Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Alice Cooper - 'Killer'

Rating: 9/A

Alice Cooper's discography currently consists of about 23 studio albums. I've heard about half of these, and a couple of compilations and a live album that fill in some of the gaps in my overall picture of his career. So here's my little recap for you: Alice Cooper's career has 4 broad phases, leaving aside an early one where Frank Zappa tried to make him sound a lot odder in a different way than would come naturally. So, first we have the band Alice Cooper, a collective of aspiring rocksters who played anthemic garage rock, made songs about teen angst issues and B-horror movie scary themes and had a stage show that established them as the sleazier, darker aspect of the then-happening glam rock scene. This is viewed by many as his best phase, and more or less may be. Then, frontman Vince Furnier disbanded the group and assumed the monicker for himself in a more definitive fashion. In this second phase, he relased albums that mostly acted sort of as soundtracks to really twisted Broadway productions. The sound is generally less of a basic rock one, but also varies quite a bit from album to album. This is his most diverse phase, and boasts quite a few badly overlooked albums. Then, in the mid-80s he suddenly re-invented himself as the Godfather of Hair Metal and released a brace of albums that notched up his biggest commercial success for a while, but also tended to submerge his identity, and very real wit, in generic 80s metal stylings and self-parody (not that self-parody isn't always a factor with such an OTT artist with a strong predilection for schlock horror and sleaze themes). As the 80s played out, he seemed to grasp the reins of his career again (translation: fuck off, Desmond Child) and started releasing albums that were sometimes over-metallised but far more dark and with most of the old humour and wit back as well. His commercial come-back seems to have served as the platform for his artistic come-back, so I suppose one shouldn't grudge him the whole 'you're poi-zaaaahn, pumpin' up mah sales' era, but what can a poor boy do but complain about rock n' roll bands?

Anyway, the matter presently at hand is an album from that first, most widely acclaimed phase of his career, and what it's rather awesome, to be honest. Guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce are no hotshot virtuosi, but they are an excellent tag-team for the creation of catchy, muscular and downright enjoyable riff-rock noise. The rhythm section is suitably steady and energetic as well. Together with Alice Cooper and his odd, but oddly non-moronic (which is not to say cerebral or profound) lyrical flair and not especially developed but still effective voice, the original Alice Cooper band was a rather effective outfit, not one that would advance the rock idiom by leaps and bounds (although they still managed to be pretty influential), but then the pleasure of this band isn't about jaw-dropping chops and mind-blowing innovation. It's all about catchy rock songs with a satisfyingly true-to-the-basics crunch and an attitude that's snot-nosed and comic-book morbid, but self-aware at that. Look, if you can't handle cheese served straight without a seasoning of irony you probably mustn't listen to rock music in the first place.

And yes, I shall now come to the songs. The centerpiece of the album is the hilarious and riffy epic Halo Of Flies. It's a little over 8 minutes long and is packed with simple but inventive riffing, and Alice singing about being a top international secret agent. It's awesome stuff, and if a lot of it can seem funny at times, the passion and raw inspiration of the musicianship here is nothing to scoff at. Among the shorter rockers, Under My Wheels is a great piece of teenage thematics and catchy sing-along, while Desperado is a suitably moody character-piece, with Cooper mythologising himself and being incredibly anthemic and free with the vocal hooks. Another epic, the title track, Killer manages to be quite sombre and haunting within the contexts of an album that you can't actually take too seriously (in the best sense of it - good music doesn't always need to be weighty music, no matter what the more politically minded will proclaim). Be My Lover, Yeah Yeah Yeah and You Make Me Nervous are more minor, bu they're all great little garage rock nuggets with a mood and hooks that pull you right in. Dead Babies is an early example of several OTT, melodramatic songs in which Cooper indulges in his relish for the morbid, but it's actually a rather plaintive ode to infant victims of parental neglect if you bother to listen to it rather than react to the image of the artist or his admittedly repulsive stage act for the song.

The average-but-enthusiastic muscianship and basic production values of this album oly add to its charms, if you're at all sensitive to those charms. The balance between more ambitious or atmospheric tracks and the straight-ahead rock songs is nearly perfect, and damn it, Halo Of Flies is so cool. Why can't it be there on all those rock epic songlists you hear on radio or at pubs along with Kashmir, Child In Time and whatnot? It would certainly add to the sheer enjoyment factor and probably has more parts than many more highly-regarded works of rock craftsmanship as well. On the other hand, overplaying would probably kill all the charm of what you can instead consider to be private favourite.

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline Between the dirty rockers and the grimy epics there's no really bummers on this sleazy, shlocky little platter of classic glam affront. Surprisingly tasteful and ambitious without compromising its humble strengths.


Venice Viking said...

In an odd piece of afterbirth of Cooper's rock fame, he even published a graphic novel penned by Neil Gaiman entitled "The Last Temptation." It makes for an interesting bit of reading, more so than KISS's or Megadeth's attempt at entering themselves in the comic book world.

Hum do Harami do said...

That would be his second attemt at a comic appearance; the first being From The Inside, one of his more harrowing albums about the time he detoxed in an insane asylum. It can be downloaded at www.sleazeroxx.com
And Jayps thanks a ton for an awesome review of a truly brilliant album. You really ought to check out more from The AC discography - Dirty Diamonds, his most recent album was immensely satisfying for most part.

JP said...

You're welcome - thanks for giving me the album! Will dig further, for sure.