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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Alice Cooper: The Eyes Of Alice Cooper


1) What Do You Want From Me; 2) Between High School And Old School; 3) Man Of The Year; 4) Novocaine; 5) Bye Bye Baby; 6) Be With You Awhile; 7) Detroit City; 8) Spirits Rebellious; 9) This House Is Haunted; 10) Love Should Never Feel Like This; 11) The Song That Didn't Rhyme; 12) I'm So Angry; 13) Backyard Brawl.

Jumping on bandwagons is a skill, one that few can master as smoothly as Cooper. Clearly, the decision to dive into the oilfield of heavy metal must have been influenced by the success of nu­metal bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit; but it was carried out in full accordance with the Alice spirit, which makes Brutal Planet and Dragontown perfectly enjoyable on their own.

By the early 2000s, the new trend for the «alternative mainstream» emerged as the neo-garage rock of the Strokes, the Vines, and the Hives, and, according to the strict laws of determinism, there was simply no chance that Alice could have missed the opportunity, particularly since what the Strokes and the rest were reviving was, in part, Alice's own ancient style — the proto-punk vibe of the Detroit scene. The MC5, the Stooges, and Alice Cooper of Love It To Death fame. Let's admit it: if you spot a pack of spoiled, hedonistic young whippersnappers stealing your mu­sic, it is only natural for you to get pissed off and decide to resteal it from them. Is stealing from thieves stealing at all? The Eyes Of Alice Cooper may not rise up to the level of Love It To Death — no surprise, since that would require a bottle of rejuvenation pills and a time machine — but at least it competes fairly well with the Strokes and the Vines, and it still shows who is really the boss in all of this, lack of sales notwithstanding.

There is no trying to mask the «retro» attitude on this one. The title itself, focusing us on Alice's «eyes», makes us notice that he is not wearing much makeup except for the spiderish shades around those eyes, just like he did in 1971. The back cover shows him together with his new band, first time in decades — ever since the demise of the original Alice Cooper band, no sidemen ever got the unimaginable honour of entouraging The Monster on any album sleeves. And, speaking of the band, well, the band may lack the crudeness and imagination of Alice's former pals, but they still do a mighty impressive job. Of particular notice is Ryan Roxie, arguably the only guitarist in Cooper's history to wilfully go through several distinct styles — he is just as convincing as a pun­kish rock'n'roller as he was in the guise of an industrial metallist.

Then there are the songs, on which Alice, once again, rises to the occasion. Thirteen tracks, each one pretty damn good in its own way. Monotonousness is out of the question: the rock numbers are evenly split between «poppy» and «hard», and, from time to time, interspersed with ballads (one sentimental, one comical) and even a solitary «horror» number ('This House Is Haunted', written and recorded in the «spook that kid» style, rather unusual for Alice). Melodies? You bet. Humour? Lots. If there is one thing to complain about, it is the occasional scent of excessive «overproduction»: the guitars, at times, are too noisy, perhaps the biggest difference between Eyes and the true classic Detroit sound, which, after all, was born and extinguished not only in pre-Strokes times, but even in pre-Ramones' ones.

It would be nicer, I think, if more of the songs here were along the lines of 'Detroit City', or, ra­ther, its first thirty seconds, with the cool old chugga-chugga hard rock style, after which the wall of sound still kicks in (it is, however, notable that Wayne Kramer of the MC5 fame himself adds some guest-guitar to the recording). But then, of course, the entire album would be skewed to­wards the «nostalgia» line — 'Detroit City' alone, with its 'Me and Iggy were giggin' with Ziggy and kickin' with the MC5...' has drawn its fair share of smirks.

So let us enjoy life as it is, and just give in to the hooks of the female-bashing 'What Do You Want From Me', the bourgeois-bashing 'Man Of The Year', the amour-bashing 'Love Should Never Feel Like This', and especially the self-bashing 'Between High School And Old School', which is where Alice finds himself stuck in between — a perfect projection of the «confused teen anthem» style onto the idea of «too old to rock'n'roll, too young to die». Behind the big, fat sound on all these songs we still find the same indomitable spirit, plus a catchy hook or even two per song. And, just as the genre requires, much of this is about anger, anger, anger. No wonder the last two songs are 'I'm So Angry', where he takes it out on his cheating girlfriend, and 'Backyard Brawl', where he takes it out on anyone stupid enough to get in the way. 'Backyard Brawl', in par­ticular, stomps and thrashes about with such passionate violence that, unless you have seen one of Alice's peaceful, relaxed golf videos recently, you will be fooled.

However, I have to confess that my own favourite song on the album is the most peaceful one — the sweet love ballad 'Be With You Awhile', which sounds 100% like a solo John Lennon ballad, right down to all the vocal modulations, and, (not) coincidentally, the most beautifully arranged Coo­per ballad so far — a mix of deep underwater-ish electric piano, high above-the-sky-ish Mel­lotrons, and juicy, colourfully distorted electric guitars that, unlike the rockers, arises completely out of nowhere and is thoroughly unpredictable. And, unlike Alice's former hits in the balladeer­ing genre, this one is completely untouched by the chisel of commercialism. As hard as it is, es­pecially in recent times, to combine simple, old-school sentimentality with a sugar-free, pathos-free environ­ment, 'Be With You Awhile' is a total success. (Although, of course, the anti-senti­mentalists of our modern age will hardly pay much attention to it; they will prefer to concentrate on the hilarious send-up of 'The Song That Didn't Rhyme', a cool joke tune about the worst song ever written — 'a three minute waste of your time, no redeeming value of any kind').

The Eyes Of Alice Cooper cannot be among the greatest records of Alice Cooper: any album from an old Alice Cooper that toys with the departed spirit of the young Alice Cooper is doomed to be forever sitting in the second or third row, at best. But the goal has been achieved, and the have not been disappointed; the brain marvels at the efficacy of evading all the reefs and pitfalls, and the heart rejoices at the delightful mix of the rough and tender — thumbs up from both sides.

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