ALICE COOPER: KILLER (1971)
One can classify this as proto-punk, as hard-art-rock, as Goth theater, as power pop with a dark edge — Killer is one of those records that give the illusion of being easy to pigeonhole, but whatever you pigeonhole it into, it will always be more diverse, experimental, and unpredictable than the basic rules of the genre demand it to be.
Essentially, Killer consolidates all the strengths of Love It To Death (its mean, scary sound and strong songwriting), dispatches with its weaknesses (an occasional tendency to ramble without a point), and throws in lots of additional touches, such as multi-part song structures and diverse instrumentation. My only regret is that, due to the two lengthy "suites", there are only eight songs; surely, given the perfect shape the band was in, they could have made room for two or even four more mini-gems. (I hold the same opinion on the Stones' Let It Bleed, for that matter).
Classic rock radio, with its tightass conservatism that makes even the Catholic church pale in comparison, has only managed to memorize 'Under My Wheels'. Certainly the song is a classic, a big ball of rollickin' fun with the band magically pumping up tension throughout (some of glam rock's greatest use of the horn section, for instance) — fun which you get so caught up in that you do not even realize you're singing about roadkill, and I don't mean squirrels or opossums. So it's a metaphor — big deal.
But Killer is much, much more than just the 'album that yielded that big hit single'. Its main emphasis is not on pure rock'n'roll: even 'Under My Wheels', with the addition of these horns, starts to resemble David Bowie, so the honour of the most canonically "rock" number should go to 'You Drive Me Nervous', a two-minute explosion of teenage anger whose creaky riffage and wild wild screaming guarantee it a solid place in the Punk Hall of Fame. The rest is much more subdued: 'Be My Lover' and 'Yeah, Yeah, Yeah' are catchy guitar-driven pop songs with fun self-referential lyrics ('She asked me why the singer's name was
'Desperado' has been called a tribute to Jim Morrison, but if so, a very veiled one, because on the surface, it's rather a tribute to a Western hero, building up on a little Spanish guitar and a bit of spaghetti atmosphere. But it could be about anyone: 'I'm a killer, I'm a clown, I'm a priest that's gone to town' — words that many people would be happy to sing about themselves. With the exception, of course, that no one could sing it better than Cooper, his dark, deathly voice the perfect vehicle for both the subdued ominous verses and the paranoid chorus.
Opinions are divided about the longer pieces — 'Halo Of Flies' and 'Killer'. For the former, the band has gone on record saying that they wanted to record something à la King Crimson (!), to prove their skill in creating longer, more complex pieces. "Longer" all right, but in terms of musical complexity, of course, 'Halo Of Flies' would never make Robert Fripp suffer from sleep deprivation. Or would it? Each particular musical part that the band's guitarists create is pretty rudimentary by itself, but there's quite a few of them, and each works well on a gut level. Most of the time, non-virtuoso musicians trying to dabble in artsiness "drive me nervous", but 'Halo' manages to create an eerie, unsettling atmosphere and slowly build it up to a galloping, shattering, ecstatic climax — should be played very very loud, by the way — so much so that even the awful, absurd and unfunny lyrics that swing between James-Bondish and gibberish ('And while a Middle Asian lady she really came as no surprise, but I still did destroy her and I will smash halo of flies' — at least, make it grammatical!) are forgotten.
As for 'Killer', which works in a tandem with the preceding 'Dead Babies', these two should arguably be best experienced in the context of the live setting: 'Dead Babies' with the accompanying smashing and chopping of baby dolls onstage, and 'Killer', of course, culminating in the infamous hanging scene, when Alice, cursing and kicking, was led to the gallows to the accompaniment of the solemn funebral organ music. But even without the imagery, 'Dead Babies' is the perfect marriage of Cooper's gut-level shock theater and meaningful social statement; unlike the pure brainless gorefest of 'I Love The Dead' two years later (ooh, necrophagia, yummy!), 'Dead Babies' is, after all, a lament on the so frequently tragic effects of parental neglect.
And then, of course, the title track: 'I came into this life, looked all around, I saw just what I liked and took what I found'. Musically, it is again a concoction of several effective riffs and tempos, not one pattern hanging around for too long and all of them together symbolizing the killer's final journey from arrest to gallows; lyrically, it gives the perfect impression of that typical guy we're all afraid of — you know, the one whom the world forgot to endow with any sort of moral code upon graduation; whether it was the world's fault or his own does not seriously matter here. It all leads to one of the scariest endings in musical history — you just have to remember that the organ music accompanies him to the noose, the dull noise that follows is the opening of the trapdoor, and the evil, ear-bursting noise that follows is... well, you know. Creepy.
Killer is a relatively easy record to dismiss: its lyrics are generally either obvious or absurdly bad, its music simple and unassuming, its shock value very much in-yer-face and almost completely devoid of any subtlety. Next to Lou Reed or