressiveness into lean, simple rock predicated on showmanship: it's a narrative production, a monologue to the audience. Yet there was still searing counterplay between the musicians and freshness in the compositions, an act that was rehearsed but not calcified. The growly backing vocals, bruising guitar tones, and rote 4/4 verses do not reach me when I know there is a more wicked Alice waiting somewhere in the wings; lead guitarist Nita Strauss collaborated on a song with Alice on her excellent new solo album, The Call Of The Void, that was leagues better than anything to be found here, and it leaves me wondering what new directions could be possible for Alice.
At his worst, Alice Cooper has hit lower lows than this, at least by some measures. Road features no showtunes, the band plays as a synchronized unit, and even at 75 Alice snarls with more vitality than on his "lost weekend" records. The album does manage to pull out of its mire for short reprieves. One of the best tracks is the late-album ballad "Baby Please Don't Go," about as simple and unpretentious a recording as can be found on Road; it still suffers from the maximal overstuffing of sound that handles its bones somewhat indelicately, and taken in the broader context of the album it may seem to be filling a role as the requisite "heartbreaker," as Alice put it, but it is a refreshingly modest track. Following that change of pace is "100 More Miles," a great end to the album proper: lonesome, dilapidated, and sagging beneath the weight of infinite touring, this song sells a mood that is so lacking in the album's earlier rote celebrations. It has a vaguely symphonic build that reflects some of Ezrin's past triumphs with Alice, and though the song vanishes all too quickly at the end of three minutes, it has so much of what Road as a whole lacks: a strong feeling. Then comes the true finale in a cover of The Who's "Magic Bus," a fun rendition that drummer Glen Sobel closes in an impressive fashion with his explosive drum solo.
I want to love any Alice Cooper album and I'm loathe to harp on their shortcomings, especially as each chance for a new release grows more precious than the last, yet I must admit that I am perplexed by the positive reviews being heaped upon Road. What has always attracted me most about Alice Cooper's career is his versatility - even his failed experiments still yielded interesting results, and always a killer couple of tunes to remember years down the line. In his own words, "you can be anything you want to be [...] If the song is great, then you can put it on stage and then you can decorate it any way you want to decorate it, but the song comes first." I can't help but feel that we are losing both the great songs and the decoration with each album that sounds like a less exploratory riff on the last. Stagnation always drives Alice to evolve at some point, and I really felt that Detroit Stories would have been the place to start that; if not there, then here. Two albums of career retrospective in a row are a lot to indulge. I'll go back to hoping that the next album takes me to a place I never expected.
Road does ultimately end on a positive note, however, in the promise that lingers portentously in "100 More Miles": having run 100 miles to get here, Alice has every intention of running the next 100, too. I'm glad to hear Alice with all that confidence - I hope it manifests in something audacious next time.
||Written on 30.09.2023 by I'm the reviewer, and that means my opinion is correct.|
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