KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

ALICE COOPER Part 7 – Between High School And Old School

Throughout his career, Alice Cooper has made a habit of confounding the expectations of fans & critics by rarely repeating himself, especially on successive records. One exception, however, took place when he followed up the brilliant Brutal Planet (which I discussed, and raved about, in my previous post) with its thematic successor, Dragontown (2001). Bob Marlette returned Alice Cooper - Dragontownas producer along with guitarist Ryan Roxie, and one notable addition is drummer Kenny Aronoff, best known for his work with John Mellencamp in the ‘80s & ‘90s (and a personal inspiration for my own drumming). Even though this album functions as a sequel, it’s not as dark, ominous & oppressive as Brutal Planet. “Dragontown” has a cool pre-chorus (“Come on, I’ve got something to show you”) that leads into a melodic chorus (“We can dig you a hole deep in the ground, burn your soul down in Dragontown”), and features references to the “wicked young man” and “family of bones” from the previous album. “Fantasy Man” is a crunchy, power-pop-metal tune that reminds me of Stone Temple Pilots (like numerous Alice songs from this era). I like how the title is a misnomer, as he’s “not your fantasy man” and “Hey hey, I ain’t gonna change, hey hey don’t you love it this way?” “Disgraceland” is a tasteless but hilarious rockabilly song about the dark side…and sad demise…of Elvis Presley, with Alice singing in a faux-Elvis voice. As a huge Elvis fan I should be offended, but it’s too funny to let it bother me and I assume Alice’s tongue was planted firmly in cheek on this one.

Alice Cooper Photo (from Dragontown)“Sister Sara” has a midtempo chunky rhythm and a great story about a disgraced nun. The music is very heavy & a bit one-dimensional, and I don’t really like the mostly spoken verses, but the quieter pre-chorus with female vocals and the killer lyrics make it worth repeated listens. “Every Woman Has A Name” is a tender ballad with strings; another example of female solidarity & empowerment in a similar vein to earlier songs “Only Women Bleed” & “Take It Like A Woman.” I could imagine this being turned into a great country ballad. The album closes with two strong songs. “It’s Much Too Late” is brighter than much of what came before it; a pop-rock tune written from the perspective of a “nice guy with good intentions” who ends up in Hell. I like that irony as well as the Beatle-y “la la la” backing vocals. “The Sentinel” is dark & raunchy, and seems to be about suicide bombers. It’s interesting to note that it was recorded before September 11 of that year, since this is the kind of song you would expect on a post-9/11 release.

When I bought this album I was fortunate to find a copy of the 2-CD “Special Edition” that includes one new track, two live performances & one decent if forgettable remix. The highlight of the bonus disc is a song I loved the first time I heard it: “Can’t Sleep, Clowns Will Eat Me.” Based on a quote (I assume) from Bart Simpson, it’s funny & fun with a riff that recalls The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” How can you not love a song with this lyrical refrain: “And if you think this isn’t real, I’ll show you wounds that never heal, to them I’m just a happy meal”? Based on reviews I’ve read, a lot of fans seem to prefer Dragontown over Brutal Planet, but I think this album…like most sequels…doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original. That’s a minor criticism, as I like the majority of the songs and even the ones I didn’t mention are worth checking out at least once.

With the release of The Eyes Of Alice Cooper (2003), I went from being a casual fan with a couple of individual albums & the Alice Cooper - The Eyes Of Alice CooperLife And Crimes box set to someone who needed to hear everything in the Alice Cooper catalog. That’s how good the reviews were at the time, and how much this album lived up to the hype. Completely switching gears from the various strains of metal he had become known for in recent years, Alice turned to producer Mudrock (aka Andrew Murdoch), best known for his work with modern rock bands Godsmack & Avenged Sevenfold (two bands I know next to nothing about) to help deliver a collection of thirteen short garage rock and power-pop songs that are still as instantly enjoyable as they were the first time I played them. The lineup this time includes guitarists Eric Dover & Ryan Roxie (who co-wrote most of the record), bassist Chuck Garric & drummer Eric Singer. “What Do You Want From Me?” is a bright splashy rocker with a greasy/sleazy glam rock vibe. I love the alternating vocals in the chorus. “Between High School & Old School” is a return to the Alice Cooper Band’s early-‘70s heyday, like an updated “School’s Out” for an aging…but still vital…rock star. Like in the old days, he’s a sneering outsider delivering great lines like, “Nobody wants me hangin’ ‘round, unless it’s from a tree in the middle of town.”

