The release of Alice Cooper’s new full length record, Paranormal, is almost upon us. The Coop has been at the forefront of the rock ‘n’ roll scene for close to five decades now, and, along with the original group, is credited with popularising theatrics in rock. Alice has always had the musical chops to back up the stage antics, with the incredible four album run from Love It to Death to Billion Dollar Babies, the highly acclaimed solo venture Welcome to My Nightmare and successful glam infused duo Trash and Hey Stoopid all garnering much attention. However, with a catalogue soon to be 27 albums deep, these seven recordings only scratch the surface of what Alice Cooper has offered the music scene. Reviewer Kevin McDonald looks through Alice’s discography and picks out five efforts he feels deserve more attention.
Muscle of Love (1973)
It seems strange to include a post-1971 group era album, especially as it went gold, but there’s no doubt that Muscle of Love suffers in the shadow of the staggering material that came before (and directly after). That said, even if it is a little more uneven than the classics, it still has its fair share of great songs. The title track is the most well known cut, seeing regular set time on many of Alice’s tours over the years. The superb ballad “Hard Hearted Alice” shows the frontman at his most vulnerable, whilst “Big Apple Dreamin’” and “Woman Machine” bookend the album with fine mid tempo rockers. “Man with the Golden Gun” was an attempt to pen a song for the Bond film of the same name, but unfortunately missed the cut, which is a great shame, as it has all the grandeur and splendour that would have made it one of the best themes in the franchise’s history. Liza Minelli backs the sprightly anthem “Teenage Lament ’74”, with the energetic rocker “Working Up a Sweat” also a decent cut. Whilst it didn’t see the original group off on a high, Muscle of Love is still a solid effort that is worth your time.
Special Forces (1981)
Having embraced the new wave sound on 1980’s Flush the Fashion, Alice proceeded to take that approach in a more riff orientated direction on Special Forces. A far grittier affair than its predecessor, the album has more edge and bite than any of Alice’s prior solo output. With the quickfire snap of “Seven & Seven Is”, the faux live reworking of the early ’70s number “Generation Landslide”, the subversive chills of “Skeletons in the Closet”, the domineering sneer of “Vicious Rumors” and the sardonic wit of “You’re a Movie”, there was a real sense of danger to Alice for the first time since Billion Dollar Babies. It doesn’t reach the heady heights of the classic ’70s records, but deserves more than relegation to a footnote in Alice’s illustrious career, with only the commanding opener “Who Do You Think We Are” seeing setlist action after the initial supporting tour. Seek it out and you’ll be rewarded with a great listening experience.
Released at the tail end of Cooper’s blackout period in the early ’80s, Dada is considered something of a lost classic among many of the Coop’s faithful. The album saw Alice work together with both producer Bob Ezrin and guitarist Dick Wagner for the first time since 1977’s ill fated Lace and Whiskey record, with far superior results. A concept album, seemingly based around a character named Sonny, who suffers from mental illness, the diverse collection of songs doesn’t have too much of the driving hard rock that dominates much of his output, but there’s still plenty of biting riffs and guitar wizardry on offer. A remarkably consistent album, the record truly comes alive in the closing trio of songs: the hilariously tongue in cheek ode to the US, “I Love America”, the vampiric funk rock of “Fresh Blood” and the jaw dropping “Pass the Gun Around”; the latter of which features some of the finest lead work of Wagner’s career. The very definition of an overlooked gem, DaDa had no supporting tour and has sadly never been represented in the live set. Anyone curious to look into Alice’s wider catalogue should not miss this album, as it most definitely one of his strongest solo efforts.
The Last Temptation (1994)
On the back of the rousing glam metal success of 1989’s Trash and 1991’s Hey Stoopid, Cooper dove head long into conceptual territory once again with possibly his finest solo album. It was arguably his darkest record to date at the time, with a sinister undercurrent running throughout the 10 tracks. The story centred around a mysterious showman trying to lure the protagonist into joining his show, with allusions to Cooper’s Christian faith. Having likely observed the growing grunge scene, the album dispensed of much of the immediate melodicism of the two preceding efforts and took a noticeably heavier route, with Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell having two credits and lending his vocals to “Unholy War”. The cynical “Lost in America” has seen a healthy amount of setlist time since release, but the rest album has sadly been cast aside. Highlights include the acoustic rock ‘n’ roller “Sideshow”, the dark, foreboding “Nothing’s Free” and the wistful balladry of “It’s Me”. A slow burning classic that features some sublime lyrical content, The Last Temptation is undeniably Alice Cooper at his best, and is an album that fans and non fans alike would do well to invest in.
Dirty Diamonds (2005)
After the heavy duty concept duo of Brutal Planet (2000) and Dragontown (2001), which dabbled in the industrial / alternative metal sound that was popular at the turn of the century, Alice returned to his garage rock roots with The Eyes of Alice Cooper in 2003. Like much of Cooper’s output since his 1986 return, albums seemed to come in pairs, and the follow up to Eyes came in the shape of the delectable Dirty Diamonds. Much like Eyes, it’s a no frills rock ‘n’ roll ride intended as a throwback to the glory days of the Alice Cooper group, but it’s a far stronger effort than its predecessor. There’s plenty for riff hungry fans to gorge on, with “Sunset Babies”, “Woman of Mass Distraction” and the title track offering the most thrills. The sonic punch of “Run Down the Devil” is a slab of Brutal Planet-esque delight, whilst the tender cover “Pretty Ballerina” and the comedy country “The Saga of Jesse Jane” are two of the more left of field cuts. The real highlights are the sombre “Six Hours” and the eerie “Zombie Dance”; the former housing an incredible closing solo, the latter the closest the Coop has come to recreating the ominous aura of “Black Juju”. Dirty Diamonds could not be a more apt title for this album. It may be rough around the edges garage rock, but the undeniable quality shines through.