Share LOVE IT TO DEATH - Alice Cooper (Warner)
From the teen-anthem assault of "Caught In A Dream" through to the Rolf Harris (no, I'm not joking) cover of "Sun Arise", Alice Cooper's first real LP is a must-have rock 'n 'roll record.
While the first two LPs to bear the Cooper name might garner your attention via their association with the name and their obscurity/infamy, they're not really Cooper albums (Alice considers them to be more Nazz albums – the name the band bore before they adopted their more recognizable, and less-Rundgren confusible monicker – due to their art-rock leanings and crazed time signatures.) What producer Bob Ezrin brought to this band (Jack Richardson refused point-blank to produce them – and given their first two LPs, who can blame him?) production-wise can NOT be under-estimated.
"Love It To Death" is one of those records you absolutely MUST have in your collection. "Caught In A Dream" is one of my (and soon to be one of your) favourite Alice Cooper tracks, a toon that you must simply have in your iTunes – it's the kind of thing that will put a spring in your step, a song in your heart and a smile on your face on the way to work in the morning. Well, it has that effect on me, anyway.
Following up is "I'm Eighteen", a Cooper anthem I've heard too many times to be objective about (and which I'm sure you know anyway), but really is where the Cooper legend began (covered by many, but equaled by none) – it certainly came a long way since its loose-as-hell 11 minute (sometimes bordering on 30) blues-jam origin. After the free-wheeling good-time vibe of "Long Way To Go", the Alice Cooper band crank it up a notch with the nine minute voodoo jam, "Black Juju". This is one of those instances where the band show their free-jazz roots, and their Beefheart-style craziness, but all tempered with their love of the old gothic-styled Universal horror flicks, powered by Michael Bruce's eerie keyboard sounds.
Flip the disc and we've got the even more impressive side two; leading off is the sleazily skanking "Is It My Body?", the dirtiest rock 'n' roll song this side of the Stones' "Stray Cat Blues", with Alice's trademark snarl really cementing its place in rock history – prey to a legion of cover versions. "Hallowed Be Thy Name" follows on, with a Hammond-driven thrust and a sleazy rhythm.
But it's the next two songs that really cement this LP as a bona fide iron-clad rock classic: the sledge-hammer Gothic styles of "Second Coming" (one of the most under-rated of the Cooper band's catalogue) backing on to the jaw-dropping intensity of "The Ballad Of Dwight Frye" – ostensibly a hymn to a to a Hollywood B-movie icon, but in reality the first instance where Alice himself could take on a persona and be executed on stage, based on that actor's roles (in both James Whales' "Frankenstein" and Tod Browning's "Dracula") – on this tour via a rather unrealistic electric chair. The record ends off, sadly, with a jolly cover of Rolf Harris' "Sun Arise", the LP's only low-point – but hey, it's the last song; you could've turned it off by then.
Reasons to buy this album: firstly, Alice in very good voice. Secondly, Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton's fine guitar interplay – particularly on "Second Coming" – it's a revelation, people. Thirdly: the most underrated rhythm section in rock history at their prime – drum-meister Neal Smith and bass-god Dennis Dunaway. Fourthly, the songwriting (tempered through Bob Ezrin's production) is really something else. Sure, it was bettered on "Killer", but it's still pretty fucking impressive right here, with so much to prove at the birth of their career.
All-in-all, "Love It To Death" is one of those LPs that you really should own, a prime slice of Detroit hard-rock that any self-respecting rocker must have. - Mr Intolerance
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SCHOOL'S OUT - Alice Cooper (Warner)
Alright, look past the anthemic glam-rock title track (the one song Alice himself knew was going to be a hit from the point uber-guitarist Glen Buxton first played the glorious opening riff to him), "School's Out" is one great hard-rockin', vaguely concept-driven LP – and that concept is very vaguely drawn at best. But the best thing about it is the fact that there a bunch of toons on the album that really go against the teen-glam angle of the title track. As a matter of fact, they start from track number two.
