Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
With the advent of grunge signaling the end of hair metal, Alice Cooper’s change in direction after 1991’s Hey Stoopid came at a perfect time. On The Last Temptation (1994) he didn’t necessarily trade in his makeup and spooky image for a flannel shirt & jeans, but he did update his sound to incorporate everything from a horn section to down-tuned guitars while still delivering a collection of memorable, melodic songs. The fact that he chose three modern rock producers (Andy Wallace, Don Fleming and the team of Duane Baron & John Purdell) to each work on a handful of songs could’ve turned this album into an unfocused free-for-all, but instead it’s one of the most consistently enjoyable records of his solo career. “Sideshow” has a fun party vibe; a chiming, peppy horn-infused power-pop song that’s super catchy, especially at “I feel my head spinnin’ round and round…” and those “aaaah” backing vocals. “Lost In America” is a driving rocker with great catch-22 lyrics (“I can’t get a girl ‘cause I ain’t got a car, I can’t get a car ‘cause I ain’t got a job, I can’t get a job ‘cause I ain’t got a car”), and I love the retro ‘60s organ. “You’re My Temptation” has down-tuned guitars and rumbling bass but remains bright & upbeat. It’s insanely catchy, which is unsurprising considering it was co-written with Damn Yankees’ Tommy Shaw (Styx) & Jack Blades (Night Ranger). There’s some great staggered guitar work by Stef Burns that shows a huge Jimmy Page influence with those Middle Eastern touches. The backing vocals recall Alice In Chains in the pre-chorus before reverting to hair metal in the chorus. Right now this is my favorite song on the album.
Alice collaborated on two songs with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. The first, “Stolen Prayer,” is the stronger of the two (with Cornell’s inimitable vocals at “Yeah, like an old straitjacket” and Alice’s strong & soaring voice), while “Unholy War” could be a Guns N’ Roses album track (and the tom-tom pattern reminds me of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”). “Lullaby” was co-written with Jim Vallance (best known for his hit collaborations with Bryan Adams). It features a cool circular guitar & vocal melody, with a sing-songy section and a piano part that gives it a “Bohemian Rhapsody” feel. The title is ironic, as lyrically it’s the opposite of a real lullaby; a creepy/scary return to Welcome To My Nightmare territory (“I am the one who growls in your closet, I am the one who lives under your bed”). “It’s Me” is another co-write with Shaw & Blades and it’s another super-melodic gem. I love how it builds to the huge, harmony-laden chorus. The rest of the album rocks pretty hard (often reminding me of Stone Temple Pilots) while never losing Alice’s keen sense of melody, but none of the other songs left a lasting impression on me. It’s still a pretty impressive record for an artist 25 years into his recording career.
Alice didn’t release any more studio albums in the 20th century, but before the turn of the millennium there were two more noteworthy additions to his catalog. The first of these is A Fistful Of Alice (1997), a live recording of a 1996 performance at Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo club in Mexico. I had never heard this album until last week and, even though it’s not quite a definitive document of Alice Cooper in concert, it does capture him in strong voice and with a stellar band (including guitarists Reb Beach of Winger and Ryan Roxie) that showcases great dynamics over the course of 14 songs (7 from the original Alice Cooper band and 7 from the solo years, including one new studio recording). Slash joins in for “Lost In America” and “Only Women Bleed,” adding some tasteful lead guitar on the latter, and Rob Zombie sings on “Feed My Frankenstein” and “Elected.” Alice’s tribute to The Doors’ Jim Morrison, “Desperado,” grabbed me more here than on the original recording. I’m glad he included the beautiful ballad “I Never Cry” in the set list, as it showcases a side of his music that many people probably aren’t familiar with. My only complaint, and it’s a minor one, is the synth horns on “Welcome To My Nightmare.” The new studio recording, “Is Anyone Home,” blends strummed acoustic guitar with a splashy pop beat, giving it the feel of Tom Petty as produced by Jeff Lynne. The verses are a little nondescript, but the Cheap Trick-esque choruses are very catchy (“I’m so lonely I can almost taste it, in a perfect world I’d just be wasted…hello, hello, hello, is anyone home?”). Although no audio recording can fully capture the full spectacle of Alice in concert, this well-recorded live album is certainly a very good document of a particular era in his career; not a must-have but a whole lot of fun.
