Alice Cooper’s 27th full length album, Paranormal, was one of many highlights of 2017’s hard rock calendar. As the workhorse he is, he took to the road to promote the record, culminating in what will be the 13th official live release of his career (by my count).
A big part of Alice’s show is of course the theatrical elements, which is something that is lost on a purely audio release like this. However, Alice has always taken pride in having a repertoire of great songs and a tight, highly skilled live band to ensure that the vaudeville aspect never overshadows the fact that it’s a rock ‘n’ roll show at heart. This is where an Alice show never falls short; for all the showmanship, it’s all built around a carefully paced set of incredible music performed to near perfection. This is why something like the Bare Bones shows of the early noughties, where the theatrics were stripped back, were still a success; the music was still there, and it can more than hold its own without the on stage dramatics. Despite missing a large part of what makes the show what it is, an Alice Cooper live album will always be worthwhile from a purely musical perspective.
As previously mentioned, A Paranormal Evening at the Olympia Paris was recorded during the trek to support last year’s Paranormal record. Having caught two shows on the UK stint of said tour, I knew what to expect with regards to set list choice and overall performance. Sadly, the show in Paris did not feature the remaining members of the original Alice Cooper band in the encore, so the songs are shuffled around somewhat, but it is by and large the same package. All involved are in great form, with the instrumentalists adding their own little tweaks and twists to the songs. I do feel like drummer Glen Sobel overplays a little on occasion, and his intro to “Billion Dollar Babies” just doesn’t work, but his solo is integrated seamlessly into the sublime “Halo of Flies”; the centrepiece of the set and an absolute marvel to behold. Eternal staples such as “School’s Out”, “Poison”, “I’m Eighteen” and “No More Mr Nice Guy” are as great as ever; a testament to their endurance that they’re still this fun after all these years. Some of the riffs in “Brutal Planet” and “Woman of Mass Distraction” have been given a melodic coating that dulls their impact somewhat, but this isn’t overly detrimental, as the former in particular still packs quite a punch as the opener. Alice sounds fantastic considering his age, and I’d say he’s on better form than he was on Theatre of Death and No More Mr Nice Guy, where his gritty voice was a bit too ragged. His character and charisma carry him through some of the tougher notes, and he manages to execute the more delicate material with remarkable ease.
A common criticism you will see from dedicated Alice fans is the lack of variation in song selections from tour to tour. When you turn up to an Alice show, there’s a selection of about 10-12 tracks that you know you’re probably going to see (many of which are available on many of Alice’s previous live efforts). That’s fine of course, as you can see the logic in playing the hits, but I’ve always felt that the list of essentials could be cut down to five or six tracks (mainly those listed earlier). I don’t really see any need for “Feed My Frankenstein”, “Billion Dollar Babies”, “Ballad of Dwight Fry”, “Killer/I Love the Dead” or “Only Women Bleed” to be the mainstays they are, despite their value to the visual side of the set. Even “Halo of Flies”, as magnificent as it is (and it really is), has started to feel a little overplayed. That said, Alice does tend to throw in a deep cut or two as a treat for his hardcore fanbase on every tour. This time round we’re treated to a rockier take on “Pain”, originally from 1980’s new wave infused Flush the Fashion, and “The World Needs Guts”, the heavy metal monster from 1986’s comeback Constrictor. Both sound fantastic, with Nita Strauss nailing Kane Roberts’ guitar acrobatics on the latter and working well in tandem with fellow six stringer Ryan Roxie on the former. “Paranoiac Personality” is the sole new track, and slots in to the set with minimal fuss, highlighting another glaring issue in Alice’s show: the lack of new songs. We’ve a record named A Paranormal Evening, yet the album is barely represented. It’s very rare these days that you’ll get an Alice set built around a new record. The last time was probably the Brutal Planet era back around the turn of the century. This approach sees countless great songs ignored in favour of tried and true numbers. It’s an approach that you can understand, but it frustrates nonetheless.
I see live Alice Cooper albums much like I see an Alice Cooper show in general. At worst, it’s going to hover round 8/10. Without the visual aspect, I’d knock it down to a 7/10, which is about right for A Paranormal Evening… Most of the criticisms I have levelled at the album are more to do with the show itself than the record, which is another solid live offering in the Coop canon. A Fistful of Alice remains the essential live disc from Alice, with this being an enjoyable, if slightly needless, addition that will largely appeal to faithful fans of the Coop.
Highlights: “Pain”, “The World Needs Guts”, “Poison”, “I’m Eighteen”
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