The LP roars its anti-establishment roots from the outset with the gleeful title-track, ably abetted by Bob Ezrin's loud-as-hell production, the snarling guitars and big, fat drum sounds working their way into the heart of any rocker. Track number two "Luney Tune" is one of my favourite Cooper tracks, suicide-themed and all ("I'm swimmin' in blood!"); it's off-kilter time signature and oblique lyric help to bolster its appeal. From there we move to Movie-Musical territory, with "Gutter-Cat Vs The Jets", followed by "Street Fight" (the latter actually recorded by the producer without the bands' knowledge) – a riff on "West Side Story"'s camp braggadocio (when I saw the Coop live in 1990 he played this live and tried to stage a gang-fight on stage as part of the show – it didn't really work, and given this was during his ill-advised flirtation with hair-metal, I can't say I was surprised.)
The side winds out with "Blue Turk", one of the band's more experimental tracks during their commercial period – a good song, don't get me wrong, but maybe a throwback to the bands early days wasn't a wise move on what was possibly their otherwise most commercial record.
Flipping the disc, the unsuspecting listener will first hear the proto-metal "My Stars", a rocking piece of good news, backed up with the rock steady-roar of "Public Animal #9" (a prime slab of of hard Detroit rock with some neat keyboards), followed up by the Beatles-esque lament of "Alma Mater" (a look back at bygone days, and a rather saccharine one at that), before moving back into an overture, and a rather redundant one, to say the least. On that level at least, "School's Out" starts well, but kind of peters out towards the end – a roar that fades slowly to a whimper.
Is it a good album? Yeah, I think so. Is it a great album? No. Although Alice Cooper's greatness was built on the back of this LP and the one that followed it, I honestly think what went before was better, and rocked harder. - Mr Intolerance
BILLION DOLLAR BABIES - Alice Cooper (Warner)
Probably the brimming cup in Alice Cooper's history (if you're looking at album sales), what you've got here is the tide turning . Voted the #1 band in the world by NME on the back of the admittedly strong "School's Out" LP, "Billion Dollar Babies" tried hard to mimic the same approach, but failed, mainly due to a slicker, more commercial sound.
Is it a bad LP? Hell no! But it does indeed get off to a very flat beginning – the one-two punch of the celebratory "Hello, Hooray" and the rancidly limp "Raped and Freezing" don't really add up to much, and show that this constantly touring band were getting very tired indeed.
But the album comes to life with "Elected" (even if you remember it from "Pretties For You"'s "Reflected" – the fact that the band were scavenging from their own back catalogue didn't bode well for the future) and the pile-driving title track with some wicked Dennis Dunaway bass and Neal Smith brutalising his drum kit, alongside Donovan snidely insinuating his way into the song. Tracks three and four really drive you home, even if "Unfinished Sweet" doesn't – although if you see Alice in cowboy boots and not much else chasing an unsweetened tooth through the streets of New York with a giant toothbrush on the "Good To See You Again, Alice Cooper" '73 tour DVD, you might garner an appreciation of the song on a visual level, if nothing else. Also, the dentistry sound effects on the track were genuine – they were apparently recorded while Alice was having work done on his admittedly impressive chompers. He's no Jim Dandy, but the man has ivory almost second to none.
The second side of the LP is the better side: "No More Mr. Nice Guy" is one of the Coop's more commercial and enjoyable hard-rocking moments with a killer riff (later forgettably covered by Megadeth for Wes Craven's "Shocker" soundtrack), "Generation Landslide" (which the Coop himself later revisited - badly – during his New Wave phase on 81's mainly lamentable "Special Forces" LP) chugs along with the Coop's own special style of teen-rebellion, but it's the record's final tracks that really show the band's true styles.
"Sick Things" is a gleeful, if somewhat turgid, romp, leading to the rather brief and inexplicable (if pretty) "Mary Ann" (I once tried to impress a girl I knew called Mary-Ann by learning how to play this song – it didn't work), before heading to the LP's finest moment – the leering paean to necrophilia, and stage-show climax: "I Love The Dead", one of the Coop's most enduring songs, and one of bad taste's finest moments. It rounds out the album in fine style.