[Alice Cooper – “Between High School & Old School”]

“Man Of The Year” has tongue-in-cheek lyrics set to a Green Day-esque chugging punk-pop groove. I love the sunny, harmony-laden chorus, and it’s interesting how the last section includes references to depression & suicide yet somehow finds a positive spin. “Novocaine” is a rootsy rocker that reminds me of Steve Earle. It’s loose, slightly ragged and very catchy & bright, Alice Cooper Photo (from The Eyes Of...)especially the chorus (“’Cause when you touch me…hold me…kiss me, I don’t feel anything”). Things slow down for the heartfelt jazzy ballad, “Be With You Awhile,” where Alice just wants to be the right man for his woman. “Detroit City,” featuring MC5’s Wayne Kramer on guitar, is his homage to the titular city with references to MC5, Iggy Pop, Ted Nugent & Bob Seger, and humorous nods to Detroit “kids” like Kid Rock, Eminem & Insane Clown Posse. It’s a cool sleazy rocker with great guitar interplay shifting between the left & right channels. “This House Is Haunted” returns to the sparse, creepy feel of much of Welcome To My Nightmare, with Alice singing from the perspective of a kid who’s been tormented all his life (Steven perhaps?). Musically this one’s really interesting, with raging guitars, theremin and clarinet in the mix. “Love Should Never Feel Like This” is Cheap Trick-esque power-pop. It’s not an amazing song but it is insanely catchy, and I love the organ sound. “The Song That Didn’t Rhyme” is a self-referencing tune about mediocre songwriting (“the melody blows in a key that no one can find, the lyrics don’t flow but I can’t get it out of my mind”) that even features an offbeat drum fill to intentionally match the lyrics. I really can’t speak highly enough about The Eyes Of Alice Cooper, as I think any fan of the Alice Cooper Band’s ‘70s albums with an open mind for modern production would love the songs & performances. Even now that I’ve gotten to know those early albums extremely well, I still feel this record stands proud among those acknowledged classics.

My initial reaction to Dirty Diamonds (2005) at the time was, “it’s very good but not in the same league as The Eyes Of…” That was eight years ago and now, after spending a lot more time with it Alice Cooper - Dirty Diamondsthis past week, I regard it nearly as highly as its predecessor. Album opener “Woman Of Mass Distraction” is kind of a throwaway; an AC/DC-type hard rocker with big riffs & pounding drums that could also be a Gene Simmons-sung Kiss song. Things immediately pick up with “Perfect,” a T. Rex-ish glam rock stomper with a slinky groove, great hooks & strong clean vocals addressed to all those untalented wannabe pop stars (“She’s perfect until the lights go on, and then it all goes wrong…”). “Dirty Diamonds” combines the drama of a spy film soundtrack (especially the flute & trumpet intro and the mid-song instrumental section) with a pulsing rock song. The chorus is its greatest asset: “Dirty diamonds, blood soaked money in your shakin’ fist…stone cold killers & you’re on their list.” “The Saga Of Jesse Jane” is a hilarious but serious-sounding quasi-country ballad with Alice singing, in a deep mocking voice, the story of a cross-dressing criminal. Lyrically it recalls Monty Python’s “Lumberjack Song” while the music had me thinking of off-kilter ‘80s band Wall Of Voodoo.

[Alice Cooper – “Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)”]

“Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)” is a raunchy rocker with a punk energy & swagger and a huge harmony-filled chorus, like a less glossy version of his hair metal years.
“Pretty Ballerina” is a lovely, lilting pastoral tune with hints of ‘60s recordings by Love, The Zombies & The Moody Blues and vocals on the sweeter side of John Lennon (think “#9 Dream”). I love the slowly insistent groove in “Run Down The Devil,” which features tight harmonies & a stellar chorus. It’s repetitive in a good way. Alice Cooper Photo (from Dirty Diamonds)“Steal That Car” isn’t a major song but it’s a blast of fun with a killer organ-infused chorus (“Everybody knows, I’m gonna steal that car”). “Six Hours” is instantly memorable with that weeping lead guitar, and the slow waltz tempo sets it apart from the rest of the album. “Your Own Worst Enemy” is the shortest track at just 2:15, with tambourine hits pepping up this steady, Smithereens style rocker. I especially like the amusing lyrics (“Your stock went south & your girlfriend is gay, your dog ate your cat and that was your good day”). It’s followed by album closer “Zombie Dance,” a sparser, bass-driven tune with guitars providing the accents and Alice’s harmonica adding a slightly bluesy dimension. Peggi Blu & Edna Wright add soaring blues/gospel vocals; the song could’ve used even more of them. There’s also a bonus track called “Stand” that features rapper Xzibit. It has a repetitive programmed groove with a good melodic hook (“If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything”) but it’s not a song I’ll revisit frequently. All in all I was pleasantly surprised by how much more I enjoyed Dirty Diamonds this time around. It quickly became a new favorite.

I’m glad I finally got to hear the audio disc that came with the Live At Montreux 2005 (2006) DVD, as I considered picking it up a number of times but never made the purchase. In fact, I hadn’t heard any Alice Cooper live releases until I began this series. The CD only has 19 songs compared to 28 on the DVD, but over the Alice Cooper - Live At Montreux 2005course of those tracks Alice & the band cover a lot of ground: 7 songs come from four Alice Cooper Band albums while the other 12 songs span 9 solo albums. “I Never Cry” is the only ballad, performed in an “unplugged” setting, while the rest of the set emphasizes the more upbeat, rock & roll side of Alice. While there are no particular standouts, overall it’s an excellent show by a lineup that consists of guitarists Ryan Roxie & Damon Johnson, bassist Chuck Garric and drummer Eric Singer. It’s hard to compare this to previous live albums, other than to say that Alice is in fine voice and the set list is well chosen. Considering he was only a few years shy of 60 when this show was recorded, it’s pretty impressive to hear him still at the peak of his powers. Not many of his contemporaries could make that claim.

I’ve already begun listening to his two most recent albums. I’ll be giving those discs a number of spins this week, along with two more live releases, before I write my final post on the Alice Cooper catalog. Stay tuned, and as always please share your thoughts on the albums discussed here in the Comments section. Thank you.

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29 comments on “ALICE COOPER Part 7 – Between High School And Old School

  1. BeeDeeWarner
    June 18, 2013

    Rich, your review of these albums is spot-on. I especially love Dragontown and Dirty Diamonds. The song, “Dirty Diamonds”, shows Alice’s love of James Bond movies. He’s said he would love to play the villian in one of the flicks. Although a cover of the original Left Banke song, “Pretty Ballerina” is obviously a tribute to his wife, Sheryl, one of the original dancers in the Welcome To My Nightmare tour. “The Sage of Jesse Jane” is a return to the cross-dressing theme, as was done in “The King of the Silver Screen” from Lace and Whiskey. I think both songs are a hoot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad we agree about how good this batch of albums is, even though we slightly disagree on our favorites (The Eyes Of Alice Cooper is my go-to album of the three). Thanks for pointing out that “Pretty Ballerina” was a cover of the Left Banke song. I’ve probably heard it but didn’t make the connection. I’m more familiar with their much-covered hit “Walk Away Renee.” Also, great call on the ties between “The Saga Of Jesse Jane” and “The King Of The Silver Screen.” Musically they don’t have much in common but thematically they’re cut from the same cloth…and they’re both a hoot, as you pointed out. Thanks again for reading these posts & sharing your comments. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the two most recent albums when I warp up the Alice catalog within the next week.

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  2. mikeladano
    June 18, 2013

    When I saw Alice on the Dirty Diamonds tour (2nd row; opening act was Helix) I really had to re-evaluate that album. Maybe I’d been suffering from Alice burnout — I didn’t care for Brutal Planet or Dragontown too much. Eyes Of kind of came and went without me paying much attention. But Dirty Diamonds forced me to pay attention again, because he put on a great show with great new tunes. I’m not actually sure if it was my first time seeing Eric Singer in concert though — Did Eric play with Alice around 98? I saw him around then as well.

