The Eyes Of Alice Cooper
Spitfire/Eagle Records, 2003
REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/30/2003
The first few years of the 21st century have seen Alice Cooper's busiest creative period since the late 1980's. To quickly recap, in late 1999, the sprawling four-disc career spanning box set, The Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper, was released, bringing rock music's greatest shock rocker (and just plain overall great rocker) back into the spotlight after several years in obscurity. This was quickly followed up by the critically-acclaimed Brutal Planet studio album in 2000, Cooper's first disc of new material in six years. Year 2001 saw the release of both a new greatest hits package ( Mascara & Monsters: The Best Of Alice Cooper), and Brutal Planet's conceptual continuation, the studio album Dragontown. And in a truly shameless plug, you can go and enjoy reading my reviews of all the albums mentioned above right here on the Daily Vault, in the archives.
So, with the Halloween season of 2003 upon us, Alice Cooper returns once again with another palette of fresh new music that clearly demonstrates that he is still in the zone of superb songwriting quality that began with his Brutal Planet comeback 3 years ago.
Indeed, the somewhat misleadingly titled The Eyes Of Alice Cooper (sounds more like something you'd call a greatest hits compilation, doesn't it?) is Cooper's 23rd studio album in a career that now spans 35 years, and it is the fourth straight disc that has no filler. That's certainly no small feat for an artist who's been around for such a long time, especially one who has arguably been through as many phases as David Bowie.
Before I continue, I should explain that the Brutal Planet storyline was conceived as a trilogy, and although The Eyes Of Alice Cooper follows the first two albums of that trilogy ( Brutal Planet and Dragontown), it is NOT the conclusion of the story. Cooper said he simply wanted to take a breather and release nothing more than a collection of uplifting, meat and potatoes rock 'n roll songs, with no concept in sight, before returning to complete the Brutal Planet trilogy in the future.
Inspired by the current successful wave of retro-garage rock bands like The White Stripes, The Hives, The Datsuns, and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, among others, Cooper wanted to revisit the raw, abrasive sound of his early 70's masterpieces like Love It To Death and Killer, which along with seminal albums from hard/garage rock contemporaries of that time like The Stooges, MC5, and the New York Dolls, provided the blueprint for the current successful wave I mentioned above.
Now, you might think that the embrace a style of music that by its nature is created and performed by adolescents by a man of Cooper's age would likely result in a very out-of-touch, embarrassing attempt by an old rocker to recapture the glory of his youth. After all, unpolished garage rock, the forerunner of the punk movement, was a reaction against mature, commercialized music, full of energy and power and reckless abandon, sometimes with political rebellion along for the ride, and other times just for fun.
Against the odds, The Eyes Of Alice Cooper is awash with this youthful spirit from beginning to end. In a bold move to capture the necessary urgency for the album, Cooper recorded the entire album live in the studio with his backing band in a mere two weeks, an unheard of speed in the recording process these days. There are virtually no overdubs - approximately 20 takes of one song a day were recorded, and they picked the version they liked the best. Very efficient without any unnecessary tinkering, the resulting fresh, live sound crackles with purpose and passion.
In a recent interview Cooper stated that although he is physically 55 years old, his health has never been better and that mentally he doesn't feel a day over 18. The effortlessness with which he was able to write 13 tracks brimming with youth on this new release is perfect evidence of that. His vocals have quite possibly never sounded better, and he infuses them with a ridiculous number of different personalities to fit the nature of the song in question.
Fast, powerful and raw guitar riffs adorn the majority of songs with bluesy little licks thrown into the little spaces here and there. This, combined with loads of catchy verse and chorus melodies and Cooper's usual brilliant, satirical lyrics make for a ridiculously enjoyable listening experience.
Some of the album highlights include the witty opener, "What Do You Want From Me," a song essentially lampooning the typical white-trash lifestyle, "Man Of The Year," a satirical knockdown of arrogant know-it-alls, the wonderfully addictive first single, "Novocaine," a very jaded look at failed relationships, and the horn driven "Bye Bye Baby," which brings to mind his 1971 classic "Under My Wheels." The obligatory ballad this time around is the fantastic "Be With You A While." Alice Cooper has never written a mediocre ballad, but this one in particular stands apart with its use of a Hammond organ keeping Cooper's sentimental vocals company in what has to be one of his finest compositions.
Legendary MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer drops by to supply riffs on "Detroit City," Cooper's affectionate tribute to the original mecca of garage rock, in which alongside himself he name drops the likes of Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Kid Rock and Eminem, as peers who have all had important early successes there.
"This House Is Haunted" brilliantly revisits the demented, psychotic, heavily theatrical side of Cooper's past, sounding like it could have been an unreleased track from the 1975 Welcome To My Nightmare album sessions. I can't begin to describe how awesome this song is. Cooper softly sings an unsettling, ghostly melody to the accompaniment of nothing but alternating acoustic guitar and mandolin, with an eerie sounding clarinet along for the ride. Chilling stuff! I really wish he would make an entire album in this style.
Of course no true Alice Cooper album would be complete without the inclusion of a track so hilarious that it will have you laugh out loud. Here that track is "The Song That Didn't Rhyme," an absurd number teasingly poking fun at the awful songwriting and musicianship commonly found in mediocre bands. The line where Cooper sings about the "drummer always being out of time" right as the drum fill fumbles awkwardly in the background is a classic moment.
There is doubt that The Eyes Of Alice Cooper is yet another in a long line of must-have releases for not only fans of Alice Cooper, but also for anyone looking to become one. After having spent the previous few albums exploring very heavy subject matter surrounded by extremely dark, punishing music, with this release he returns to the musical style that made him famous, and I'll be damned if it isn't the most purely joyous, FUN album he's made since those early years. Easily one of the best discs of 2003.