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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Alice Cooper: Lace And Whiskey


ALICE COOPER: LACE AND WHISKEY (1977)

1) It's Hot Tonight; 2) Lace And Whiskey; 3) Road Rats; 4) Damned If You Do; 5) You And Me; 6) King Of The Silver Screen; 7) Ubangi Stomp; 8) (No More) Love At Your Convenience; 9) I Never Wrote Those Songs; 10) My God.

Lace And Whiskey initiates an entirely new period in Alice Cooper history, one that has been much maligned and misunderstood by the public at large. From 1977 to 1984, Alice «Monster» Cooper did not exist, except for the stage, and even there its presence was seriously limited. In its place, the world saw Alice «Human» Cooper, a simple, but smart, human being, tired of the old shock-rock image and looking for new ways to channel his creativity.

The world never succeeded in loving him that way. Experimentation was taken to represent loss of direction and paranoid confusion; innovation was seen as selling out; and sincerity and vulne­rability was seen as weakness and silliness. Alice himself looks back upon that period with cau­tion and mistrust, occasionally reviving a number or two, but generally preferring not to remind the fans about its existence. However, he has his own special reason: these years also marked the peak of his alcohol-related problems, and all the records he made back then are inesca­pably tied in with his personal nightmares.

But this is exactly what makes this period so fascinating — in my humble opinion, far more fascinating than his clever, but boring commercial «comeback» in the mid-Eighties. Lesser artists may stink when they struggle; artists of Furnier's caliber will shine. Lace And Whiskey has been frequently called the nadir of Alice Cooper's career, in deep stagnation until the final big rebound with 1986's Constrictor. I can only hope that, in time, more people will learn to recognize Con­strictor for what it is — a fun, but cheesy, shallow, dated, overtly calculated shell of a record — and come back to Lace And Whiskey as a serious, memorable, and exciting venture.

As usual, there is a concept behind the album, this time a very different one. Alice reinvents him­self as some sort of gangster movie / comic strip personage from the Roaring Twenties («detective Maurice Escargot», he used to introduce himself during shows), telling tales of glam, vice, and Hollywood, and, predictably, deviating into other directions like every good concept album is supposed to deviate. The music, however, is only occasionally «retro»; on the contrary, the LP is crammed with heavy riff tunes, pompous Seventies balladry, a little disco, and some art-rock to complete the picture. (Another reason why critics hated the stuff: in the new­ly nascent age of punk, you were not supposed to do any of that, and Alice fell right in with the other «dinosaurs» like the Stones and the Who).

If anything, though, already the opening trio of hard rockers should be enough to redeem the al­bum. 'It's Hot Tonight', propelled by a classic Dick Wagner riff, is Alice's only bit of Satanic fun on the record, his most perfect musical recreation of hellish fever before 1994's Last Temptation. The title track, mixing hard rock with vaudeville, exposes the Coop's own alcohol problems, even if on the surface he is playing an old-time character ('gimme lace and whiskey, mama's home re­medy, double indemnity...' — see?); it takes a few listens to get through to the real pain encoded in the chorus, but once you do, those desperate backing vocals will never sound the same.

Alcohol problems, however, never hindered Cooper, Ezrin, and Wagner from rewarding us with the musical masterpiece that is 'Road Rats', Alice's little ode to those faithful roadies without whom there would have been no pythons, chopped dolls, electric chairs, or guillotines: 'we work this band cause they make it rock, but we're the guys that make it roll'. I have no idea why the song is never hailed as a Coop classic; certainly its riffs are simple, but they are every bit as impressive and inspiring as something like 'No More Mr. Nice Guy'. Maybe a different set of lyrics would have worked better — not everyone wants to hear about «low-life scum». Whatever be the case, 'Road Rats' is wedged, quite firmly, in my personal A. C. top 10.

The record certainly gets more lightweight from there, bouncing from style to style in a drunk stupor, but how fascinating it all is! '(No More) Love At Your Convenience' is the one truly weak spot, a misguided attempt at a soft disco hit (and even then, it is sort of catchy). 'Damned If You Do' and the much-reviled cover of the old rockabilly ditty 'Ubangi Stomp' are simple, unpreten­tious, danceable fun; 'King Of The Silver Screen' is a mighty epic character assassination, with Alice blasting off his irony guns at the little man voicing his fantasies; 'I Never Wrote Those Songs' is a deeply personal, confessional ballad, still waiting for appreciation; and 'My God' is one of the weirdest album closers in Alice's career... a glam gospel number?

And out of all these crazy, mighty interesting genre experiments, the public at large has only managed to re­member Alice's third-in-a-row soft ballad hit single, 'You And Me', arguably the most cheaply sentimental of his creations (not coincidentally, it was 'You And Me' that Frank Si­natra decided to cover rather than the more personal 'I Never Cry' or the more biting 'Only Women Bleed'). Granted, the duet version with Miss Piggy was awesome in the Muppets context, but who can refrain from smiling upon hearing Alice Cooper, the God of Shock Rock, sing 'that's enough for a working man — what I am is what I am' as if that were correct?

Meet Lace And Whiskey, mama's home remedy, a fabulous blunder of a record, a fun journey through uncertainty, self-irony, pain, genre-hopping, and a bunch of excellent melodies. We all reach a certain point in our lives when we can cope with a little disco and a little sentimentality, and if that's what it takes to get songs like 'Road Rats', 'It's Hot Tonight', and 'I Never Wrote These Songs' in return, thumbs up without second thought. Oh, and he had chickens dancing with Tommy guns during live performances of the title track — how cool is that?

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