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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Alice Cooper: From The Inside


FROM THE INSIDE (1978)

1) From The Inside; 2) Wish I Was Born In Beverly Hills; 3) The Quiet Room; 4) Nurse Rozetta; 5) Millie And Billie; 6) Serious; 7) How You Gonna See Me Now; 8) For Veronica's Sake; 9) Jackknife Johnny; 10) Inmates (We're All Crazy).

The album cover is pretty clever. We still see Alice «The Monster», painted eyes and mouth and all — but, instead of scaring us by way of the usual grotesquerie, he scares us by letting us know that the monster is, no doubt about it, on the verge of collapsing. Pale white face, eyes wide ope­ned with no emotion other than uncontrolled panic, mouth half-open in bewilderment, this is a very vulnerable, pitiable Alice Cooper staring at his own mortality.

As the Lace And Whiskey tour drew to a close, Alice made his first conscious attempt at kicking the alcohol addiction by checking himself into a New York mental hospital, no less. Unfortuna­tely, it did not work (not for long, at least), but, on the good side, it gave him plenty of shocking impressions — truly shocking impressions — to base his next album around it; a concept record, for the first time in Alice history based on something in the real world, even if the subject (insani­ty) would certainly fit in well with the Coop image; in fact, Alice had already tackled the issue seven years earlier, with 'The Ballad Of Dwight Frye'. Now he'd had some first-hand experience at it, and why let such great material go to waste?

The new approach apparently deserved a new musical setting, and From The Inside sees huge changes in the entourage. First, Alice teamed up with Bernie Taupin, Elton John's royal lyricist (who, as chance would have it, had just temporarily broken up with Elton), to give the lyrics a more serious, poetic twist. Second, along with Bernie, he enlisted part of Elton's own backing band, including Dee Murray on bass and Davey Johnstone on guitar. Dick Wagner still stays on to add an occasional sparkling solo or two, but Steve Hunter is gone, dissolving the duo. The legendary Jim Keltner plays drums, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick guest stars on guitar, and Marcy Levy, the backing singer from Eric Clapton's band, duets with Alice on one number. Now how is that for a quintessential hodge-podge?

As for the songs, they actually do form a real concept — everything is either describing the gene­ral conditions in or impressions of the asylum, or tells little stories of people «hosted» within its walls. Credit usually goes to Cooper, Taupin, and Wagner, occasionally to new producer David Foster (who, for some reason, replaces Bob Ezrin, much as I think Ezrin would have been the perfect producer for this thing — but perhaps he was too busy working on The Wall at the same time), and, frankly, I am not even sure of how much actual musical content — beyond the general «spirit» of the thing — is owed here to Alice in person.

Because if there is something that From The Inside could be compared to, it is definitely not pre­vious Alice Cooper albums, but rather previous Elton John albums — good Elton John albums, that is. The glammy rockers sound like Elton John, MOR-oriented guitars and keyboards and all. The male-female duet between Alice and Marcy brings on memories of Elton and Kiki Dee. The strings arrangements remind one of Paul Buckmaster. And the ballads? Don't even let's start with the ballads. When I think of the ballads, I inevitably come to one of two conclusions: either the whole thing is a hoot and Elton John is the uncredited writer of these melodies, or the whole thing is a different hoot and Bernie Taupin really wrote all the music, while Elton was just sitting there flashing his glasses at the audience.

'How You Gonna See Me Now' is a magnificent ballad, but it is an Elton John ballad; Alice even sings like Elton, borrowing all of his typical moves. Listen to 'just to let you know...', to 'yes I'm worried honey...', to 'you know I've let you down in oh so many ways' — this belongs in the same category as 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight' or 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me'. Not that I mind. Alice or Elton, it is a song that expresses one's horror and shame at the perspective of going back to one's family «after the ordeal», and it is Alice's second shrillest personal confession after 'I Never Cry', only to be surpassed by 'Pass The Gun Around' five years later.

The rest of the album is a delightful — sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes creepy — mix of tongue-in-cheek and deathly seriousness, sometimes within the same song. The rockers have their share of humor, most prominent in 'Nurse Rozetta': we cannot expect an Alice Cooper album with no dirtiness in sight, so here, with salacious metaphors, he describes a patient's sexual fanta­sizing (well, let us face it, not exactly a forced subject for a hospital). The epic ballads are more painful, like 'The Quiet Room' ('I just can't get this wrist to bleed!') and the 'Millie And Bil­lie' duet, which starts off like a really generic Broadway number but then moves into uncomfor­table territory, as, to the ominous sounds of the string orchestra and a drill, the 'criminally insane' Billie is carried away (for lobotomizing?).

Best of all is the skilful conclusion: 'Inmates' is an expertly constructed anthem, alternating Wag­nerian orchestral swoops, stately Eltonian mid-tempo balladry, the traditional Coop school of vaudeville, and a 'Hey Jude'-style conclusion where everyone joins in a cheery chorus of 'we're all crazy, we're all crazy' as the strings dance around them, creating a mock-epic mood where you have no idea whether you are supposed to laugh, cry, or fall into a trance. A perfectly questio­nable ending for an album that gives no answers and passes no judgements. It is not exactly «rea­lism» — Alice's fantasy worlds are too demanding to let him ground himself completely — but it is very close, and, frankly, it might have simply been boring were it all purely realistic.

Not all the songs seem to be on the level — some, as expected, are too heavily focused on the conceptual side to be memorable (e. g. 'Jackknife Johnny') — but the record is in the «grower» category, and, in my case, it grew enough to deserve a thumbs up both from the heart, moved by Furnier's troubles, and the brain, delighted by all the inventiveness and creativity with which these trou­bles have been converted into art.

2 comments:

  1. Also predictably How you gonna see me now was the second Alice Cooper song I heard; it was a hit in my home country The Netherlands. I thought it corny back then and I think it sappy now, more than 30 years later, with all the cheesy ballads on the background. And that guitar solo - if it had been Foreigner or Scorpions playing that you would have flamed it.
    And no way I am interested in refreshing my memories of Elton John and Kiki Dee - Don't go breaking my Heart is simply awful, thank you.

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