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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Alice Cooper: Dada


1) DaDa; 2) Enough's Enough; 3) Former Lee Warmer; 4) No Man's Land; 5) Dyslexia; 6) Scarlet And Sheba; 7) I Love America; 8) Fresh Blood; 9) Pass The Gun Around.

By a miraculous stroke of luck, Bob Ezrin, after a period of recuperation from all the stress cau­sed by The Wall, returned one last time to produce what is, today, very commonly recognized as the «lost gem» in Alice's catalog. Of course, all of his early Eighties' records are criminally un­der­rated. But the entire stretch from Flush The Fashion to Zipper Catches Skin, no matter how exciting from a general point of view, was certainly not very Cooperish: the theater vibe suppres­sed, the sci-fi New Wave elements replacing all the hard rock, and the entire balance tipped way too seriously towards the humor and irony end of things.

Dada is, of course, the name of an art movement, somewhat hinted at by the use of a modified Salvador Dali painting as the cover — even though Dali himself was never part of that movement. It is hard to tell whether DaDa the album was in any way stimulated by the Dada trend, though, because, if anything, it quenches most of the surrealistic trends that ran through Cooper's previous albums — even with all of its references to vampires, it is still quite brutally realistic. More likely, the primary use of the title referred to baby talk, and the art connotations, if any, came as an after­thought.

With DaDa, Alice manufactured the impossible: retaining all the best qualities of his later work — incessant experimentation, modernistic production, etc. — he once again gave the fans a quin­tessentially Alice Cooper album, but darker, deeper, creepier than Welcome To My Nightmare ever hoped to be. The biggest difference is that DaDa is not exactly show business. Created and recorded by an essentially dying man — Furnier's alcohol problem was at its absolute peak — it was not accompanied by any subsequent touring, and, in fact, the songs would not easily lend themselves to any reasonable stage treatment. The general atmosphere of the record, some would say, is closely reminiscent of Berlin-era Lou Reed and The Wall-era Pink Floyd: hardly surpri­sing, considering Ezrin's involvement in both of these projects. In fact, it would seem that Bob's goal was to create a little mini-Wall for Alice himself. The continuity is most glaringly observed in the «looping» structure of the album, beginning with the recording of a baby saying 'Dada!...' and ending with the same — but it also deals with pretty much the same subjects throughout: ali­e­nation, parents-children conflict, addiction, psychosis, and guilt.

And, just like Waters was trying to build on his own emotional experiences and traumas, so does Alice transform this into his most personal album. How do we know this, when nothing is made particularly explicit? Well, obviously Alice's father did not sell him out on the streets for cash upon the death of his mother ('Enough's Enough'). In fact, Alice's father was an ordained Elder and anything of the sort would have become the Sacrilege of the Century. But the song, a slow-moving hard-rocker with «light prog» overtones, is so bleak in its lyrics and its arrangement that, no matter how shocking the subject is, it goes way beyond ordinary shock-rock: there is no over­riding desire here to gross out the audience, there is a mad drive to take it out on someone's Dad — someway, somehow.

After the father comes the brother: 'Former Lee Warmer' returns us to the well-explored territory of 'Dwight Fry' and 'Steven', now re-invaded with re-kindled passion and increased experience. Then comes the misogyny, weirdly joined with schizophrenia, in 'No Man's Land'. 'Dyslexia' of­fers one little drop of pure humor ("Is dis love, or is dys-lexia?"), before we are thrust into the hellish Middle Eastern paradise of S&M with 'Scarlet And Sheba', subjected to a poisonously vicious lashing of the stereotypical redneck in 'I Love America', and, finally, immersed into the romantic, but boring and depressing life of a vam­pire stalking its prey on 'Fresh Blood'.

Had all these songs been recorded five or six years earlier, they would have born a Stamp of the Silly; in the context of DaDa, even the ode to vampires takes on a personal aspect; its tired mid-temp funk groove may not be exciting per se, but it fits in very well with the concept of a vampire who keeps on doing his bloodsucking routine out of pure necessity rather than out of some sort of evil excitement and a sense of romantic destiny calling. Same thing with 'Scarlet And Sheba': the exotic sexual pleasures are presented neither as exciting/titillating, nor as dangerous/perfidious — the nagging chorus "I just want your body, Sheba, I don't want your brain" sounds like the prota­gonist does not really care all that much for the body either. Just the same old routine. Same old story. Same old whips and chains. Overfed, overspoiled, disgusted with everything in sight.

No wonder, then, that the album ends on an appropriately suicidal note and arguably the most per­sonal song the Coop ever gave us. 'Pass The Gun Around' is one of his cleverest titles (as much as cultural history has discredited the concept of puns, one has to admit that, in this context, the line "give everyone a shot" is just brilliant), and Ezrin cloaks the song in a gorgeously despe­rate anthemic veil, while the trusty Dick Wagner contributes what I find to be his best guitar solo on an Alice Cooper record — taking a few easily noticeable hints from David Gilmour, but adjus­ting the catharsis mood to his own early-Seventies over-the-top glam style, with breathtaking re­sults. In the end, 'Pass The Gun Around' is a song of epic proportions, tragically overlooked by the music world because it happened to be produced by the wrong artist at the wrong time — or, perhaps, because its subject matter was just too uncomfortable to be hailed publicly.

If it is at all true that great artists tend to produce their greatest art when totally strung out at the end of their rope, there is no greater proof of that than DaDa. The only thing that can, and will, prevent people from hailing it as one of the decade's finest achievements is bias of the «how can an Alice Cooper album not by the original band be anything but a shallow candy wrapper?» kind. Yet even Alice Cooper is human, and, as such, theoretically capable of communicating with his audience through some individual mutation of an art form. If it took him a decade of hard drin­king to get to this point, there definitely is something to be said for hard drinking; at least we can state that not all of that «Stoli Vodka» had been consumed in vain.

Hopefully, when the dust settles and the finest and brightest of our children's children's children begin exploring the Alice Cooper backlog without using 'Poison' or even 'School's Out' as the star­ting point, DaDa will occupy its rightful place of honour. Until that day, I can only give it a major joint thumbs up as a record that does a great job of wiring up the brain and rocking the heart at the same time. Furthermore, it can be a terrific, utterly non-banal way of getting into Ali­ce Cooper in the first place. Start with DaDa — and you will never want to end up with Trash.


  1. I think i can explain how the album is related to the artistic movement. Apollinaire said that "the men created the wheel in an attemp to recreate the human leg. So, just as the wheel imitate the leg but isn't equal to it, DaDa imitate the life, though is not equal to it."
    Alice is recreating his feelings in these stories, but the final result isn't equal to his particular case.
    Respect to the cover, Dalí was a surrealistic artist. Dadaism give birth to surrealism, the two movements are blood brothers. Also, Alice and his old bandmates studied Dalí in school, and were friends of him.
    Another thing: In Enough's Enough the lyrics says "Why'd you hide your brother". It's a reference to Former Lee i think. That man (the father) is the guy from the first song, the one who doesn't recognize his son (or deny have one) years later, i dare say.
    I'm very happy that someone have listened this record and made such a good review. Very glad. At least this FUCKIN MASTERPIECE reach people. A few people, but people at last. And its genius won't fall into oblivion. Greetings from Argentina, George. You da man.

  2. I just noticed, "No Man's Land" borrows a melodic move from Aerosmith's "Woman of the World".
    Exciting stuff. I should collect all my observations of this kind and publish them in book form.

    1. i think that is because Dick Wagner was the guitar player in Get Your Wings too