Now, before the nattering nabobs of negativism start slinging incendiary phrases like "conflict of interest" and "comically sniveling" around (Jeffrey Morgan penned the liner notes to Rhino’s Alice Cooper box set. — ed.), just let me say this about that: The readers of Metro Times Detroit have a right to know whether their rock critic is taking payola. Well let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am not taking payola. I've earned everything I've got.
And although I don't live high on the hog, as my good friend Jim "Dandy" Mangrum would say, I did manage to save up enough money once to buy Kathy a coat. Not a fur coat, mind you, but a good Republican cloth coat.
Now then, about this new Alice Cooper album.
The first thing you’ll notice, as evidenced by the album’s title and cover photo, is that Alice has changed his trademark eye makeup for the first time in more than 30 years. To fully understand the significance of this move, it must be remembered that the single most important factor determining Alice’s image has been the evolution of his eye makeup from mincing to menacing.
The eerily disturbing, fem-demented, spider-eye design of Pretties For You, Easy Action and Love It To Death evolved after Killer into two dark malevolent orbs of death which would instantly be known as Alice's trademark visage, cementing his new persona as chief atrocity exhibitor of a new brand of dementia: Evil as a commodity.
Thus, by reverting to a modified splatter design, Alice is consciously signifying a return to the snidely snarky and darkly droll humor of his earliest days; a maverick move which signals — as befitting the anarchy logo adorning Alice's name — that it’s time to ditch the dire-warning diatribes and have some rebellious fun for a change, in lieu of yet another album crammed with cautionary warnings.
Because after the salvation-seeking, torn-from-today’s-headlines trilogy of The Last Temptation, Brutal Planet and Dragontown, Alice has opted to eschew those harrowing urban terror tales and take a break from trying to salvage the world. Having hammered home his moral point in spades, Alice has stepped down off his soapbox and removed his The End Is Near sandwich board to rock ’n’ roll like there's no tomorrow. And starting with the very first track, he does just that.
In "What Do You Want From Me," the macho man who hated Oprah and opera in Dragontown’s "Fantasy Man" becomes the ultimate pussy-whipped protagonist who’s forced to give up seeing his drinking buddies because his worse half demands to be escorted to the opera instead. Yet no matter what this poor schmuck does, it’s never enough to sate her scabrous soul. "I burned all of my porno," he laments. "I disconnected my X-Box … dumped all my girlfriends … given you everything. What do you want from me, baby?!?"
It gets worse. In "Man Of The Year," Alice does everything it takes to be a model citizen but, just like the harried organization man profiled in Brutal Planet’s "Sanctuary," he’s doomed to an early demise from day one. There’s literally an upside to this downer, however: "I lied in perfect state," Alice brags, breaking one of the seven deadlies even in death. "And later I will meet the Lord. I bet he can’t wait to meet The Man Of The Year."
Then, as if suffering through yet another ignominious identity crisis in "Between High School And Old School" wasn’t bad enough, Alice gets the deep freeze treatment in "Novocaine." Then, adding insult to injury, he gets the long distance cold shoulder in "Bye Bye, Baby" but what a way to go. I tell ya, there’s nothing like a buncha horny horns bleating behind a wall of wailing guitars to generate that classic swaggering "Under My Wheels" feel. And in 2003, it doesn’t get much better than that.
But it does get a lot worse. "Be With You Awhile" is the kind of wretched, mush-sodden romantic ballad that only a submissive pussy-whipped castrate could be forced to enjoy. But, hey, even the Coop’s got a right to make a few bucks from all them pansy soft-rock radio stations, right? Besides, that’s why the Bud Light Institute invented the fast-forward button.
Luckily, it’s at this point that the album kicks into nitro-fuelled overdrive, beginning (appropriately enough) with "Detroit City," a witty inner-city ditty which you all know about by now. Face it: any song that can namedrop Iggy Pop, David Bowie, the MC5, Ted "Offensive" Nugent, Bob Seger, Kid Rock, and Eminem in a scant 30 seconds flat — thus leaving lots of primo space for Mr. Kramer to work his magic — is more than worthy of the Motor City moniker.
Keeping the revs into the red, "Spirits Rebellious" is as wildly raucous a raver as you’re likely to hear these days. But it’s not all fun and games, as "This House Is Haunted" ably attests. This theatrical contrapuntal centerpiece is the best aural delineation of Alice’s inner demons since Welcome To My Nightmare’s "Steven." No, really. This diseased little jewel is a malignancy of the highest order.
And as for "Love Should Never Feel Like This," suffice to say that this is what a romantic song should sound like. Has any writer ever described the debilitating physical effects of love more accurately than Alice when he says that it makes you "look like a junkie who’s been strung out on meth"? Roll over, Rod McKuen! And tell Leonard Cohen the news.
Meanwhile, "The Song That Didn’t Rhyme" is an ironic cautionary tale of woe which concerns the all-too-common malady of studio time gone seriously wrong. It’s all about "a 3-minute waste of your time, with no redeeming value of any kind" Alice warns. "But thanks for the $12.99."
Then, in the best "I’m Your Gun" curtain-closing tradition, the final two tracks ("I’m So Angry" and "Backyard Brawl") roar toward the finish line like a mobile WMD lab with acid-severed brakes, steered by Slim Pickens. But make no mistake, The Eyes Of Alice Cooper is a much better rock ’n’ roll album than Trash ever was.
Maybe it’s that painting stashed in the attic but amazingly, whatever the reason, the trademarked tough-as-nails timbre in Alice’s voice is as strong as ever. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before but, hard as it may be for you to believe — and, truth be told, sometimes I can’t believe it myself — Alice Cooper is still here, rocking out like all get-out.
Which is why, even though Alice hasn’t attended a political convention since the last time he ran for President, there’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Wild Party delegates the world over will unanimously nominate this album on the very first ballot.
In other words, The Eyes have it.
E-mail Jeffrey Morgan at [email protected].