Special Forces

Alice Cooper

Warner Brothers Records, 1981


REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


If 1980's Flush The Fashion toyed with new wave in a punky format, then its follow up, 1981's Special Forces, saw Alice Cooper jump into new wave head first, for a decidedly mixed affair.

The album certainly gets off to a strong start with the excellent "Who Do You Think We Are", an adrenalized uptempo rocker with mean sounding punk guitar riffs and a sneering, almost machine like Alice spouting lyrics about the chilling nature of special forces units. For some reason in the early 80's Alice started addictively reading Soldier of Fortune magazine (possibly inspired by the attempted assassination on president Ronald Reagan in 1981?), which I guess would go a long way to explain the military theme to a lot of this album's material, as well as Alice's new look, a bizarre combination of military style glam that I fear took more than a few fashion tips from Adam Ant and Michael Jackson.

Ok, tracks two to five are so abysmal that I really had a tough time sitting through them, and I simply cannot come up with an explanation as to what went wrong. This batch of songs is not just extremely poorly written, but even the production is a disaster. Alice sounds bored, his vocals sound strained, and there are absolutely no memorable hooks or melodies of any kind.

Normally at least the musicians would be able to keep things respectable, but I fear that these individuals simply didn't have the talent to pull it off. The guitar riffs are as bland as can be, and the sterile production steals whatever power they might have had, making them sound like distant bees buzzing around behind a wall. This, combined with very simple drumming (mostly a drum machine), no discernable low end, off the wall nonsensical lyrics that are neither funny nor insightful, and extremely dated sounding cheap 80's keyboards and synthesized effects (the use of electronic handclaps just cracks me up) cause a dramatic nosedive in the album's quality and listenability.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

These particular tracks all sound like recording session throwaways that were tacked on to the album in a last minute bid to fill up space...I mean, how else could you explain the inclusion of a re-recorded version of "Generation Landslide" (from the classic 1973 Billion Dollar Babies album) in a tepid new wave style with fake live audience sounds thrown in? This version adds nothing to the original; in fact, it's far inferior in every regard and only serves to prove on record just how much Alice Cooper's ability had declined over the eight year span.

Fortunately I'm a pretty patient guy, and there is a miraculous recovery mid-way through the disc. The sudden improvement in song writing begins with "Skeletons In The Closet". This is a slower gothic sounding danceable pop number done completely with keyboards and drum machines...it's eerie and creepy in a funny way as well, just the way we love Alice and it serves notice that maybe he wasn't totally washed up just yet.

"You Want It, You Got It" continues the drastic improvement, yet again containing some very catchy hooks and amusing lyrics. The music is strongly reminiscent of the Cars, with quietly chugging guitars alongside prominently swirling keyboard riffs.

"You Look Good In Rags" is finally a more traditionally 70's hard rocking Alice song with an animated vocal performance and vintage lyrics of humourous social commentary. A wonderfully melodic yet gritty punkish guitar riff song drives the song along...pity that it's stolen almost note for note from Blondie's late 70's hit "Atomic".

"You're A Movie" is possibly one of the kookiest songs Cooper ever recorded, and while it's undeniably cheesy, the lyrics are beyond hilarious, and I absolutely love it. It's quite possibly the best track on Special Forces. Just imagine Alice talk-singing about the boredom of perpetual victory from the perspective of a cocky military general in a very arrogant, nose-in-the-air manner with a slight British inflection along to danceable Cars/Devo style new wave keyboard pop! It's unbelievably funny, catchy, and definitely unique in the Alice Cooper canon.

The album ends with "Vicious Rumours" and once again, it's a pretty solid, fast, hard rocking garagey song with deliciously demented lyrics.

In closing, I think to better convey the militaristic theme he was exploring with Special Forces, the album should have sounded a lot tougher than it does. It's swimming in electronic keyboards, synthesizers, and drum machines, which I suppose are another way of emitting the cold, emotionless atmosphere central to an authoritarian mood.

However, the tepid production and mix are certainly a major cause for the album's lack of firepower, and I'm convinced that this is one album that would benefit tremendously from a remix and remaster treatment. That having been said, there's still a few songs on here that blow, and they're all in the first half for some reason, making for a very strange flow to the album. For the first time since Alice Cooper's 1969 debut Pretties For You we have a batch of terrible songs on one album with Special Forces, but thankfully there's enough good stuff later on that makes up for it and brings it back from the brink of complete mediocrity, but nevertheless this is far from a classic album, and would be of interest to hardcore fans only.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 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.