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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Alice Cooper: Hey Stoopid


1) Hey Stoopid; 2) Love's A Loaded Gun; 3) Snakebite; 4) Burning Our Bed; 5) Dangerous Tonight; 6) Might As Well Be On Mars; 7) Feed My Frankenstein; 8) Hurricane Years; 9) Little By Little; 10) Die For You; 11) Dirty Dreams; 12) Wind-Up Toy.

From a rigidly formalistic point of view, Hey Stoopid is an utterly faithful sequel to Trash: one more batch of big fat glam-metal tunes that sacrifice the Cooperishness of Cooper for the sakes of mo­dern commercial values. From the economic point of view, Hey Stoopid was a financially un­satisfactory venture — not only did it fail to repeat the success of Trash, but it plummeted down so fast that people might have missed its appearance altogether, were it not for the lucky move of featuring one of the songs in Wayne's World. From my personal point of view, Hey Stoopid sim­ply kicks ass in a way that none of the three preceding albums could ever hope to.

Let me put it this way: Trash, for the most part, could have been recorded by any ballsy artist of its era, and nobody would have winked. It was Alice's conscious experiment in getting himself anally penetrated with corporate songwriting, from which he inarguably gained financial and ar­guably — sexual satisfaction. Hey Stoopid, on the other hand, shows the man still embracing the trappings of the genre, but it is an undeniably Alice album, one on which he has finally initiated the process of restoring his artistic integrity. And I do not even mean such superficial messages as the haunting wail of "Steven!.." at the album's end, bringing on a feeling of nostalgia for 1975. I mean that an Alice Cooper album is supposed to sting, and this one stings.

Let us begin with the worst. We still have a share of moronic cock-rockers and pompous power ballads. 'Snakebite' is not a very useful song, not much of an improvement over 'House Of Fire', except a little faster. 'Burning Our Bed' and 'Die For You', following tradition, dress cheap sen­ti­mentality in hymn form and fail, quite miserably so (me never having been a major worshipper of 'Only Women Bleed', I cannot help but wonder just how much «weightier» the average com­mer­cial­ly-oriented pop ballad of the 1970s used to be).

But overall, the standards have improved. For instance, 'Dirty Dreams' could have easily been the equal of 'Snakebite'. Instead, it is given this crunchy, catchy, hilarious riff that is more T. Rex or Cheap Trick than Mötley Crüe, and only the obligatory (but somewhat fun) finger-flashing guitar solo truly gives it away. And 'Might As Well Be On Mars' (which is not really about Mars, but about the inability to get together — apparently, even non-stop fucking eventually has to stop) could have easily been the equal of 'Die For You', but it is given an artsy, «spacy» arrangement that befits the title and a lengthy coda where guitars engage in a fierce battle with strings until both run out of steam and get swallowed up by 'Feed My Frankenstein'. Hardly a timeless classic, because the powerhouse chorus still sucks, but the classy touches certainly justify Dick Wagner's one-time involvement with the creation of this particular tune.

Wagner, however, only guests on one track. The rest are dominated by more trendy guitar heroes — no expense has been spared, as Alice enlists Vinnie Moore, Slash, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, sometimes several of them on the exact same song. (For pointless trivia lovers, Ozzie Osbourne also helps out with backing vocals on the title track, and Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe fame plays bass on 'Feed My Frankenstein'). Of course, this is overkill, and even those who claim to be fans will probably enjoy these guys more on their own records. Still, it is undeni­able that all of them have better technique than Kane Roberts, and more inventiveness than who­ever it was responsible for the guitar work on Trash. And if you are determined to make a glam metal album, why should you want anything less than the best? This is a very demanding genre — nothing but the best really works.

