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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Alice Cooper: Trash


1) Poison; 2) Spark In The Dark; 3) House Of Fire; 4) Why Trust You; 5) Only My Heart Talkin'; 6) Bed Of Nails; 7) This Maniac's In Love With You; 8) Trash; 9) Hell Is Living Without You; 10) I'm Your Gun.

Trash is a puzzle. At least, it is fun to think of it as a puzzle. First, it was Alice's startlingly unex­pected commercial breakthrough, his biggest critical and especially commercial success since God knows when. Second, it eventually became one of Alice's most despised albums — at least, on the part of both the old guard of The Monster's long-term fans, and the newer generation of picky eaters, free from the virus of the Eighties. Third and final, it is not really as painfully flat and obvious a re­cord as it may seem — it deserves some serious thinking.

That the primary idea behind Trash was to endear Alice to a whole new brand of young admirers and to solidify his commercial base is beyond doubt. Why else would he want to enlist corporate songwriter Desmond Child to help out with the writing and recording of most of the songs? Why else all the guest star appearances by Jon Bon Jovi and members of Van Halen and Aerosmith? Why else replace the perversely charismatic, but over-brutal figure of Kane Roberts with slicker, more self-controlled, but even more faceless guitarists? Why else have Diane Warren in person co-write one of the songs (thankfully, not one of the ballads)?

And yet, I do not think it is entirely correct to dub Trash a direct «sell out». Rather, it is a curious «experiment in selling out» — a little game that the Coop played on society for his own personal amusement. When people «sell out», this normally surmises a conscious (or, sometimes, subcon­scious) rejection of one's own artistic ambitions as you plainly enslave whatever talent you have — singing, playing, writing — to the industry people, who gain the right to fuck with it in any way they like, depen­ding on the current fashion. Most frequently, however, people are at least marginally ashamed of selling out, trying to somehow mask the cheapness of their product by in­cluding something «personal» or «complex» or trying to save at least a couple of their old trade­marks, so they can cling to some straw in case they get pummelled in interviews.

Trash, however, is different in at least two ways. First, Alice never made a single other album that sounds like it — Hey Stoopid did carry on with the glam-metal image, but, in effect, already began the «artistic healing» period for the man. Second, it is so overtly cheap, so blatantly com­mercial from top to bottom, so completely un-Alice-like, that, once you look at it sideways, it be­comes all but impossible to regard it as anything other than a vile joke played upon the old fans, or, come to think of it, upon the new ones as well — the mindless idiots who are bound to be zom­bified into sending the man's least relevant record high up the charts. After all, isn't the album title a dead giveaway? Couldn't the sole reason behind this record consist in Alice, and others, being able to say «Look at them kids today, digging all that trash!»

So what do we have here, anyway? Ten metallic tracks (eight pop rockers, two power ballads) that have switched their allegiance from W.A.S.P. to Bon Jovi. The guitar riffs and solos are still heavy, but have been thoroughly cleaned up, sanitized, and made catchier. The horror imagery and slasher movie references have been expurgated — but the dirty sex remains, multiplied ten-fold. Basically, Trash is an album about non-stop fucking, which was just about the hottest topic in mainstream America in 1989, Tipper Gore notwithstanding; predictably, it takes a couple ro­mantic breaks on the ballads that appeal to higher sentiments, but, since we all know that a real man is supposed to use higher sentiments as simply a required pretext for anal sex and golden showers, the romantic breaks never take too long. Sure, we know that it's 'only my heart talkin', but what it really says is 'I'll lay you down and when all else fails, I'll drive you like a hammer on a bed of nails'. Now that's some talking!

Are the songs any good? Well, it is certainly not the worst that Eighties' glam-metal had to offer. In terms of songwriting, actually, I would think of it as an improvement over the previous pair of records. There are some interesting riffing ideas — simplistic, but effective, as on 'Spark In The Dark', or slightly more complex, as on 'This Maniac's In Love With You'. The choruses are nearly always catchy, and some are fun to sing along with, unlike that 'chop chop chop' abomination. Really, if you manage to quench the theoretical fire of indignation — «Alice Cooper, the creative artist, recording something like this?» — Trash is an okay piece of Eighties' party muzak.

I have no idea, though, why the album's biggest hit (and, up to this day, still Cooper's best re­cognized tune, a situation unlikely to change until the cursed Eighties generation, myself included, has died out) was 'Poison'. 'Poison' is simply too slow and lumbering to offer much in the way of headbanging, yet too aggressive to qualify as a power ballad. These two extremes are much better represented by, respectively, the title track, whose dirty riffs and raspy vocals are «trash», and 'Only My Heart Talkin', on which Alice and Steve Tyler merrily compete over who gets to sing in a more «ugly beautiful» manner. But 'Trash' wasn't even a single, and 'Only My Heart Talkin' failed to become a significant hit. Go figure.

'Spark In The Dark', with its near-perfect pop structure, and 'Trash', which transcends ugliness, are, to me, the only true standouts on the record. Most of the other songs do their job well, adding to the general success of the experiment. But the only reason for the overall album to exist that I can think of is that Alice's experience as a veteran shock-rocker may matter, and that, from a certain point of view, a fourty-year old guy can sing a bunch of songs about animal pleasures in a more convincing manner than twenty-five-year old whippersnappers. In other words, there is something about Trash that is viler, meaner, and dirtier than about any Mötley Crüe or Twisted Sister record. But is it a good thing? I have no idea. One thing is for certain: if you like catchy pop-metal tunes about sex sung by a decent family man pretending to be a dirty old pervert, Trash is your number one re­cord to satisfy that passion. Out of respect for this market niche, I re­frain from rating it.


  1. Guess what? Poison is the third song of Alice Cooper I was exposed to. Well, I never was impressed by Bon Jovi either. That Alice has a more interesting voice can't hide the fact that the song belongs to that miserable genre. It may be one of the better representatives, but what exactly does that say?

  2. I like this album. I do feel the Bon Jovi similarity (example, you can sing the chorus of "Bad Medicine" in the chorus of "Bed of Nails") but it's still better IMO. I highly doubt Bon Jovi managed to put this many infectious choruses (with only a couple of obviously fillers) on any single album they did (don't quote me on that though). I mean, "Spark in the Dark" even as an 'album track' effortlessly slays any of BJ's hits like "Living on a Prayer" in my opinion.