The other special release referenced above is the incredible 4-CD box set, The Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper (1999). The packaging is beautiful, with an image of Alice set behind the bars of a prison cell. When I got this collection in 1999 I only owned a handful of Alice albums, so for several years it was my only exposure to the majority of his (and the original band’s) music. Now that I’ve acquired the entire official Alice discography, and having revisited & written about it here, I can confirm that it’s a well selected compilation with only a handful of glaring omissions & questionable inclusions. There are also a number of rarities that make it worthwhile for longtime fans while still functioning as a perfect introduction for the uninitiated.
Disc One includes a number of previously unreleased or hard-to-find tracks. There are three songs by The Spiders, an early incarnation of The Alice Cooper Band: “Don’t Blow Your Mind” (dirty, grungy Nuggets garage rock), “Hitch Hike” (a British Invasion-influenced take on the Marvin Gaye song that’s based on the Rolling Stones’ version) and “Why Don’t You Love Me” (more British Invasion influence). Another pre-Alice Cooper group, The Nazz, is included with “Lay Down And Die, Goodbye,” the original version of a song re-recorded for Easy Action. They were obviously hugely influenced by The Yardbirds at the time. I’m glad they included a demo version of “Nobody Likes Me,” which I previously heard on the Live At The Whisky A-Go-Go 1969 CD. I love the overall feel and you can tell the band was having fun with their performances and the lyrics. There are a handful of songs I would have included from the era covered on this disc (through School’s Out), but only “Hallowed Be My Name,” “Sun Arise” and “Public Animal #9” seem like essentials that are missing.
Disc Two doesn’t offer many surprises other than a handful of single versions and “Respect For The Sleepers (Demo),” which is an early version of “Muscle Of Love.” This song sounds like a cross between The Rolling Stones & David Bowie, and features a fantastic guitar solo section with wild drumming. I’m not sure why the compilers left off “Generation Landslide” but included “Working Up A Sweat.” I would’ve also selected “Wish You Were Here” to showcase how Alice successfully dabbled in disco, even though a lot of fans might have been turned off by its inclusion. Otherwise this is probably the most consistently rewarding disc in the box set, covering the period between Billion Dollar Babies and Goes To Hell.
Disc Three was likely the hardest of the four to compile since it covers the years between Lace And Whiskey and Dada, not the most revered portion of Alice’s catalog. Now that I’m very familiar with those albums, I have to commend whoever chose the songs for this disc. In addition to most of the excellent album tracks (some of which appear in their single versions), there are nine rare & previously unreleased tracks. “I Miss You” is performed by Billion Dollar Babies, which was The Alice Cooper Band without Alice. Musically it’s a good, chunky riff-rocker, but Michael Bruce’s lead vocals aren’t unique enough to make this anything more than a curiosity (although I’d like to hear the album they released in 1977, Battle Axe). “No Time For Tears” was written by Van McCoy (of “The Hustle” dance craze) and was recorded for a movie called Sextette. It’s a simple & pretty piano ballad with tender vocals (“Tears always dry & all lovers lie…that’s all”). “Because,” his collaboration with The Bee Gees on this Beatles classic from the much-maligned Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film, is well recorded, but Alice’s creepy/sinister vocals don’t really work with those glorious Bee Gees harmonies. “No Tricks,” a collaboration with R&B singer/songwriter Betty Wright, is one of the biggest surprises on the box set. Co-written with Dick Wagner & Bernie Taupin, this bluesy song with hints of jazz is a dynamic conversation between an addict and his long-suffering woman who’s not buying his claims of being clean. I love the guitar work by Wagner and Steve Lukather.
