ALICE COOPER: EASY ACTION (1970)
1) Mr. And Misdemeanor; 2) Shoe Salesman; 3) Still No Air; 4) Below Your Means; 5) Return Of The Spiders; 6) Laughing At Me; 7) Refrigerator Heaven; 8) Beautiful Flyaway; 9) Lay Down And Die, Goodbye.
A transitional record. You can already witness traces of the classic Alice Cooper sound here, but it is still trying to break through the wall — a wall that, in all fairness, need not ever have existed if the band had been originally brought into the studio by someone other than the original Mother of Invention. Still, history knows no subjunctive, and I dare say further Coop records wouldn't have been half as interesting if not for the Zappa influence.
Actually, Zappa was no longer involved at all during the sessions for Easy Action, an album produced by Neil Young's producer David Briggs who, it has been said by Neal Smith, hated the band and their sound, but still gave it a much more polished, and also heavier, sheen than Zappa did not give Pretties For You. Technically, this is already "hard rock", although still bordering on noise and avantgarde most of the time. The only number that "rocks" in the conventional sense of the word is 'Return Of The Spiders' — the Spiders was one of the band's original names, so it's quite natural that a song thus entitled should plunge us into straightforward garage fervor — but it has no memorable melody to speak of, just kick-ass guitar 'n' drums.
Conventional "songs" include 'Mr. And Misdemeanor', a mid-tempo vaudeville number with distorted guitars replacing barroom pianos; 'Shoe Salesman', a slight nod to Brit-pop and its "little man" values, a particularly bizarre direction for the Coops that they never pursued again; and the Michael Bruce-sung piano ballad 'Beautiful Flyaway', a charming McCartney-style ditty that contains the album's most memorable moments.
In between we meet various uninteresting semi-musical links, as well as lengthier freakouts: 'Below Your Means' is a depressing guitar-and-organ blues jam, while 'Lay Down And Die, Goodbye' is essentially a long cluster of atonality that serves no serious purpose after we have already learned what atonality is with a little help on behalf of everybody from Stockhausen to Zappa. (And it is certainly far less evocative in terms of pure psychedelia than Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd).
It is always ego-pleasing to state, with authority, that you know better than popular opinion, but there really, really is no point in defending Alice Cooper's first two albums other than out of pure historical interest — for instance, some of the aimless jamming and noisemaking would, only a year later, be magically transformed into the visionary instrumental style on Killer, and to witness this change is like observing accelerated cell mutation under a microscope, but whether it can also give one aesthetic pleasure is surely a question of much debate. 'Mr. And Misdemeanor' and 'Beautiful Flyaway' are two solid numbers that would have not been out of place on any of their classic records, and it is sad that the latter did not even make it onto the Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper retrospective; the rest may be heard once and then forever held in peace, so here is another assured thumbs down for all parties concerned.