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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Alice Cooper: Flush The Fashion


ALICE COOPER: FLUSH THE FASHION (1980)

1) Talk Talk; 2) Clones (We're All); 3) Pain; 4) Leather Boots; 5) Aspirin Damage; 6) Nuclear Infected; 7) Grim Facts; 8) Model Citizen; 9) Dance Yourself To Death; 10) Headlines.

This time, the cover proudly flashes the inscription «ALICE COOPER '80», which makes it a little dubious that Alice is truly going to «flush the fashion». On the contrary, he embraces the fashion — not to the point of sacrificing his old self, but to the point of sacrificing his old sound. This is the sharpest, least expected shift in his solo history so far.

At each step in Alice's career, there was a small disgruntled group of old fans who would jump ship; Flush The Fashion must have caused a particularly large disturbance. Openly and shame­lessly, the album borrows the musical trappings of the likes of The Cars: old guitar-driven pop rock structures dressed in trendy modern electronic clothes — industrial synthesizers, ping pong percussion, even processed vocals (sometimes). Why should Alice Cooper, father of all things shock, innovator extraordinaire, now reinvent himself as a New Waver, imitating those who grew up on his own records, among other things?

It is sometimes easy to forget here that, musically speaking, Alice Cooper — neither the band nor the solo artist — never «invented» anything; their chief know-how was their image, not the music, which, despite generally being high quality, always looked up to somebody else. If the guy could look up to the Stones, or the Who, or Bowie, or Elton John, why can't he look up to The Cars?

Particularly since Flush The Fashion, looking at it from a particular point of view, is better than most Cars albums (and I like The Cars quite a bit). Surprisingly, there are no more ballads — breaking up with the well-estab­lished tradition, Alice chose the weird sci-fi rock of 'Clones' to forward his new image — and the ten pop-rock songs put such a heavy emphasis on irony and humor that it is all but impossible to get seriously offended or bored by the material, even if you find it uneven.

Among the good news is Alice's simultaneous decision to refresh and renew his rock'n'roll roots. The record opens with a gritty electronic reworking of The Music Machine's garage classic 'Talk Talk' (this was way before Nuggets, in the form of a bulky boxset, became an obligatory requirement for the refined music fan), includes a brief, but fun rockabilly snippet ('Leather Boots') and, despite all the keyboard-heavy production style, includes a fair share of seriously ass-kicking riffs ('Nuclear Infected', 'Grim Facts', etc.). 'Talk Talk' is, in fact, fairly symbolic of the album as a whole: Cooper drags out a retro obscurity, implying that rock'n'roll ain't and never was noise pol­lution, gives it a contemporary arrangement, implying that it makes no sense not to change, and comes out with a winner, implying that best results are always gotten when the old and the new go hand in hand, rather than taking pot shots at each other.

As for the humor, it is well on the level — no slapstick in sight, satire a-plenty: 'Clones (We're All)' is a nasty swipe at mass mentality; 'Aspirin Damage' exposes the addiction problem with the aid of an unforgettable — especially if you are a third-grader — chorus ('Sometimes I find myself shaking from the medication taken!'); 'Pain' is Alice in his native element, an anthem sung from Pain's point of view ('It's a compliment to me to feel you screaming through the night', he conclu­des in classic «Steven»-like fashion); and 'Model Citizen' continues the artist's crusade against the self-important bourgeois. For those who like their humor/grit ratio at around 1 : 4, there is 'Grim Facts', where Alice «slices through the vices» both with his angriest vocal performance on the re­cord and Davey Johnstone's fittingly «grim» guitat melody — and you can certainly see the seeds of born-again Christianity sown with the Coop's creepy tales of teenage moral decay.

It may be a little sad to realize that Furnier has, once again, completely disappeared behind the Alice Cooper mask; his true (or, at least, «true-looking») personality, having broken through thick crust on Goes To Hell and culminated with From The Inside, has now gone into hiding again — no doubt, due to the temporary alcohol-free relief after the sanitarium experience. But then, expecting to have regular glimpses of Alice Cooper's true face is about as justified as expec­ting the same from one of Shakespeare's clowns: their function is simply different, and Flush The Fashion is as typical of the typical Alice Cooper function as the typical Alice Cooper function typically gets, and this should be deemed good enough.

Flush The Fashion is almost criminally short (less than half an hour), and has a couple oddities-among-oddities whose effect, either expected or actual, is not well understood (e. g., the obscure purpose of the mix of mid-1970s Stones-style riffage and Dylan-style vocalization on 'Dance Yourself To Death'). But overall, this is a brilliant reinvention that allows Alice to stay in touch with the times while being true to his vision — and it opens wide the doors to one of his most interesting, if, unfortunately, most neglected musical periods that would last for three more years and three more albums. Thumbs up by all means.

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