All-in-all, I think you'll walk away from "Billion Dollar Babies" a happy person, but not as happy as you'll walk away from "Killer" or "Love It To Death" (in that order). It's a good album, but one that's a victim of its production – it's a little too slick to these ears. I like my rawk with an edge, and "Billion Dollar Babies" tends to lack that, despite some fine songwriting – but considering how much cash the band were making at the time, who can blame them? - Mr Intolerance
OLD SCHOOL '64-74 - Alice Cooper (Universal)
"Old School" is an Alice Cooper fan's dream come true. That said, it's not for the casual fan, but then the $A200+ price tag is more than likely to scare off the less than devoted buyer. But if like me you're a keen fan of the classic era of when Alice Cooper was the name of the band, not only the stage name of one Vincent Furnier, minister's son, then you'll find much to love in "Old School".
The exceptional packaging of this set, prepared at the point when it was rumoured that the original band were going to be nominated for the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame (to which they were inducted – and not before time!), is probably responsible for the hefty cost of this limited pressing – think: a more 3D version of the old "School's Out" LP packaging, a couple of inches thick by about 14 inches square – but without the panties. The strong durable card box looks like a school desk, hinged to access the goodies within. And a rich assortment of goodies it is:
- Two CDs of live, demo and pre-production cuts taken from between 66 and 74, ranging from early outfit The Spiders, through to the Cooper band's last LP, "Muscle Of Love". There are some radio ads from back in the day, too. These are a real grab-bag in terms of quality. If you're a Cooper fan, they're nothing less than interesting – some of these songs developed greatly from their demos (the cut of "I'm Eighteen" you're familiar with veers wildly away from the 11 minute blues jam version from 1970 presented here, and I'm very glad that the band substantially reworked "Never Been Sold Before", before releasing it on vinyl) – but I'd probably think that they're more curios than the definitive versions of these songs. The "Killer" demos are probably the best tracks present, but that'd be because that album represents the band's strongest material.
- One CD of spoken word material – "In Their Own Words". This is pretty interesting for fans, but I don't know how often I'll be re-listening. Still glad to have 'em though.
- A bootleg CD of a gig from the 71 tour supporting the "Killer" LP. This is nothing short of highly impressive, with the band at their leanest and punchiest roaring through a collection of tracks from their two best LPs. "Halo Of Flies", "You Drive Me Nervous", "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" and "Be My Lover" are definite stand-outs here. Scorching hard rock excellence – you will be impressed.
- A bootleg 12" LP of the same material, unfortunately minus the final cut, a wild-rockin' tear-away version of "Under My Wheels".
- A 7" reproduction of the Nazz's (the line-up's name before changing to Alice Cooper) 1967 single "Wonder Who's Loving Her Now," backed with an early version of "Lay Down and Die, Goodbye," later to surface on "Easy Action." This is actually a pretty neat psych-pop single, especially the unavailable elsewhere A-side, pressed on to some very heavy-duty vinyl. The Yardbirds' influence on the Cooper band's early music is especially evident here.
- A DVD that chronicles the life of the band from their early days as The Earwigs, through to 1974, with three features totaling over two hours duration, with detailed interviews from the remaining band members (uber-guitarist Glen Buxton sadly passed away in 1997), and long-term producer Bob Ezrin. This also features archival footage as well as video footage of the band from festival appearances and live TV performances. This is a 100% necessary addition to any Cooper fan's collection – full-stop.
- A 60 page hardback book with the same high-school "yearbook" theme present in the structure of the DVD. There's a fair bit of cross-over in the material that's presented in the DVD and the book, but the photos and archival art make it most definitely worthwhile – the two work well in tandem. Plus, it's a more complete version, in some regards, of the band's story.
- That's not enough for you? How about a folder with a replica program from the "Killer" tour, a ticket stub replica from a Wembley gig on the "School's Out" tour, and promo artwork (including a set-list) on high quality cardstock.