    Of these, Dirty Diamonds is my favourite. But I know you still have a couple more albums coming, one of which I gave a solid 5/5 on my blog…

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    • Not sure off the top of my head when Eric Singer started playing with Alice (you might want to check the SickThingsUK website that I linked in my prior post, since they’ll probably have that info), but there’s no doubt that he’s one of the best modern rock drummers. His work with Alice, Kiss and Badlands is consistently great.

      If it’s been a while since you listened to The Eyes Of…, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

      By the way, I finally got Blue Rodeo’s Five Days In July and listened to it for the first time today. It’s really good, and I think my favorite song is the 9+ minute “Tell Me Your Dream.” Thanks for the recommendation (which was part of a discussion we had months ago).

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      • mikeladano
        June 18, 2013

        I know Eric began touring with Alice on the Hey Stoopid tour. I remember he and Derek Sherinian were both in Alice’s band, and the following year, both were touring with Kiss!

        Hey no problem Rich! I’m glad you enjoyed. That is a fantastic song, Sarah McLaughlin sings on it too.

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      • Didn’t realize that Eric played with Alice that far back. Also didn’t realize that Derek Sherinian ever played with Kiss. I’m learning a lot today.

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      • mikeladano
        June 18, 2013

        One of my regrets is giving away all my rock magazines, or at least most. I had an old Metal Edge from summer 1991 with a big photo spread on the Alice Cooper band. That’s how I knew that. Alice might have had Vinnie Moore in his band at that time too, I don’t remember.

        Sherinian was Kiss’ offstage keyboard player, but he is credited on Alive III.

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      • One of the best days ever, believe it or not, was when I purged nearly every music magazine I had held onto for years. This happened about 10-12 years ago when I still lived in a 1-bedroom apartment that had 20 years of accumulated crap, including copies of Rolling Stone, Musician, Q & Mojo, some dating to the mid-80s. I only saved a few, mostly the issues with Zeppelin, The Beatles or Pink Floyd on the cover. And I can honestly say I’ve never missed them. These days you can find nearly every article ever published online, so I’m glad the only space-hogging items I own are my LPs & CDs.

        I never got Alive III, so that’s probably why I didn’t realize Sherinian played with them. Did he appear on any other official releases?

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      • mikeladano
        June 19, 2013

        No I don’t think so. Cooper’s has some amazing musicians work with him, sometimes it’s staggering to recall all the names!

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      • Alice definitely knows how to choose his musicians wisely. From the original Alice Cooper Band through his current collaborators, they’ve all contributed something special to his catalog.

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      • mikeladano
        June 21, 2013

        Even Kane! Muscles! 🙂

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      • Why do I feel like watching a Rambo movie now? Haha.

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      • mikeladano
        June 21, 2013

        I can’t remember if I’ve posted this before. Everybody needs a guitar that looks like a machine gun:

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      • As cool as that is, Gene Simmons’ “axe” bass would win a battle against Kane’s “machine gun” guitar. They say “don’t bring a knife to a gunfight,” but no one said anything about axes.

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      • mikeladano
        June 21, 2013

        Is ridiculous as this conversation is Rich, I am compelled to argue otherwise!

        Kane would have Gene taken down at 40 paces with that thing. And even if he didn’t, Gene’s slow moving armored form would be immediately overpowered by Kane’s brute strength. Kane is wise to not wear armor, just a T-shirt. Other bands such as Armored Saint or Gwar would only be slowed down by their armor. For that matter, I’ve always wondered what the point was of armor that lacked sleeves or any sort of arm protection. Perhaps members of Armored Saint will drop by to enlighten us.

        Anyway, I’m going with the gun.

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      • Good argument, but my money’s on Gene f**king Simmons. No one takes him down. Gene would laugh at Kane’s silly bullets and hack him to pieces with his axe.

        This is the perfect conversation to lead us into the weekend. Hope it’s a good one for you.

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      • mikeladano
        June 21, 2013

        Thanks, and same to you! I think you have exhausted all possible arguments on this one. I concede 🙂

        I was thinking though, in a weird way it was such a coup to have a great visual presence like Kane Roberts in his band at that time. I don’t know if you remember this or not, but I sure do: Wrestlemania III. Alice Cooper was in the corner of Jake the Snake Roberts. So there’s already this weird 80’s connection with rock and wrestling and Alice, and he had this great talented musclebound guitarist/singer/songewriter in his band. It was perfect.

