Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Artist: ALICE COOPER
Album: LACE AND WHISKEY
[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]
Back in 2013 I wrote an 8-part series on the Alice Cooper discography as I spent 2-1/2 months getting to know everything he/they released over the course of 4+ decades. From the seven albums by the original Alice Cooper Band to more than two dozen studio & live recordings by the singer previously known as Vincent Furnier, who carried on the band name as a solo artist, I enjoyed diving into the highs & lows of a catalog that defies description. The original group was often described as “shock rock” and he later had commercial success during the “hair metal” era, so I’m guessing most casual fans, as well as his detractors, have pigeonholed him in either or both of those categories because his image…ghoulish makeup & shocking stage antics…has rarely changed over the years. However, once you venture beyond the “hits” you discover an incredibly diverse artist with a knack for clever & insightful lyrics, catchy melodies and surrounding himself with world-class musicians & producers. Rarely would an album sound like its predecessor even though the same musical DNA runs through them all. In Part 3 of the series I wrote about his first batch of solo releases, including an album that possibly touches on more styles than any others, before or since: Lace And Whiskey. Below you’ll find what I wrote about this wonderful yet divisive record in that post. After playing it last week for the first time in four years I like it even more than I did then, now that the weight of expectations based on the classics that preceded it is no longer an issue. Even the three songs I didn’t mention in that post have grown on me. I love the Aerosmith-like swagger of “It’s Hot Tonight” & the dramatic string- and piano-laden ballad “I Never Wrote Those Songs,” and I’m not sure how I previously ignored the bright, stomping, hard-rockin’ fun of “Road Rats.” Lace And Whiskey may not be an all-time great Alice Cooper record, and there are several others I would recommend to newcomers, but once you become a fan you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the breadth & scope on display.
For his next record, Lace And Whiskey, he took on the character of fictional private detective Maurice Escargot. I’m not quite sure if there’s a story linking the songs to this portrayal, but I like the fact that he was adopting new personas to expand the scope of what Alice Cooper is about. It has a slightly better hit-to-miss ratio than Goes To Hell as it veers further from the hard rock sound that he was known for. Once again (Bob) Ezrin was the producer, and he also co-wrote nearly every song with Alice & Dick Wagner. “Lace And Whiskey” is a syncopated rocker with Spanish flourishes and a phased vocal effect. I could easily hear Elton John doing this song at that time. It’s dramatic without being over the top, and the chorus is super catchy: “Give me…lace and whiskey, mama’s own remedy, double indemnity, fill me with ecstasy, la-a-ace and whiskey.” “Damned If You Do” is a loose, ramshackle country-tinged rocker that sounds like something Ringo Starr would’ve recorded with his drinking buddies in the ‘70s. It’s fun, groovy & lightweight in the best possible way. “You And Me” is an absolutely stunning ballad. As with Alice’s prior ballads, his name & reputation probably prevented this from being a huge hit, which could’ve been the case with any number of artists (in fact, Frank Sinatra performed this song in concert). It features another chorus that’s been burrowed in my head for days (“You and me ain’t no movie stars, what we are is what we are”), and his voice is strong & confident while displaying a softness & vulnerability most fans wouldn’t associate with him. The orchestral accompaniment could’ve been sappy but instead it perfectly complements the understated arrangement.
“King Of The Silver Screen” is a stabbing, midtempo riff rocker that finds him playing a regular guy who fantasizes about being any kind of movie character. Or at least that’s how it initially seems, until it’s later revealed that he’s actually a cross-dresser (or the “Queen of the silver screen”). He incorporates old-time horror movie music as well as “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” for dramatic effect, but those added sounds & references detract from an otherwise strong song. “Ubangi Stomp” is a minor but fun cover of a ‘50s rockabilly song that sounds like it was a lot of fun to record. “(No More) Love At Your Convenience” begins with a horn fanfare over a steady beat before developing into a sweeping disco song. This is the strangest of his dance songs to date, if only because there’s no “rock” element at all…it’s pure disco…and you can barely distinguish Alice’s voice among the chorus of female vocals. This could’ve been any booty-shaking tune of the era. I would’ve detested this song had I heard this album in the late-‘70s but now I can appreciate it for what it is. I still question why he included it here, as it would clearly turn off a lot of his longtime fans, but I love that he was unafraid to show all sides of his musical personality. That’s the mark of a true artist.
Album closer “My God” is by far my favorite song on Lace And Whiskey, since it touches on symphonic progressive rock (which I love) without being too artsy or esoteric. It begins with a church organ that morphs into electric keyboard/synth (a nod to Yes’ Rick Wakeman, perhaps). The lyrics are overtly religious & reverential, but never come across as preachy. I know that Alice was suffering from alcoholism at the time, so perhaps this was his way of trying to find balance in his life. All I know is that the music is incredible…I felt an emotional connection to it…and I love the AOR guitar solo. It’s a stunning way to cap off a very good yet stylistically confused album.
For more enthusiasm about this album, check out Mike “LeBrain” Ladano’s review from 2012.