The DVD is introduced by Bob Ezrin (whose production work took the band's art-school mayhem and fine-tuned it into the tight-knit hard-rocking machine that it became over the next four LPs), who informs the audience how the box set was compiled (band archives, the collections of "super-fans"), as well as offering a couple of explanations for some omissions in the documentary – the ending is rather abrupt, and only Alice's perspective on the break-up of the band (which Ezrin validates) is recorded. Some of the interview footage has all members of the band together, much of the second half of the doco has Alice with Bob Ezrin, with Neal Smith, Michael Bruce and Dennis Dunaway being interviewed elsewhere. The musical footage is of varying quality (Alice's microphone could have been turned down a bit in "Is It My Body" and "I'm Eighteen"), but the performances are all live, and ably represent the band at their rockin' best – some of the early stuff from the first two LPs is pretty wild. Much of the footage has been bootlegged endlessly, but here we get to see it in the clearest quality possible, and with better colour and better definition than you'd find on YouTube. And at any rate, the documentary is completely essential for any Cooper fan – informative and entertaining, and it's good to see the boys back together again, albeit sadly without GB (who is present in some of the archival, behind the scenes footage) – although the rest of the boys tell some hilarious anecdotes about him, with great fondness as well as a recognition of his prodigious skills as a guitarist. He was one of the very best – up there with Wayne Kramer, Ron Asheton, James Williamson or Fred "Sonic" Smith.
Very early music from Alice Cooper can be a little difficult for some to take – the first two albums by the band ("Pretties For You" and "Easy Action", both recorded for Frank Zappa's Straight label) are more like a psychedelic endurance test than rock albums. That's not to say that there aren't some fine songs present, but the bewildering number of tempo and rhythm changes during even the briefest of numbers ("10 Minutes Before The Worm", for example – not represented here) would probably at the time have freaked out anyone except maybe a Captain Beefheart fan, circa "Trout Mask Replica". But the material here is mainly from the era with Bob Ezrin at the helm. And certainly the live recording from the "Killer" tour proves the band's musical chops beyond any doubt – it's a shame that they never recorded an official live album.
That said, this is not too shabby as a replacement. The raw power of the band at their most rockin' is a little blunted by the sound (Alice's vocals are initially too low in the mix, the guitars seem occasionally a bit muffled, and Glen Buxton's guitar seems to over-power Michael Bruce's at times), but I guarantee that the rhythm section will make the listener start to wonder as to why they're one of the most under-rated in rock. Dennis Dunaway's thundering, fluid bass-lines and Neal Smith's flamboyant precision-point drumming give a rock solid basis to every single track – there's a real sense of dynamics present that a lot of their contemporaries lacked.
Something that this box set certainly proves that I mentioned briefly before, is that the original Alice Cooper band's music works just fine apart from the visuals that became part of the band's signature. Back in the early 70s it was common for detractors to pooh-pooh the band, citing the theatrics as compensating for the songwriting, beyond the anthems and the singles, like "School's Out", "I'm Eighteen" or "Under My Wheels". One listen to either of the versions of "Halo Of Flies" present here should put paid to those notions – as would the rough outtakes of "Luney Tune" and "My Stars"; it's a shame there were no demos of "Blue Turk" available.
It's also kinda neat to see the development of the band in this kind of compressed format (if four CDs and a DVD can be called "compressed"!), as the psychedelic, arty (almost prog-rock) elements are gradually weaned out, and the band strip back to a leaner, tougher sound, if at times with a commercial sheen on the "Billion Dollar Babies"-era material, particularly. But in these rougher sounding versions of the songs, the Coop's influence on later generations of hard rock, metal and punk can clearly be seen – and particularly on that "Killer" bootleg, which I cannot rate highly enough. A friend of mine who has also bought this set is in a quandary about listening to the vinyl copy of this, wanting to keep it mint, but wanting to hear it on vinyl for the richer sound at the same time – the dilemma of the record collector!
The one thing I'd have to say about this box set is that it really has heart. It was made for the fans (in some cases using material sent in by fans), presenting them with what they want to hear – or what they haven't heard before, rather than just grinding out another "Greatest Hits" package (and depending on the record label Alice himself has been on, the "Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits" LP from 1974 has been repackaged an astonishing amount of times under different titles, often the only difference from the original being the inclusion of FM-lite-fodder like "Only Women Bleed", "I Never Cry", "You and Me", "How You Gonna See Me Now?" and "Poison").
