Brutal Planet

Alice Cooper

Spitfire Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


While it may be ludicrous that a hugely influential artist like Alice Cooper still has not been inducted into the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame as of late 2001, the late 90's and early 21st century have seen a gradual increase in the amount of acknowledgment heaped upon this man for his extraordinary contributions to the state of popular music as we know it today, one result of which was the 1999 release of the sprawling four cd career retrospective box set, The Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper.

That high profile box set managed to renew interest in Alice Cooper in a period where his mainstream popularity had slipped to an all time low and he had completely vanished from the public eye. Indeed, the five years after the release of The Last Temptation in 1994 marked a period of very little activity from an artist who in the past seemingly released albums at a steady rate of at least one a year accompanied by large scale tours in support. The Last Temptation was his last studio effort for Epic records, and he spent the next few years shopping for a new label and toured only sporadically.

So for a while it seemed that his destiny was to quietly fade away into obscurity, becoming a future fixture on those "where are they now" shows. But knowing Alice Cooper's strong personality and endlessly competitive drive, he's not the type to go down without a fight, and considering the timeless nature of his music and socially relevant lyrics, why on earth should this man be considered as a has-been who's time in the annals of rock history have long surpassed him, while his peers like Ozzy, Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, and Kiss (to mention a few) continue to soldier on with widespread mainstream success?

If anything, Alice Cooper is the one early generation rocker who is completely in touch with today's world, as opposed to merely riding on the success of his own past the way most of the bands of his generation that are still around are doing. He's never embraced nostalgia, and he has more intelligent things to say about the state of our present world than anything I'm hearing from the current roster of young popular rock bands. The ultimate crying shame is that nobody seems to realize that right now (2001), Alice Cooper is creating some of the finest albums of his career, and it bugs me to no end that they all seem destined to be ignored and spend the rest of their existence as criminally overlooked classics. Brutal Planet is a perfect example.

After six relatively quiet years, Cooper finally returned with an album of all new material in 2000 called Brutal Planet, and my god, is it ever a killer in every way imaginable. Who could have honestly expected that at the ripe old age of 52 that Alice Cooper would deliver possibly the most powerful, moving, and disturbing thoughts of his career in a blunt, hard hitting manner that will shake your very foundations?

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that Brutal Planet is every bit as sharply cutting edge in scope and presentation in the present as landmark past albums such as Love It To Death were thirty years earlier. Make no mistake; this is by far the angriest, bleakest, heaviest, meanest, most cynical, least humorous album of his career so far, and it works magnificently on every level.

It seems like Alice has sort of become a Sean Connery type figure in rock, an elder statesman who is looked up to with great respect, and one who has accepted this mentor role by sharing his extensive insights, wisdom and knowledge with a younger generation. A relentless dirge of thunderous and ominous sludgy Black Sabbath inspired down-tuned guitar riffs, cold, death-march style military beats and rhythms, and subtle industrial type musical influences and production methods, Brutal Planet is a morbid tale of societal decay that will grab you by the throat from the very first bar to the very last note. An unrelentingly chilling, dark work both musically and lyrically, Brutal Planet violently demands the listener's attention in a way that maybe no previous Alice Cooper album is capable of. Alice's finest work has always come in the form of his outsider-looking-in, postcards-from-the-edge observations on human behaviour. This disc delivers a powerfully relevant message on every track, and Alice isn't afraid to address disturbing issues...amazing that after so many critics had written him off, he could come back with one of his strongest releases ever. I can't even think of a more effective "fuck you" to a bunch of naysayers.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

This disc is Alice's warning not to take things for granted and get too comfy; there's trouble in paradise and things could turn around practically overnight, a warning that turns out became quite prophetic in light of the uncomfortable changes the world is experiencing in the wake of the Sept. 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

It's kind of funny how Alice has regained his ability to write great songs in recent years since his mainstream profile has dipped...I'd much rather see him maintain a lower profile and put out great albums than see another big comeback like in the late 80's when he put out sold himself out but churning out abysmal, juvenile pop metal albums, because when record sales are not on his mind, his songs are much more natural and real because he actually cares about what he is trying to say, and the passion you hear on Brutal Planet is amazing. I've actually been waiting for Alice to do an album like this for many years.

