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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Alice Cooper: Constrictor


1) Teenage Frankenstein; 2) Give It Up; 3) Thrill My Gorilla; 4) Life And Death Of The Party; 5) Simple Dis­obe­dience; 6) The World Needs Guts; 7) Trick Bag; 8) Crawlin'; 9) The Great American Success Story; 10) He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask).

Freedom of choice or predetermination? In 1983, Alice had but two options: go down by losing all the vital organs, or make one last desperate attempt to break his dependency. He chose the lat­ter, and must be commended for it. But, having cleaned up his act and taken a two-year break from the music industry altogether, the only smart logical choice for the next step was to re-estab­lish his sunk career. And when 1986, the absolute worst year for music in XXth century, is on the threshold, how do you re-establish your sunk career? That's right: by putting out the inarguably most rotten record of your entire career.

It is not difficult to understand the driving force behind this. The Coop did not just want to go back to making records again; he was in acute need of something that would reinstate his confi­dence in himself and his power over the crowds — not to mention acute need of replenishing his bank account. He also probably experienced some nostalgia for the horror shows of old, which he hadn't produced for about a decade now. In short, the man needed to be back!

But the man was also smart enough to understand that, if he wanted to capture a new audience of Eighties' teens, he had to meet their contemporary expectations. Since synth-pop was obviously not a good choice, the only other one was hair metal. Accordingly, Alice hired a hair metal guita­rist by the name of Kane Roberts, who satisfied pretty much every single cliché of the genre: big, brutal, utterly stupid riffs and meaningless finger-flashing solos, played by a hairy dude with a Rambo complexion whose every stage move suggested having missed a successful career in porn flicks in favour of a misguided stunt at music-making. The rest of the band were mostly complete unmentionables. And Dick Wagner must have been begging on the streets.

The corny, mock-creepy arrangements would have probably ruined the album even if Alice made the mistake of populating it with well-written songs. Fortunately, he did not; with his superpower IQ, he calculated that dumb times called for dumb tunes, and every single one of these ten songs must have been conceived and hummed during a quick bathroom break. Lyrically, there are three subjects: (a) «rebellion» ('Simple Disobedience'; 'Give It Up') — generic verses about teenage unrest, which, in this context, are about as smart as the album gets; (b) «shagging» — Alice had long since be­come only very modestly and occasionally interested in picturing the basic elements of this pro­cess on record, but, since he now had to compete with Mötley Crüe, there was hardly any choice ('Crawlin'; 'Trick Bag'); (c) «gore» — now that the horror show was back, it needed fresh songs, and, since most Eighties' teens had a hard time understanding the concepts of «irony» and «metaphor», the images had to be slapped in their faces on a far more direct level ('Teenage Frankenstein'; 'The World Needs Guts' — the titles speak for themselves).

Cooper's expertise still shows through in that most of the tunes are mildly catchy: you take one or two listens, you look back at the song names, and you will get a devilish urge to hum them and make yourself look silly. (I still think it was a particularly dirty trick on Alice's part to make peo­ple sing along to the lines 'Where were you when the monkey hit the fan? Thrill my gorilla!'). The teens were impressed — to the point of putting Alice back on the charts (the record hit No. 59, his highest since Flush The Fashion). The new show was also successful, with Alice setting new records for the amount of blood'n'guts splattered around, getting into good old confrontations with local authorities, and, overall, having a mighty good time with it all. And he probably nee­ded this — who knows, maybe if he did not succeed in this corny comeback, his confidence would have been shattered forever and we would have been deprived of his later artistic succes­ses (not to mention that he could have easily gone back to drinking).

But to understand is one thing, and to forgive and enjoy is another. When your comeback single, presumptiously titled 'He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask)', is not even a bona fide rocker, but a goofy pop song propelled by the cheapest synthesizer patterns in existence, not to mention a legitimate part of the soundtrack to Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (!), you know for sure this is not a record that is going to go down in history as a classic. What you do know for sure is that it is just one more piece of evidence of how deep down the drain mainstream taste had gone in ten years. In 1973, the world wanted Alice Cooper to give it Billion Dollar Babies; in 1986, the world was fairly happy to have Constrictor. Play them back to back. Taste the difference. Times have sure changed, haven't they? Please join me in my thumbs down.

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