As a rabid fan of the original Cooper band myself, I knew I was going to buy this simply for the "Killer" tour bootleg (well, I guess it's official now!) and the doco. But I tell you what – cost be damned, I'm glad I did shell out for "Old School". While I'd still point people towards "Love It To Death" and especially "Killer" for their first taste of the Coop's best work, this has been a real eye-opener for this particular fan, and it takes a lot to introduce new things to someone who's been a committed fan of the originally released material for over 20 years.
Essential? No, but for fans of the original high-octane Detroit rock Alice Cooper band, you'll kick yourself if you don't get it. "Old School" is a lavish package that is really a love letter to Alice's fans, and a labour of love for those who assembled it. Not an ideal starting point for the noob, but a pretty neat destination for the committed fan, nevertheless. - Mr Intolerance
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KILLER - Alice Cooper (Universal)
From its barn-storming opening track "Under My Wheels", through to the white-noise climax of the title-track, "Killer" proves itself time and time again to be one of rock 'n' roll's greatest albums. Now, yeah, I know that sounds hyperbolic, but in this instance I feel I'm justified. There are some albums that refuse to be played quietly, and "Killer" is one of them, the kind of record that is guaranteed to annoy the neighbours at 2am, when your house party has probably lurched five or six beers over the line.
Me, I love raucous rawk 'n' roll, and "Killer" delivers on every level. To my mind, it gives as much goodness as "High Time", "Raw Power", "Young, Loud and Snotty", or any of the first three Ramones LPs. Alice himself considers "Killer" to be one of the best albums of his five decade long career, alongside the preceding "Love It To Death", the album he considers to be the first Alice Cooper album (the first two LPs, "Pretties For You" and "Easy Action" he considers to be more Nazz LPs – the name the band had before taking on the name that made him famous – than Alice Cooper LPs per se). As a sophomore effort, it's pretty fucking impressive by anyone's standards.
When the needle hits the groove, track one, side one, the LP detonates immediately with "Under My Wheels" – the drum flurries and guitar whirlwind meet with a head-caving riff to present you with Detroit-Rock 101. We move immediately into the sleaziest track the Stones never wrote via the Velvet's riff to "Sweet Jane" with "Be My Lover" – a one-two punch any band would be proud of. But impressively, the band further ups the ante with the epic weirdness of "Halo Of Flies", a track the band deliberately wrote to disprove the nay-sayers who claimed that the band relied on theatrics and anthems over song-craft. It's quite simply a 9 minute ball-tearer that showcases the musical chops of this vastly under-rated band via a James Bond on crack lyric, and in particular, their even more vastly under-rated rhythm section. Neal Smith (who recorded the drum solo in this song in the studio's all-marble ladies' bathroom to get the best possible sound) and Dennis Dunaway – gentlemen, my hat is off to you. "Desperado", a kind of western tribute to Jim Morrison (according to legend, and the doco on the recent "Old School" box set) rounds out side one. Originally, the track was entitled "Tornado Warning" with entirely different lyrics, but post-Morrison's death, this re-written tribute version is definitely the superior one.
Side two begins with one of Alice's trademark teen-rebellion tracks, "You Drive Me Nervous", complete with flanged drums on the intro. This much-over-looked track, featuring some red-hot guitar duels between Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton, is one of those buried gems in the Cooper back-catalogue that often falls between the cracks. To hear it is to love it. "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah", another sneering teen anthem follows up, featuring the LP's raw-as-bleeding guitar tone and big fat open drum sounds. From here "Killer" moves from blackly funny into the absolute pitch black, with the closing duet of "Dead Babies" (originally composed when the band were living on a farm near an insane asylum), a gruesome hymn to parental neglect, and the even grimmer "Killer", a nasty piece of work Dennis Dunaway dreamed one night, and Michael Bruce helped bring to life – a gothic slice of death-rock most metal bands would have sold their own souls to have written. The chaotic ending only adds to the sense of unease that the album builds towards.
Should you buy this? That is an absolute no-brainer. "Killer" is one of those records that keeps on giving. An absolute corker of a five-star LP, "Killer" needs to be bought by any self-respecting rocker. I really can't recommend this LP highly enough. If my house was on fire, this would be one of the few things I'd grab on my way out of the door - Mr Intolerance
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