The album opener is the title track, "Brutal Planet" and Alice's enters the new millennium explosively. It instantly sets the bleak tone of the album. Heavy, heavy, heavy, set to a marching beat, with Alice doing his vintage vocal style of singing certain lines then breaking into the raspy growl he has always done so well. Very bleak introductory song about generally what a shithole Earth is. Some great backup singing by a sexy voiced siren enhances the song as well, kinda like "Engel" by Rammstein. This song is almost hypnotic.

Next is "Wicked Young Man", which is a stab at the people who assume that video games, movies and music influence the psychos and killers in society. It has caused some controversy with lyrics like "I've got a pocket full of bullets and a blueprint of the school/I'm the devil's little soldier/I'm the devil's little tool" obviously disturbing reference to the Columbine high school massacre in 1999.

The third song,"Sanctuary", is this album's anthem. In it he totally lampoons the average, safe, risk free path that most people take in life to ensure maximum comfort but also maximum banality. Then we get to the first radio single, "Blow Me AKiss". Certainly a strong "industrial" feel to the production of this song, with subtle electro beats and loops and samples...once again the subject is influenced by the Columbine school shootings.

"Eat Some More" is a song that many people may find distasteful, but I find it absolutely refreshing that finally a major artist has dared to write a song exposing the disgusting gluttony of the majority of Americans. Alice criticizes Americans' total lack of discpline and spoiled attitude towards embracing the excesses of fast food culture that is not necessary when millions in the world are starving. It's something I've thought about many times and I love the fact that he's so blunt about it. Great vocal melodies over a slow, sludgy, Black Sabbath-like riff.

"Pick Up The Bones" is a slower eerie tune that starts off with a haunting acoustic melody but soon explodes into a furious, yet catchy chorus...this song was born out of the horrific images Alice saw on CNN at the time of the war in Kosovo, and he has joked that nowadays you can't out-shock the news anymore, so he's content to just entertain!

Next is "Pessi-Mystic", another blisteringly heavy, negative tune which despite the album mood itself, makes fun of people who wallow in self misery and have no positive outlook on life. The rampant materialism of American society is given the royal smackdown in "Gimme", yet another ferociously heavy and thundering song with yet more excellent melodies and riffs...gotta love Alice's "Devil's Advocate" stance taken with the lyrics. The only lighter moment on Brutal Planet (at least lyrically) occurs on "It's The Little Things", which is basically a humorous parody of the evil Alice character, but even the slight humor to be found on this track still has an innate darkness about it.

We finally get a chance to somewhat recover from the punishing onslaught with "Take It Like AWoman", a more traditional Alice ballad, and quite a good one I must say. The keyboards are a bit prominent for my tastes and soften the track too much considering the album's theme, but it is nevertheless a solid tune and a fitting addition to his softer output. We finally reach the final track, "Cold Machines", yet another heavy, almost militaristic tune. He was going for a colder feel to suit the theme of the album, and it works, especially here. The only gripe I and many others have about this song is that the music is very reminiscent of Marilyn Manson's 1996 hit, "The Beautiful People". The main spiraling guitar riff sounds very similar, as does the tone of the guitar and the drum beat...whether or not this was intentional I have no idea, but it irks me in a way, considering that Alice always says Manson is just doing what he did in the early 70's. Too bad, because the vocal melodies are very strong and catchy.

Musically, it may not be his most diverse album, but the conceptual content demanded a focused, direct, and urgent sound, and in that sense it delivers unquestioningly, and Cooper's performance oozes a passion and determination that will impress even the most apathetic listener. I'll gladly add my voice to the chorus of critics who hailed Brutal Planet as one of the finest releases in 2000.

When's the last time Alice put forth such a brilliant slice of uncomfortable social commentary? It's one of his best albums in every way, and shows that he's still relevant in ways that his peers could only dream of the great injustices in recent music history is that this album went largely overlooked upon its release in 2000, and I urge anyone reading this to grab a copy at the first opportunity. This is a thinking man's album, and its honest examinations of issues plaguing our society might even inspire you to be a better person.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A


© 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 Spitfire Records, and is used for informational purposes only.