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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Alice Cooper: Pretties For You


1) Titanic Overture; 2) 10 Minutes Before The Worm; 3) Sing Low Sweet Cheerio; 4) Today Mueller; 5) Living; 6) Fields Of Regret; 7) No Longer Umpire; 8) Levity Ball; 9) B.B. On Mars; 10) Reflected; 11) Apple Bush; 12) Earwigs To Eternity; 13) Changing Arranging.

Vincent «Alice Cooper» Furnier on vocals and harmonica, Glen Buxton on lead guitar, Michael Bruce on rhythm, Dennis Dunaway on bass guitar, Neal Smith on drums. A bunch of Detroit kids raised and reared on the rock'n'roll craze, mixed and mingled with the Detroit proto-punk scene and the likes of the Stooges and the MC5. Sharp, talented, and obviously poised for success as rock'n'roll's baddest boys.

What fun, then, to realize just how far derailed they were with their first two albums. Since their original record contract was with Frank Zappa, who signed them to his Straight Records label, it is usually assumed that Zappa was, in fact, responsible for the overall sound of Pretties For You. I do not think so; many, if not most, of these "songs" had already been a part of the band's act by the time they met Frank, and the general desire to twist simple, basic rock'n'roll into the weirdest psychedelic shapes possible was quite common among even the most caveman-like bands in the late 1960s (remember Ted Nugent's hallucinogenic past?).

That said, Zappa's style is a major in­fluence on the record, especially on all of its one-minute-long interludes; if, by "psychedelia", we want to mean something like the hippie-style West Coast approach, there is very little trace of that on the record — Alice Cooper, band and artist alike, have always treated hippies with more fiery hatred than the Establishment itself. Some of the guitar solos may remind the listener of Quicksilver Messenger Service-style drone-jamming, but I doubt that the decision could have been conscious: these sounds were all over the air in 1969, and Alice Cooper were all but forced to reproduce some of them, like it or not. Yet the main idea of the music is certainly not to flush out and evacuate your mind from prejudices — rather, it is to flush out and evacuate your neighbours from the premises.

This superficially ugly, unpredictable, devoid-of-meaning geometry-rock clearly falls under the jurisdiction of Captain Beefheart. The big difference is that Alice Cooper are in no position to play it the way Beefheart's Magic Band were able to. Alice Cooper, from the beginning, were a garage band, and they play geometry-rock like a garage band: loud, brutal, technically limited and artistically impoverished. If Trout Mask Replica, from its first note to its last one, is constructed like complex alien music, Pretties For You is basically a bunch of straightforward rockers, and the idea of "weirdness" here is essentially interpreted as cruelly forcing each to break down in the middle — or several times in a row — and imposing some out-of-the-blue ugly new signature or chord change upon the track. For no reason, just like that.

Given, however, the band's obvious songwriting talent, Pretties For You inspires very mixed emotions. On one hand, there may be an impression of it as an unnecessarily, stupidly decon­struc­ted and spoiled hard rock album that might have been much better. Proof? There is some stunning material on it: the epic 'Fields Of Regret', the melancholic pop gem 'Levity Ball' (a bit Pink Floydish in its "astral" sonic arrangement), the cheerful 'Reflected' (later, with all the weird­ness edited out, to become the well-known 'Elected' on Billion Dollar Babies), and even less coherent tunes like 'Sing Low Sweet Cherio' have their moments.

On the other hand, let us face it: we do not hear natural born garage rock bands trying their hand at complex avantgarde art each and every day of our life. The very fact of such an experience is pretty darn novel and intriguing: what we have here is an attempt to combine the uncombinable. (It tempts me very much to whine about how this kind of crazy daringness was only possible in that crazy epoch known as the late Sixties, but this is, of course, not true; what is probably true is that only in the late Sixties could a band come out with a jaw-dropping flop like Pretties For You and still have a long, successful commercial career ahead of them). Maybe the record is awful, but it's hard to deny that it is somewhat... brilliantly awful.

I would still give it a thumbs down, of course, since there is little practical use for geometry-rock when it is done well, and none at all when it is done poorly. Yet in doing so, I am also forced to register a serious complaint from the brain department, which insists that the record should at least be heard, if not necessarily liked — for educational purposes, if nothing else.

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