ALICE COOPER: WELCOME 2 MY NIGHTMARE (2011)
1) I Am Made Of You; 2) Caffeine; 3) The Nightmare Returns; 4) A Runaway Train; 5) Last Man On Earth; 6) The Congregation; 7) I'll Bite Your Face Off; 8) Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever; 9) Ghouls Gone Wild; 10) Something To Remember Me By; 11) When Hell Comes Home; 12) What Baby Wants; 13) I Gotta Get Outta Here; 14) The Underture.
Sequels that try to catch up with the original thirty-five years later cannot work effectively — there must be some mathematical law out there to prove that, but I’ll take it on pure intuitive trust for the moment. Let us refresh our memories: in 1975, Alice was all but injecting one last breath into the dying lungs of «glam» rock, hybridizing it with vaudeville and Vegas, much to the disgust of some fans, but much to the delight of others. Under all of its glitz and camp, Welcome To My Nightmare had a purpose — it offered fresh, sizzling sensations with strategically placed drops of intelligence (so that for each ʽCold Ethylʼ and ʽBlack Widowʼ you got yourself a ʽDepartment Of Youthʼ or an ʽOnly Women Bleedʼ).
Compared against that landmark, the predictably, but uncomfortably titled sequel Welcome 2 My Nightmare (for one thing, you can’t even express the difference in spoken words, only graphically) is an inevitable flop. It has only one advantage: SCOPE. What began as a light nostalgic collaboration between Alice and Bob Ezrin somehow managed to evolve into a sprawling, mega-ambitious project involving a whole army of people. Even if all of these songs sucked from beginning to end, it would still be worth at least one listen just to see all these guys assembled in one place. The three original Cooperites (Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, and Neal Smith) collaborating on three of the numbers. Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, the Coop’s guitar god saviours of the late 1970s, on a couple others. Desmond Child, the malicious hero of Trash, co-writing the lead-in track. Good old pal Rob Zombie adding backing vocals on another one. And that is just the beginning of the list. It must have taken lots of energy to simply get all these people to participate — let alone shuffle their contributions into some sort of coherent mix.
But is there a coherent mix? The question might be moot, since, at his most inspired, the Coop was always about eclecticism and unpredictability. The presence of a «heavy guitar rock» sound is, by and large, the only glue that holds most of this material together (and even then there are exceptions — ʽLast Man On Earthʼ is an attempt to work within the Kurt Weill / Tom Waits idiom), but the original Alice Cooper band members certainly do not play the same way as Hunter and Wagner, let alone «modern» guitar players. From the industrial metal echoes of Brutal Planet to the neo-punk crunch of The Eyes Of Alice Cooper to the glam metal days of Trash to the MTV-friendly bowtie-guitars of ʽWhat Baby Wantsʼ, we have everything.
Concept? Well, was there really a concept behind the original Nightmare, other than just offering a general framework within which the man could worship his fetishes and poke fun at society’s vices? From that point of view, the sequel works just as well. There are songs about ghouls, devil women, and disco dancing in hell, yet there are also songs about mechanical world evils, child abuse, life in the fast lane etc.: quite a workable mix if you know how to work it.
But the album still does not work as an album; it never becomes bigger than the sum of its parts, which is further exacerbated by the fact that, since there are so many different parts, quite a few of them sum together in the negative. The standard culprit, for instance, is ‘What Baby Wants’, a collaboration with a weird by-product of today’s pop culture called Ke$ha (supposedly, on the next sequel we will be seeing Justin Bieber take on the role of Steven). Some folks naturally suggested «big bucks» and «getting hip with the youngsters», but they are missing the point here: the former may work for Elton John and the latter for Mick Jagger, but the Coop is a seasoned joker, and bringing in the latest shit-hip-pop-sensation is this season’s idea of a joke. If only the song itself had more to it than its insanely annoyingly catchy two-bit chorus, it might even have been a successful joke. But it doesn’t, so it wasn’t.
Other misfires include: (a) heavy use of auto-tune on ‘I Am Made Of You’, employed as a purely artistic device, of course (God save us from living to see the day when Alice starts needing auto-tune!), but still as utterly ugly as every other bit of auto-tune on the planet — and the song itself is one of Desmond Child’s least convincing contributions to Cooper’s legacy; (b) the lack of either humor or interesting musical ideas in ‘Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever’, a song that tries to go for the same sort of vibe as the dance-oriented tracks on Goes To Hell, but add a little techno flavor to the soup — the effect is confusing, and the message seems misguided (a guy as smart as Alice should not, I think, try to write songs that attempt to make fun of Boney M and the modern dance scene at the same time); (c) the big obligatory ballad, ʽSomething To Remember Me Byʼ: even if it was announced as an old song, originally written by Alice and Dick Wagner in the late 1970s, it does not have the «grit» of ‘Only Women Bleed’, nor the pretty hooks of ‘I Never Cry’, nor even the simplistic sentimentality of ‘You And Me’ — and, furthermore, it is almost arranged as a power ballad; cutting down on some of that guitar pomp might help.
On the winning side, there is still ‘When Hell Comes Home’, a song that returns us to the already well-exploited topic of dysfunctional families, but with the aid of one of the meanest, darkest riffs in Cooper history; and the galloping rock’n’roll of ‘A Runaway Train’ (which is the only track here that does indeed bear a strong resemblance to the «Alice Cooper Band» era). (The third track written and recorded with the old pals is ‘I’ll Bite Your Face Off’; a far less interesting proposition, built on generic blues-rock chord sequences and sounding like, er, well, pretty much like The Rolling Stones on A Bigger Bang, which should be telling). ʽLast Man On Earth’ is a fairly funny Tom Waits imitation, and ‘The Congregation’ does indeed sound a little Beatlesque, as Alice himself claimed, but mostly due to his singing the melody in a Lennon-like style.
So, on the whole, there is a lot to learn about Welcome 2 My Nightmare and quite a few things to enjoy about it, but as an album it is still an embarrassment, unfortunately, making it Alice’s second embarrassment in a row, and this time, I cannot even overcome myself and explicitly give it a thumbs up — creating the illusion that it, in any way, might rival Welcome 1. (And if you are not a fan of that one, don’t even fantasize about getting this one). What should have been done, under the circumstances, was to dispatch the idea of a «sequel» altogether, and simply profit from the presence of so many old-time pals by having them write better songs. Come to think of it, neither Bruce, nor Dunnaway, nor even Desmond Child had anything to do with the original Nightmare — why saddle them with unnecessary responsibility for the «sequel»? (Fortunately, in theory only: their songs are the least 1975-ish on the album).
In other words, Alice keeps balancing on the fringes: after a decade-long genuine «comeback», he goes back to being happy about playing the fool for playing the fool’s sake, regardless of how many repulsive lapses of taste this attitude is bringing along. Too bad, because even at this well-advanced age, I believe, he still may have one or two Brutal Planets inside him, and if that is right, why waste that age with ridiculous «sequels»? Just to remind us one more time how all values are relative, and how one man’s «lapse of taste» is another one’s «challenge to taste»?
PS. ʽThe Undertureʼ, masterminded by Ezrin, is a decent enough potpourri arrangement, but if its chief message is in persuading us to accept the blood brotherhood of Welcome 1 and Welcome 2, it is wasted on me at least. And I genuinely hope that «Steven» has finally made his last appearance on this record. Imagine McCartney sticking with Sergeant Pepper for the next thirty years of his career — as an evil running gag of sorts.
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