School's Out

Alice Cooper

Warner Brothers Records, 1972

http://www.alicecooper.com

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/05/2001

A very unexpected shift in style on this 1972 release from the Alice Cooper group, but for the most part it works. One thing I forgot to mention in previous Cooper reviews is that long time producer/collaborator Bob Ezrin not only contributed heavily to the creation of the shocking Alice Cooper stage show, but he also brought his great skills as a classically trained (i.e. perfectionist) musician to the band, and, as one can plainly hear on School's Out, he probably was very key in not only greatly improving the technical ability of the band members, but also the ever increasing variety of styles and instrumentation present on this album and future releases.

The album starts off roaring with the heaviest and most aggressive song they had probably recorded to that point, "School's Out". Everybody knows this song, and if you don't, then you've got little green antennae on yer ass. It was an absolute smash hit when released in summer '72, becoming an instant classic (and rock radio staple to this day) and probably is the definitive Alice Cooper song; it's loud, abrasive, rebellious, fun, celebratory, theatrical, satirical, joyous, raw, bombastic, heavy, over the top, humourous, witty, melodic, memorable, eccentric, inventive, playful, and dramatic...in a nutshell, an accurate microcosm of the quintessential essence of the vintage Alice Cooper style, all conveniently rolled up into a splendidly catchy three and a half minute rousing, adrenalized anthem.

The thunderous riff is one the most instantly recognizable in rock. This, combined with the almost military beat of the bass and drums, Alice screaming his tongue-in-cheek anti-school lyrics and some nifty little organ sounds, make for a very unique and unforgettable song...you can just hear the passion involved by all the players, and it really must have seemed almost like a playful call to revolution for all teenagers at the time. The song "School's Out" has all the qualities of what REAL rock 'n roll should sound like, which is what surprises me about the rest of the album; it's the only example on the whole album of what you'd really call a rock song, but more on that later.

It should be pointed out right now that no matter how dark, creepy, twisted, or provocative the myriad of taboo subjects that Alice Cooper has dealt with, the intention never seems to be angry or mean spirited. Most of Cooper's brilliant lyric writing ability encapsules witty intentional parody, biting satire, and a healthy dose of dark humour.

Part of Alice's appeal is that he isn't just on a high horse arrogantly preaching down to us perverted common folk; he has a knack for being able to make you think AND have fun doing it at the same time, which is far more creative and intelligent in my opinion than many modern bands that come across as being full of themselves with their cartoonish seriousness and forced anger. Time and time again Alice Cooper has effortlessly demonstrated how not to be a cliche.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But strangely enough, and this is what used to befuddle the bejeezus out of me, everything else on the album is completely different from the anthemic gritty rock of the lead-off title track! Don't expect any other rousing, blistering anthems, because you won't find them here. The remainder of the album is quite experimental, awash with a proverbial cocktail of distinctive influences ranging between soul, jazz, funk, and lounge, of all things, sounding more like a Broadway musical in a martini glass, which is no surprise considering the band drew inspiration (and even borrowed a few musical themes) from West Side Story!

While there weren't any other hits on this album, there's still plenty of great material here, even if some of it doesn't quite match the raw power and energy of the last two albums... School's Out you could say is a more refined album, with more complexity in everything from the arrangements to the songwriting basics.

Bob Ezrin was really coming into his own as a producer at this point, evidenced by the tons of stuff he threw on here. A great example of this is the song "Blue Turk"; there are so many diverse instruments here playing together and it sounds awesome! It starts with Dennis Dunaway's unique bass riff, and then a happy organ/keyboard melody, then the drums kick in, with great use of bongo drums, not to mention unorthodox time shifts, then some weird guitar effects, and then finally Alice himself sounding amusingly like a Vegas act!

The song "Alma Mater" is quite interesting in that it uses distorted (well, muffled) vocals, which must be one of the earliest examples that I've heard using this effect. It's a nifty little mellow tune, and that in itself is strange because the band had up to this point shied away from ballads and mellow songs. The wistful, melancholy vocal melody softly floating along a gorgeously strummed acoustic vibrato guitar riff creates that warm, fuzzy feeling you get hangin' out with a best friend or that special someone on a hazy summer night or around the camp fire, talking about the good old days.

"Grande Finale", the final song, indeed lives up to its name. Bob Ezrin threw the book at this instrumental, filling it with diverse, full sounds, including very prominent horn and string sections, which are actually used to great effect on most of the album's material. The song starts off sounding like the funky theme to Shaft before some of the familar West Side Story themes kick in and end the disc with a show tune bang! You see what's possible when you suddenly have a decent recording budget?

So, all in all, with the exception of the title track, and despite the obvious improvement and diversification of the musicians, the song writing takes a far different approach than we're used to seeing from these guys. If you're expecting the meaner, nastier sounding Alice Cooper, then go back one year to Killer... School's Out is not a rock album, but an experimental and diverse loungey-jazz-rock musical with a loose concept based on school life. As amazing as this music is, I just feel like there's something missing, like the aggression, ferocity, and vintage macabre sense of creepy humour.

It's to the group's credit though for not going the obvious route, and offering up something that was decidedly unexpected makes for a more interesting band, right? I mean let's face it, this is still a great album, with a bunch couple of superlative tunes, like "School's Out", "Alma Mater", "Public Animal #9", and "Blue Turk". Most of today's bands would kill for the skill and talent required to come up with an album half this good, but when compared with Alice's own strongest material, it comes up perhaps a tad short...now that's scary.

I hate criticizing this record because I have this sinking feeling that maybe I just don't understand it enough yet to feel justified in doing so...it's just mellower, with neat jazzy and funky vibes going on, in a sort of weird early-70's-hard-rock-meets-50's-Broadway-rockabilly musical framework...who knows? Maybe it's a misunderestood masterpiece beyond our comprehension and none of us have really explored it intricately enough, for this could very well be the case; as far as I an tell, this band's sound, especially on this album, is very unique. For now it's a B+ to me, but due to it's mysterious content I suspect that I'll be shifting my opinion of it quite frequently in the future.

Rating: B+

User Rating: A


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© 2001 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.