Even though “Road Rats” has a great lineup that includes Elton John’s guitarist Davey Johnstone and all four members of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, it’s just a faceless rocker from the movie Roadie. “Look At You Over There, Ripping The Sawdust From My Teddy Bear” is a simple yet surprisingly enjoyable driving rock song with Alice’s Elvis-inspired vocals. Apparently the long-winded title was included on the packaging for Special Forces but not included on that album, and this was its first official appearance. The final three songs on this disc first appeared in two different movies. The first two, from Monster Dog, are cool but inessential and sound like demos. I don’t need to hear them again. I can say the same thing for “Hard Rock Summer” (from Friday The 13th Part VI), which sounds like the generic opening song from an ‘80s teen sex comedy. A number of cool songs from this era were overlooked, with “Skeletons In The Closet” being my favorite missing track. Hopefully some fans whose first exposure to this portion of his catalog came via this box set have further explored the spotty but unfairly overlooked studio albums covered here.
Disc Four covers the hair metal years through The Last Temptation. They did a decent job selecting the best material from those albums, although I’m not sure how “Roses On White Lace” was skipped over in favor of “Prince Of Darkness.” As for the rare tracks, only a handful are worth noting. “He’s Back (Demo)” was the original submission for the Friday The 13th Part VI soundtrack, but when a different Alice song of the same name was used this tune was later reworked as “Trick Bag” from Constrictor. The version of “Under My Wheels” recorded with three members of Guns N’ Roses (Axl Rose, Slash & Izzy) in 1988 is good but doesn’t come close to the 1971 original. “I Got A Line On You” is a solid if unremarkable cover of an excellent song by the band Spirit that was recorded for the movie Iron Eagle II. Even though it features well-known hard rockers Adrian Vandenberg & Rudy Sarzo, as well as Alice’s old friends Flo & Eddie, this track is undone by the processed drum sound & slick late-‘80s production. Alice’s take on the Jimi Hendrix classic “Fire” is a fiery performance (pun intended), with a big production that works for the song. It sounds a lot like the version by fictional band Crucial Taunt in Wayne’s World, a movie that included a memorable appearance by Alice (“We’re not worthy!”). “Hands Of Death (Spookshow 2000 Mix)” is a duet with Rob Zombie that appeared via a different mix in the first X-Files movie. It’s very modern and industrial, in a similar vein to Nine Inch Nails and, naturally, Rob Zombie. All in all, The Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper is a beautifully crafted career retrospective that covers most of the major accomplishments in Alice’s career to that point.
After a lengthy hiatus from the recording studio, Alice returned with a vengeance on his next album, Brutal Planet (2000). Without a doubt it’s the heaviest album of his career, thanks to the production work of Bob Marlette (who co-wrote every song and contributed guitar, bass & keys), lead guitarists China, Phil X & Ryan Roxie and outstanding drummer Eric Singer (now best known for replacing Peter Criss in Kiss). Album opener “Brutal Planet” is a huge, monster track with bleak lyrics delivered with authority by Alice. Natalie Delaney’s backing vocals recall Shirley Manson of Garbage, and her performance adds a lightness to this otherwise bleak (yet impressive) song. “Wicked Young Man” is dark and melodic at the same time, reminding me of Stone Temple Pilots at their heaviest. I believe this is Alice’s response to the previous year’s Columbine High School massacre, as he sings “it’s not the games that I play, the movies I see, the music I dig, I’m just a wicked young man.” “Sanctuary” is a fast-driving rocker with a super catchy chorus (“I’ve got a radical place, I got my own private space” and “Go, a-way, sanctuary!”). It’s also probably the best use of the name Quasimodo in a hard rock song (are there others?). “Blow Me A Kiss” is a midtempo heavy rocker co-written with Bob Ezrin that has a couple of great hooks at “Say goodnight then blow me away…” and “I’m in my room, I’m Dr. Doom.”
