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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Alice Cooper: Welcome 2 My Nightmare


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.


Check "Welcome 2 My Nightmare" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Welcome 2 My Nightmare" (MP3) on Amazon

9 comments:

  1. Just for the record, this and the following review have been written after lying down for three days with a temperature of 103 (which explains the delay), so if anything here makes you go "what the...", keep in mind that it was all written as a consequence of a particularly nasty fever (no bloodbath, fortunately, and no disco, either).

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    1. This review looks well-written as well as in-depth; good job! Hope you feel recovered, especially since you still have to face the mind-numbing task of churning out yet another Asia-with-Payne review. :P Seriously, though, good luck, and thanks for all of the excellent reviews; good to see someone (not some media corp) do a selection of reviews from a wide variety of musical genres, and have them be quite well written to boot.

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  2. Well unless the fever changed your taste in music, I have to say this IS a well written and reasoned out review. Glad to see you finally review this!

    I however, REALLY dug the album :)

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  3. My feelings on this one almost mirror yours exactly even on the exact tracks that are highlights or lowlights. I think I might have an overall slightly more negative view on it though, just because of how much it fails at making sense as an album.

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  4. Strange enough, Alice played only one song from this album on the tour following its release (I'll Bite Your Face Off), which probably goes to show he does not care that much for this sequel.

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  5. I hate this album. I hate that Alice is a weird Christian evangelist who has to remind everyone how much the lard loves them. Alice, I challenge you to a conversion. I'll lure you back to the dark side. I know it's stupid, but I can't help but be disappointed that the music is as good as it is, coulda been the best album in about twenty years, with those horribly inane god loving lyrics. I don't mind people doing their Jesus thing, but seriously why do people have to start writing lame ass lyrics the second they discover the supposed "son of god." Terrible record, can't stand it and would rather have my tongue ripped out than hear it again, but then again I think I could be beelzebum.

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  6. "And I genuinely hope that «Steven» has finally made his last appea­r­ance on this record."
    It's not because of spam. It's that Steven are the soft and vulnerable side of Vincent on records, with Alice on the other side.
    I think that (listening the interviews) Alice and Bob were playing with nostalgia and then they were calling all the guest of the album, and ends up being a huge mess... but all like a game of nostalgia.

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  7. This album sucks ass. Maybe that's not a very objective review. So let me rephrase that : THIS ALBUM SUCKS ASS. You know the inner-sleeve? With the original Welcome To My Nightmare "top hat" picture, except all dirty and stained and scuzzy-looking? That's a perfect visual interpretation of this album. Listening to it, it feels like a piece of my childhood was defiled. It has NOTHING to do with the original, except capitalizing on the name and age-tested "Nightmare" theme that Alice built his solo career on. The original WTMN was mach shau for sure, a soundtrack ready-made for an elaborate stage show. The original Alice Cooper band split up precisely because Alice wanted to go in that "stage-show" direction (and because people treated him as if "Alice Cooper" was him alone, and Dennis / Michael / Glen / Neal were relegated to faceless back-ups).

    Okay, whatever. Alice and Ezrin wanted to do their own thing. Which they pulled off with great success. The original Nightmare was, to me, a step down in quality from the old days, but still a huge part of my youth. As hokey and cornball as parts of it seem in retrospect, it still holds a special place in my heart. I used to eagerly wait for the movie-concert to pop up on Creature Double Feature, as it did once or twice a year in the late 70s. I'm not as crazy about it as I used to be but I still RESPECT it on some level. It's still ... cool.

    W2MN is not cool. W2MN is a bad joke. From the goofy puppet-like Alice on the cover, to songs that mostly sound like the majority of overproduced tuneless crap coming out these days, it has nothing to do with the original. Alice went from world-conquering spiders and dancing red devils and schizo murderers to ... Caffeine? Runaway Trains? Bad disco parodies that are 40 years too late and sound like failed outtakes from "Goes To Hell"? And he recruits Desmond fucking Child for this? What did that 80s pop-hack douchebag have to do with the original WTMN? (if this were "Trash, Part 2" maybe I could see it).

    And even when he brings in the original band (who were at least responsible for a few of the songs used in the WTMN movie, if not the actual album) what does he do with them? He splits them up for separate songs : one for Dunaway, one for Bruce, one for Smith. I mean God for-fucking-bid they reunite the original band for 2 minutes (and it wouldn't exactly be the original band anyway without Buxton). What the fuck Alice? Did one of your Republican golf buddies suggest that one? You made smarter personnel decisions during your freebasing fugues.

    I literally planned on just saying "this album sucks ass" because it's so offensively bad I don't even think it DESERVES a review. But the more I think about it, the more pissed off I am about wasting my 12 bucks on this tripe. Like I said, I don't worship the original WTMN with the unthinking zealous love I had for it as a teen, but I still respect it enough to HATE this so-called sequel. Coming from my childhood hero, this is like a kick in the balls. Easily his worst ever.

    -- B.B. Fultz, aka Blue Turk

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  8. I also have a bad feeling that this total artistic failure might be Alice Cooper's swan song. Two reasons : first, it has the exact same title (phonetically at least) as his first solo album, so it's like he's coming full circle with his original "horror show" concept, ending it where he began. And second, the last song is called "The Underture," which sounds like the polar opposite of the debut track on the very first Alice Cooper album, "Titanic Overture" ... like a line stretching from beginning point to end point. If there's any fairness left in the world, Alice will release at least one more studio album with just the original band members. Ideally it'll sound like The Eyes of Alice Cooper meets School's Out. With a heavy dose of Billion Dollar Babies thematics, and a light dose of Killer's desperado spirit. And a few echoes of Pretties For You lurking in odd corners. But I'm babbling now. Since when is the world fair?

    A hundred thumbs down, each of them pressing a button to launch a cruise missile at a modernized, Wall-Street owned, mass-brainwashing recording studio that produces crap like this. The album does live up to its title in one way though ... listening to it was a total fucking nightmare.

    -- B.B. Fultz again
    (I'm trying to publish these under my member name instead of as Anonymous, but your site is being a dick lately)

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