I sincerely believe that three of these songs at least deserve as much recognition as anything Alice ever did, before or after (with the fourth one — the title track, a spitting warning for the fans not to waste themselves away — closing in not too far behind). First, 'Love's A Loaded Gun'. This one should be in everybody's handbook on how to write a non-cringe-inducing power ballad, ex­cept it is not properly a ballad, because it is a threat song, not a love song. Tense, memorable, pa­ranoid, acid sharp in terms of both riffs and solos, it follows the outlines of Trash, but with much more wit and bite, and it has the second most exciting use of the "Pull the trigger!" exclamation in rock history (the first one, of course, is attested for AC/DC). Plus, it gives you something to think about when you consider Alice's ironic tribute to Robert Johnson: where the latter used the image of 'her suitcase in her hand' as a starting point for unraveling his own misery, Alice uses it as the starting point for revenge — no time for sissying around for this guy.

Second — yes, you guessed — 'Feed My Frankenstein'. Vai and Satriani battle it out in the solo section, but that is actually the least interesting section for those who already know a little about either of them. The most interesting thing is how, torn between the necessity of writing about dirty sex and horror shows, Alice manages to come up with a song that deals with both at the same time, using healthy, decent cannibalism as a metaphor for sick, indecent you-know-what, and combining it with great riffs and (finally!) his old sense of humour for good measure. "Feed my Frankenstein, meet my libido!" is certainly silly, but it makes you laugh, and yet, at the same time, this is nowhere near the comfy safety of sex-oriented material on Trash — I can hardly imagine the respectable bourgeois headbanging to "I'm a hungry man but I don't want pizza..."

Third and most important — do not miss on that one! — is 'Wind-Up Toy'. Refreshing! Alice returns here to what he does best: impersonating the mentally deficient. (Leave it to guys with a seriously higher-than-average IQ to be the most efficient spokesmen for the retarded ones). Appa­rently, what we have here is the reappearance of Steven, shut up in an asylum and shut out from the outside world; but to hell with "Steven" — this thing need have no name. One big mistake that people commit with this song is calling it «spooky», or expecting it to be so: the actual music is not one bit spooky, nor is Alice's performance; this is not 'Black Juju', this is a realistic song that tries to pick at the deepest inner feelings of the Down's syndrome guy, and it really does not hit its full stride until the coda, when Alice's piercing wail ('I'm just a wind-up toy, a wind-up, wind-up, wind-up toy!') cuts through the wall of sound. That is the scariest moment — «scariest», not «spookiest» — much more so than the Steven King-ish voiceovers at the end, and it is one of those rare instances where the Coop succeeds in getting across real pain, suffering, and desperati­on rather than their exciting, but cartoonish projections.

All of this translates as «mixed bag, but with a well-discernible positive trend for the whole fac­tory», and, consequently, as a hearty thumbs up — with only three or four songs out of twelve ranking below expectations. To this I should probably add that Hey Stoopid was released just a few months before the grunge ex­plosion, which possibly explains its inability to find the same market as Trash, but something tells me that, had the hair metal rule managed to last for another decade, Cooper's next record in the same genre might have completely overcome the genre's weak­nesses. Fortunately, with the hair metal empire collapsing around him, for his next offering he already didn't have to.


  1. Just a fun fact for you on this one... "Feed My Frankenstein" was actually co-written by the Coop and Zodiac Mindwarp (Mark Manning, a (former?) graphic artist and (former?) Flexipop editor) (well, and a few other people). Manning formed his band (as Zodiac Mindwarp, naturally), the Love Reaction, in the 80s. They played a parody of the cock-rock of the time. It's amusing, but saying they're a truly great band is a blatant lie. They recorded their own version of the song on their 1991 album, but it's no great shakes, especially compared to the Coop's version.

    Still, an amusing little footnote in rock history. I've been meaning to mention this since I first saw the old version of your site (which was after you stopped updating it).

    Still glad for every version of this record, it's made me reappraise it many times.

  2. Got this album yesterday in a 3-pack with Trash and The Last Temptation - I already had Trash but it was still cheap enough to be worth it. Anyway, I disagree completely. I've only listened once so far, but this album for me is a sequel of Trash, but for me it lacks the immediate hooks. I'm pretty sure Trash's hooks were loud and in my face from the first listen of it. I think they're much weaker on here. Just me.