“Eat Some More” has a slow, plodding Black Sabbath feel with a super heavy riff & pounding drums, as Alice delivers a commentary on our culture of consumption. “Pick Up The Bones” is one of the scariest songs in his catalog, with disturbing lyrics about a man who comes home to discover the bones of his family, possibly a response to genocide in places like Rwanda (“There were demons with guns who marched through this place, killing everything that breathed, they’re an inhuman race”). The Sabbath influence returns for the ominous “Pessi-mystic,” with the band delivering a dynamic performance. The chorus is intense: “I’m pessimistic, I’m so fatalistic…I don’t believe a thing…I’m so nihilistic…of what tomorrow brings.” “It’s The Little Things” chugs along at a super-fast pace, and has funny lyrics about someone letting the little things get to him. I love the hook (and self-references) at “Welcome to my nightmare, no more Mr. Nice Guy.” “Take It Like A Woman” is a piano-based ballad that comes across as a lyrical sequel to his early classic, “Only Women Bleed.” The string section gives it a grandeur missing from some of his other ballads, and there’s tasteful guitar work as well as a great melody (“You’ve been beaten down, kicked around, on the ground, but you took it like a woman”). The album ends with “Cold Machines,” all heavy tom toms & metallic, crunchy guitars. He seems to be worried about just being a number; a faceless automaton (“You don’t know my name, you don’t know my number, you don’t know my face at all”). Only one song here, “Gimme,” didn’t make an impact on me, while the other ten are keepers. This style may not be for everyone, but Alice has delivered a modern hard rock album that’s as consistently heavy as anyone else while never losing his unique viewpoint…and always featuring memorable melodies. I’m not sure if this is an overstatement, but Brutal Planet deserves a place among the list of Alice’s best albums.
Later that same year he released Brutally Live (2000), recorded in England in support of Brutal Planet. The aforementioned Ryan Roxie & Eric Singer head up a stellar band that also includes Alice’s daughter Calico Cooper on backing vocals. The group delivers sympathetic arrangements on all the material, so it’s not just heavy & one-dimensional. Although it focuses on his most recent album, he also includes songs from nine other albums, and the set list was very well chosen. The only real surprise is the energetic version of The Who’s “My Generation.” Depending on your tolerance for the pummeling sound of Brutal Planet, this may or may not be the live album for you, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I might have to get a copy of the related DVD so I can experience the stage show.
Once again, I want to point you in the direction of an excellent Alice Cooper-related website (Sick Things UK) that’s been a great source of information as I work my way through Alice’s catalog:
This was an absolutely thrilling & enjoyable batch of releases. The rest of his catalog has a lot to live up to, and based on my memories of those albums I should have a good deal of fun before wrapping up his discography in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned, and please let me know your thoughts on the albums discussed here. Thanks.
Ahh, Brutal Planet. There is an album I still have not wrapped my head around. I too liked that Shirley Manson esque backing vocal on the title track. For me though, this album is an ugly duckling. It’s too…monotone, maybe?
I love Last Temptation. Some of my favourite Cooper tunes are from this period: Stolen Prayer, Is Anyone Home, Sideshow, etc.
Now here’s a wishlist item: The Japanese version of A Fistful of Alice. It had three bonus tracks, and I know for sure one was Clones (We’re All). Very hard to find at a decent price. But you know me Rich — I WILL have it.
Mike, I’m very surprised at your feelings about Brutal Planet. Maybe it’s the fact that, even though we’ve both got diverse tastes, you’re more of a hard rock/metal guy than I am. I haven’t been exposed to that much modern metal, so that album sounds really fresh to me. Also, I think the songwriting is really consistent. I really really love it. I also really love The Last Temptation, although my write-up might imply that I prefer Brutal Planet. I love when Alice defies expectations, and following the hair metal years with the sonic diversity of The Last Temptation was a great (and pleasant) surprise.
Didn’t know about that Japanese version of A Fistful Of Alice. I’m not the obsessive collector that you are, so I’ll be happy with my current version…but I would love to hear a late-90s performance of “Clones (We’re All).” Thanks for the info.
For as long as Alice makes albums, I think we can count on future sonic diversity and defying expectation. This is probably the biggest thing that appealed to me as a new fan back then. He had weird stuff like “Sick Things” and “Mary Ann”, straight ahead hair metal, heavy metal, everything.
Brutal Planet, I don’t know what it is about that album that I find so impenetrable. But I also knew that if I hung around long enough Alice would swing back to a sound I find more palatable!