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      • I watched some wrestling in the 80s when I was in college (The Ultimate Warrior was my favorite character), but I don’t recall Alice’s appearance or any connections between WWF and rock music…even though it makes complete sense. I was enough of a fan to watch the matches on weekends but I never saw any of the Wrestlemanias.

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      • mikeladano
        June 21, 2013

        Not only was Alice at Wrestlemania III, but Ozzy was at Wrestlemania II before that! Ozzy was in the corner of the British Bulldogs. I guess because he’s British. That’s the only connection I could figure out.

        Rick Derringer recorded Hulk Hogan’s theme, “A Real American”…I’m sure if I wrack my brain I’d come up with more but you get the picture. I know Gene Simmons attempted to spin Kiss off into wrestling by having a WWF character in his makeup called the Demon.

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      • Interesting…even though that went way beyond my level of interest in wrestling. Not surprised to hear about Gene’s attempt to cash-in on something.

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      • mikeladano
        June 21, 2013

        I believe he also has ties with Nascar. That’s Gene for ya.

        But consider this: Alice Cooper doesn’t do a quarter of the self-promotion that Gene does. Yet today I would say he is as recognizable.

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      • Very true. He may not be as rich as Gene, but he’s much more respected in & out of the music industry.

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  3. BeeDeeWarner
    June 19, 2013

    Eric Singer is a great drummer, as was “Whitey” Glan. Alice’s current drummer, Glen Sobel, is incredible! I just read recently (on the sickthings website, perhaps?) that he’s in the records as one of the top 5 fastest drummers in the world. I believe it – he was amazing when I saw the show last year. He took a few months off last year because of a neck injury common to drummers, but he’s back and going strong. Tried to get my niece (who knows him) to get me a backstage pass, but so far she hasn’t done so). I’m looking forward to the show in three weeks, in Indiana! Rich, you’ve got to find a way to see Alice, but I’m sure the shows in New York and New Jersey are probably sold out by now, at least the good seats. Maybe next year, huh?

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    • I hadn’t heard of Glen Sobel before. How long has he been playing with Alice? As a drummer myself I’m not always impressed by speed, even though it’s cool to be in the “top 5 fastest drummers,” but I’m sure he’s incredibly musical if Alice chose to work with him. As Mike & I previously discussed, the level of musicianship in Alice’s bands throughout the years is staggering.

      I will definitely make it a point to see Alice at some point, although it probably won’t be this year. At the very least I need to check out some of his live videos. One of the hig-def music channels broadcast the Montreux 2005 concert earlier today, which I now have on my DVR. Looking forward to watching it soon, after I wrap up this series.

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      • BeeDeeWarner
        June 21, 2013

        Glen started to play with the band early last year on the No More Mr. Nice Guy tour. You’re right that speed doesn’t count for much, but this guy is an amazing drummer, or
        Alice would not have him in the band. I’m glad you were able to get the Montreux concert on DVR. You’ll really enjoy it, although I still like the Brutally Live better.

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      • Thanks for the info on Glen Sobel. Good to know. Can’t wait to hear his contributions to Alice’s music.

        Now that I have the Montreux show on the DVR, that’ll make my decision easy when choosing a DVD or Blu-Ray to buy: Brutally Live.

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  4. Chris Tower
    June 20, 2013

    Rich, I love your blog, which I have had in my main RSS feed for about a year. You are inspiring me to re-discover Alice Cooper, also. Thank you. Your journey of self discovery through music resonates with a similar journey I am undertaking on blogger. Keep blogging. I am staying tuned.

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    • Hi Chris. Thanks so much for checking out my blog and for your kind words. I just checked out your blog and I’ll be following it as soon as I finish writing this comment. Anyone who proudly displays a Quisp t-shirt is someone I need to keep in touch with. If/when you revisit Alice Cooper’s catalog, I’d love to know your thoughts. [Update: I didn’t realize your blog isn’t on WordPress, so I’m not sure how to follow it. I don’t keep an RSS feed, so I’m saving your blog in my favorites]

      Cheers!
      Rich

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