Monday, May 14, 2007

Alice Cooper: Alive & Kicking

Since I'm already on the subject of Detroit, I'll just mention how much fun I've been having catching up with one of the city's favorite, um, sons: Alice Cooper. I know what I've said about geezer rock and geezer concerts, but for Coop I'd make the exception. He's always known how to put on a good show, and if his latest albums are any indication his ascent as Shock Rock's Elder Statesman does not bespeak an inability to entertain.

I've been giving his last three albums — Dragontown, The Eyes of Alice Cooper, Dirty Diamonds — more than their due of airplay. They represent an interesting musical transformation. Dragontown is a concept album decked out in contempo-gothic trappings, an attempt by Alice to prove his currency among rabble-rousers like Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. It's likeable enough, in its Hieronymous - Bosch - does - a - comic - book way; Cooper evokes both chills and chuckles with his portraits of damned souls (I particularly enjoy "It's Much Too Late," the lament of a pious doofus who can't figure out which god he's managed to offend).

I like Eyes better, 'cos Cooper steps away from the kids in the sandbox and reasserts himself as a rowdy old man of rock and roll. He glories in trailer trash grandiosity ("What Do You Want From Me?", "Backyard Brawl"), acknowledges his age ("Between High School & Old School") then bangs the drum in praise of his pedigree (tearing up the stage with Ziggy and Iggy and the MC5, in "Detroit City"). Not all of the songs have traction, but the ones that do (particularly the three mentioned) really tear up the turf.

At this point I should admit I wouldn't have bothered with Coop at all if he hadn't posted these albums on eMusic, a subscription site that offers terrific value for your money — so long as you know what you're looking for. I found myself at the end of a month, staring at unused credits and unsure of what to try next. I downloaded Eyes, then liked it so much I went with the other two as well.

Of the bunch, Dirty Diamonds is the stand-out winner. Cooper struts from one tawdry platform to the next with absolute confidence, bringing his losers and goons to life and garnishing them with flourishes of wit that generate smiles without the burden of too much self-consciousness. In other words, it's a hoot: rev-engine rock & roll that allows the listener to forget his age for a few minutes as he squeezes out the last rep in the gym, or jumps around the living room with his daughters.

Yes, Detroit doesn't just outperform Toronto at hockey, it does so musically as well (with, perhaps, the sole exception of Rush).


DarkoV said...

The one thing folks may not remember about Alice was that the band was quite humorous. I prefer the earlier stuff like Killer and Love it to Death, but your proclamation of it's a hoot rings so true. Very good musicians not taking themselves too seriously; a model we're sorely missing these days.

Whisky Prajer said...

Killers, Love it to Death, Billion Dollar Babies - that lightning storm has struck and moved on. But I was surprised at just how much fun I was having with the 60-year-old Alice's material. His sense of humour is very much intact, and is terrifically winning. It's curious to note he was one of the first acts that Frank Zappa signed to his first record label. I like Zappa, but I think Alice does a better job of using humour to keep the drama of his songs alive. For Frank, it was all a joke with serious undertones. Alice reversed that formula: start with the shock, and pepper it a bit with a wink.

Alice still has that touch. Just listen to a song like "Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)" I'm thinking he probably had that line bouncing around his brain pan for a while before he fleshed out the story behind it. Catchy, crazy ... vintage Cooper.