My Alice Cooper knowledge of this era alas is limited to his immortal Wayne’s World appearance and his guest vocal on Use Your Illusion (The Garden). Glad to hear a few decades into his career, he was still producing excellent material!
Stephen as I’m sure Rich will be soon to discuss, I think there were at least two serious gems in the next series of albums too. Two that I like a lot anyway!
That’s right, Mike. I haven’t started listening to the next batch yet, but I know that The Eyes Of Alice Cooper is a great one. That’s the album that got me back into his music 10 years ago. I’m really looking forward to listening to the rest of his albums again. Not many artists who have been around as long as Alice are still releasing albums that hold up to multiple listens.
Stephen, I hope you find some new gems via this series. Glad you agree with my love for Wayne’s World. A great movie that’s even better because of Alice’s participation.
Brutal Planet was a big success with me. I did find it quite impenetrable at first but after a few listens it’s actually surprisingly melodic considering the heaviness. There are a lot of superb hooks on that album and some great, playful lyrics too. As I live albums go… I really enjoy Fistful of Alice too and the Box Set is fantastic for old and new fans alike. I especially love the 3rd disc on that as I don’t have very many albums from that period.
HMO, I’m glad to hear you also like “Brutal Planet.” Surprisingly, I liked it the first time I heard it…maybe in 2004 or 2005…and it immediately blew me away when I revisited it last week. That super-heavy style isn’t something I usually like, but the songs and musicianship are so strong that I couldn’t help but love it.
I own many box sets…probably over 100 of them…and “The Life And Crimes…” is as well-compiled as box sets get. If I had to recommend one purchase to a skeptic, that would be it.
When I first heard it there was a few standout songs like the title-track, Sanctuary and Blow Me a Kiss but the rest of the album grew on me. It got heavy rotation the year it came out but I haven’t went back to it for ages. I wonder if it would still blow me away now?
Seeing your posts and remembering the amount of albums Alice has actually brought out I have to confess to feeling like a bit of a fair-weather Alice fan. I really don’t own a huge number of his albums but I’ve always felt that box set was a great way of covering the albums I’ve missed.
Next time you listen to Brutal Planet, please let me know how it holds up for you. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m not a metal head so I don’t have the deep knowledge of the genre to know how it compares to similar albums & artists. I just know that I liked it a lot, which was a pleasant surprise.
Brutal Planet and The Last Temptation are two of my favorite Alice Cooper albums. I love “Eat Some More”, especially, as well as “Gimme”, but all of the songs are well-done. Alice has commented about the song, “Pick Up The Bones”, as being his response to something he saw on CNN. A man was shown, in the Kosovo killings, actually picking up the bones of his family in the ruins of their home, and putting them into a bloody pillowcase. As for The Last Temptation, it helps to have the comics, too, to get the full story line. It really adds to the meaning for me. These two albums truly show Alice’s heart for the world.
As I had commented before, about the boxed set, I was curious to hear the Spiders’ songs, having lived in the Phoenix area at that time, and knowing they had a radio hit. LIstening through this whole set again recently, it really floors me how adept Alice is with different styles of music, from 50’s and 60’s sounds and near-Broadway to punk and metal, he can do it all.
BeeDee, I’m happy to hear that I’m not the only one who loves The Last Temptation and Brutal Planet. Not many artists can deliver such vital work so many years into their career. Thanks for confirming that info about “Pick Up The Bones.” I thought I read that somewhere, and it gives the song that much more power.
As for your comment about Alice being adept at so many styles, I couldn’t agree more, and the box set ably demonstrates that. A lot of my friends are skeptical about Alice’s music based on knowing only a handful of his hits and seeing his public persona. If they would only give the box set a single listen I’m sure they would become fans.
I’m currently listening to the next batch of albums that I’ll be writing about soon. Lots of great music for me this week.
An interesting thought, when you get to Dragontown – “Every Woman Has a Name” could be the third in a series, after “Only Women Bleed” and “Take It Like A Woman”, kind of a Cooper “ring cycle” of songs. It really completes the story of abused and unappreciated women. It’s truly a beautiful song.
