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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Alice Cooper: Dragontown


1) Triggerman; 2) Deeper; 3) Dragontown; 4) Sex Death And Money; 5) Fantasy Man; 6) Somewhere In The Jungle; 7) Disgraceland; 8) Sister Sarah; 9) Every Woman Has A Name; 10) Just Wanna Be God; 11) It's Much Too Late; 12) I Am The Sentinel.

For the direct sequel to Brutal Planet, Alice reteams with old friend Bob Ezrin; the impact is hard to measure, since, out of all his Ezrin-produced records, this one sounds the least like Ezrin. Possibly because Cooper was still in his «doom metal» phase, and the mystical Ezrin touch is not as transparent behind the dark waves of deep distorted guitars as it usually is behind the pianos, strings, special effects, and echoes.

Still, at least several songs are immediately distinguished by the new presence — such as the title track, whose Middle Eastern keyboard patterns on the verses immediately bring to mind similar arrangements on DaDa. And this ties in well with Alice's decision to vary the stylistics a bit: Dragontown is not simply one titanic metal onslaught following another, but rather a more diver­sified journey through the pleasures and horrors of our times, liable to be set to grinding gnashing me­tal just as easy as it can be set to light balladry or even rockabilly.

Strangely, the record does not start off on an epic note: 'Brutal Planet' announced its goals from the first minute, but Dragontown takes things more slowly, conducting the listener to its own brand of hell in several steps. First, there is the introduction of 'Triggerman', a fast, churning ro­cker that introduces your own personal Virgil who's going to be your guide for the rest of the al­bum: "I'm pure non-entity, don't even watch for me, I watch you when you sleep". Who is that? Subconscience? Some sort of inner voice? Nah, probably just Satan once more.

Then the real metal starts, plunged in a felt-more-than-heard swamp of Ezrin's Gothic effects — 'Deeper' is the descent: "The elevator broke, it went right through the floor...". Corny, B-movie level, but catchy and exciting as always, and, more importantly, evocative; here is a man who understands what these deep guitar tones are there for. And, finally, the gates burst open on Track Three — the magnificent 'Dragontown', unfurling slowly and almost unwillingly through a maze of swirling keyboards and basses into the gritty singalong chorus. If 'Brutal Planet' was all a big ball of disgust and hate, 'Dragontown' is more personal and frightening, as if the Coop were stret­ching out his gnarled set of claws to you right out of the speakers: "Come on, I've got something to show you — come on, you're really gonna love this!"

I have caught myself plenty of times on the realization that, at some point, despite all the obvious­ness and simplicity, the Coop's cartoonish vibe transcends these flaws, making even prepared lis­teners of the «been-there, heard-that, no surprises» caliber experience an unfaked internal shiver. Dragontown has plenty of moments like this. On the previous album, the evil of genocide was vividly described within 'Pick Up The Bones', inspired by events in Bosnia; here, the subject continues with 'Somewhere In The Jungle', reminding Western audiences of even bloodier events in Rwanda (granted, most people won't even pay attention to the lyrics, and those that will may not know what the thing is specifically about; it does not help matters much that the reference to the Serengeti is somewhat misguided — that's, uh, in Tanzania, Alice, on the other side of Lake Victoria. Might as well say the Kalahari). Nevertheless, it's quite scary as well.

On the lighter side, the humor is back, and most of the heaviest songs are imbued with sarcasm so as not to sustain the same homicidal level of depression throughout. 'Sex, Death And Money' in­troduces the deadliest, zombiest guitar tone you will ever hear on a Cooper album, but the song's message ("sex, death, and money, sonny, that is why we all are gonna fry") is delivered with iro­ny: for all of Cooper's unexpected Christian morality, he sure knows a mean way how to hand out a moral message and have a good laugh at professional moralists at the same time and not end up sounding like a cheap hypocrite.

There are also some killer send-ups on the record. 'Fantasy Man' returns us to the lambasting of the redneck stereotype: "I don't do dishes, and I'm suspicious of any grown-up man that does; I'm homophobic, don't do aerobics, just lay around and catch a buzz" — he hasn't nailed that stereo­type that well since 'I Love America' in 1983. 'Disgraceland', alternating punk-pop with rockabil­ly, is a, ahem, «tribute» to The King, whom we apparently meet doing time in Dragontown, re­plete with a not-half-bad Elvis impersonation. And the hilarious industrial rap of 'Just Wanna Be God' goes as far as to send up the principal anti-hero himself — now we know that all of man­kind's troubles are really, in fact, the sole consequence of some solitary individual's inferiority complexes: "I only wanna build my statue tall, that's all — why can't I be God? I only wanna be God!" Thanks a lot, pal.

To complete the picture, we have the obligatory woman-is-the-nigger-of-the-world sensitive bal­lad ('Every Woman Has A Name', hardly better or worse than all of Alice's similar creations, but give the guy extra points for consistency) and a lighter pop-rocker about a guy who seemingly led a righteous life but is now wondering how the hell he ended up right in it ('It's Much Too Late', which, according to rumors, is dedicated to Lennon and, indeed, sounds a bit like John, but it is a little difficult to imagine John as the protagonist of a song whose lyrics go "When I was a teen, all the sex that I missed was an abstinence blessing to me", don't you think?).

We are more or less accustomed to Cooper's albums arriving in pairs — Welcome To My Night­mare in a two-fer with Goes To Hell, Trash with Hey Stoopid, etc. — but most of these pairs had a clear superior and inferior member. With Brutal Planet and Dragontown, no such decisi­on can be taken. The former has the upper hand when it comes to pouring out bare emotion — it pummels you right across the floor; the latter, while slightly more restrained and calculated, is, on the other side, more interesting in that the sheer number of ideas is much larger. Naturally, it is as easy a thumbs up as its predecessor, continuing to build up Alice's reputation for the new millen­nium (and setting up an impressive record of two consecutively fine albums in two years for a rock icon in his fifties).


  1. Umm... unless I'm missing something Ezrin didn't have anything to do with this record. I think you misread the name of Bob Marlette, who produced the album and co-wrote all of the songs.

  2. Ezrin is listed as executive producer. If there is an inaccuracy, it is that he actually worked on Brutal Planet as well.

  3. Argh! That's what you get for not owning hard-case copies of albums. And trusting the internet.

  4. It seems to me that Ezrin's presence is basically name only on this record. He didn't write any music (like he did on many of his other Cooper productions) and his production style is not really there. the word "executive" is most likely an effort to hook Ezrin's name onto the project.
    I'm not quoting anybody on that or anything thats just the way it seems to me.
    Ezrin's real comeback with Alice is still to be seen as his next album (unfortunately titled "Welcome 2 My Nightmare") will feature Ezrin/Cooper collabs extensively for the first time since Dada. And apparently even some apperences by original AC bandmembers! I just hope they don't waste that potential on more of the same by-numbers stuff that Along Came A Spider was.

  5. No, Alice actually said he valued Ezrin's contributions on these albums more than Marlette's. Certialny at least tracks like 'Dragontown' are quite Ezrin-esque in style.