“Every Woman…” hasn’t jumped out at me in the few times I’ve listened to Dragontown this week, but I will pay attention to the lyrics next time. I like the idea of a “Ring Cycle” by Alice Cooper since there’s often a Wagnerian element to his music.
Great review though I disagree about “I Got a Line On You.” I thought that was actually a great cover. I completely agree about “The Last Temptation” and “Brutal Planet.” I think the Last Temptation stands up to anything he has done throughout his career. Brutal Planet is a masterpiece. It is nice and heavy and lyrically perhaps his best album.
Thanks, Mark. I’ve glad you enjoyed this post. Although I like Alice’s version of “I Got A Line On You,” I didn’t think it was anything other than a decent cover. I really like Spirit and the original is great. The best thing about Alice’s version for me is that a lot of people were probably exposed to the song who otherwise would never have heard it. I’m happy to hear that we agree about The Last Temptation and Brutal Planet. There is some vital & diverse music on those albums. As you mentioned, his lyrics on Brutal Planet might be his best, and I think that’s an underrated aspect to his songwriting.
I really seem to be in the minority on Brutal Planet!
Nothing wrong with that, Mike. There are plenty of albums by artists I love that I think are mediocre and I’m in the minority. You can’t force yourself to like something, and I’m sure you’ve given that album enough listens to know how you feel. That being said, I’d love to know if your feelings on Brutal Planet ever change.
Well Rich, much like yourself, I have a very deep music collection that I revisit without much of a game plan or pattern. I haven’t done what you’re doing since last year, when I did my Maiden series. (And I cheated on that, using some old reviews for some of the albums.)
Brutal Planet might be due for a review. I also have the CD/DVD combo pack for Brutally Live. I was working in the store when Brutal Planet came out. I had sorely missed Alice during his quiet late 90’s period and I loved the one tune from Fistful of Alice — “Is Anyone Home?”
Perhaps my mistake was expecting more material like that. As if you CAN expect something from Alice!
Very true. You can never tell what Alice is going to do next. I’m still a little ashamed that I dismissed him for so many years. I knew his classic albums were, well, classic…but I assumed all of his later material was one-dimensional. How wrong I was. Thanks to three thing I eventually came around: (1) The release of the Life And Crimes box set, (2) a former office mate around 2003 who kept trying to convince me how good Alice’s then-recent material was and (3) all the great reviews he received for The Eyes Of Alice Cooper. Once I bought it and gave it a few listens I had to check out all the other releases I had missed. And all of that culminated in this current series.
I’m still deciding which video release to buy after I complete his discography in a couple of weeks. Based on the live albums I’ve heard so far, Brutally Live seems like a good purchase: excellent set list and kick-ass band. I love Eric Singer’s drumming.
Rich, you won’t regret buying Brutally Live…you’re gonna love it!
Thanks for the confirmation. Looks like I can find the DVD at a reasonable price, so it’s an easy decision. The hard part will be finding the time to play it, but I’ll get to it eventually.
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LOVE LOVE LOVE Brutal Planet! Who would have thought that Uncle Alice would come along at this time and school others about how good industrial influenced hard rock could sound. Was highly impressed the first dozen times and enjoy it even today, along with Brutally Live.
Also must put in a good word for the Billion Dollar Babies Battle Axe album. Bought it the day it came out and though Alice’s vocals would have significantly enhanced the record, it is still a keeper and I listen to it quite often still. There are much better songs from the album they could have picked for the box set (Too Young – Rock n Roll Radio). Hope you can find the two disc set which features a live Billion Dollar Babies show…one of the four or so they did before calling it a day.
Hi Nelson. I’m happy to hear that you feel as strongly as I do about Brutal Planet. What a phenomenal album and certainly up there among his/their best.
Thanks for the recommendation of the BDB album. When I completed this series I looked for the 2-disc set but was unable to find it for a reasonable price. You’ve reignited my interest in getting that so I will begin searching again. I didn’t realize they only did so few shows and that one of them was included on that set. Very eager to hear it.