Dragontown

Alice Cooper

Spitfire Records, 2001

http://www.alicecooper.com

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/02/2001

Well, who on Earth would have thought that after breaking a long six year silence in 2000 with the stunning Brutal Planet album that Alice Cooper would follow up with his next studio album barely a year later in October 2001? Thankfully for him and for us, he realized that he was in a songwriting zone with Brutal Planet, an album that many critics considered his best work in many years, perhaps even since his early 70's peak, and he wisely chose to strike while the proverbial iron was hot, creating Dragontown, another concept album dealing with mankind's gradual downfall. Musically and thematically, it's a direct sequel to Brutal Planet.

One could forgive Alice for not being able to match the power and ferocity of Brutal Planet, but in terms of overall quality, Dragontown comes astonishingly close. While sonically it contains many of the intense industrial-tinged elements of Brutal Planet, such as the proliferation of ultra-heavily layered and distorted downtuned jackhammer guitar riffs, thunderous rhythms, and ominous low end rumbles amid Alice's tortured vocals, Dragontown is much more musically diverse than its predecessor. It sounds somewhat as if Alice had taken the modern industrio-metallic punch he discovered on Brutal Planet and applied that sound to various quirky styles that he has experimented with in the past, in addition to experimenting with several contemporary trends, creating yet another album in his insanely lengthy discography that sounds different from all the others. How a 53 year old rocker like Cooper manages to sound fresh and inventive with each release simply amazes me.

According to Cooper, Dragontown is the worst single place on the fictional Brutal Planet, and each song is a unique tale of fallen angels with the roots firmly placed in thinly disguised real-life targets that he relentlessly criticizes through another serving of ingenius lyrics...some might find his current style a tad preachy, but at least he's promoting a very positive message by exposing the evils in society through the application of brilliant sarcasm that he has always been a master at.

People who were a little overwhelmed by Brutal Planet's unflinchingly serious approach and intense dual bombardment of a thrashingly violent sound and venomous lyrics will no doubt rejoice that while Dragontown is often just as hard hitting both sonically and lyrically. Alice's patented cynical tongue in cheek sense of humour is on full display again on many of the album's tracks.

The tale begins with "Triggerman", a supercharged fast tempoed heavy rocker that instantly smacks the listener in the head with its roaring layers of guitars and Alice's distorted, growling vocals. The wonderful energy on this song shows that Alice is more than capable of competing with today's rock young guns. I also love the inclusion of many highly melodic guitar lines buffering the main explosive heavy riffs.

"Deeper" sounds similar to the song "Brutal Planet" with an assortment of dark shredding riffs, military style beats and sombre gothic chants. The song paints an unbelievably dark mood, and works perfectly as the theatrical sounding descent into hell (ie. Dragontown) that it was meant to be as part of the storyline. I love the way the album unfolds, with each song feeling like a natural link to the next.

"Dragontown", as the title of the track suggests, is our arrival in a godless, apocalyptic place where we begin our journey of meeting its numerous interesting inhabitants, who are destined to remain there for all eternity as punishment for their sins. I now must warn readers that anyone who is particularly sensitive about the Sept. 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. might find this song disturbing. The music is about as creepy as it gets, and the lyrics, considering that they were written months before the tragedy, hit startlingly close to home: "Well, here you are / lying bleeding on a grimy street / see the broken glass / sparkling darkly as it cuts your feet / smell the rotting stench / the rancid odour of old Cantonese / reflections of the shattered dreams / feel the toxic flames all around you / you can hardly breathe." Phew...that's pretty intense.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The dire mood gets no lighter as we reach "Sex, Death And Money", one of the album's standout tracks, and maybe one of Cooper's best ever, drenched with vintage cynical tongue in cheek sarcasm as he sings: "When I go to the show / all I see on the screen is a stream of pure vulgarity / I wrote down a note / I complained for a day to the House of Representatives / they laughed in my face / they said son, you're a one in a million minority / the name of the game / is to titilate the brain and stimulate the immorality."

The chorus continues: "I was so offended as I sat for three hours / it was mental cruelty / I was so shocked / just a little more flesh / just a little more blood / a little closer to the edge / a little deeper in the mud / I'll never be the same / sex, death and money, sonny, makes this wicked world go round / sex, death and money, it's the gospel here in Dragontown." I don't think more needs to be shown to illustrate that Alice is on a roll here, and music perfectly suits the theme, with a very sleazy, pelvic thrusting rhythm that would be perfect for grinding on a dancefloor. The vocal melodies are highly catchy without ver sounding commercial as well. What an awesome song.

"Somewhere In The Jungle" has Alice berating the apathy of average Americans when it comes to world affairs, using the recent savage massacres in Rwanda of hundreds of thousands of people as an example over which nobody in our isolated selfish society batted so much as an eyelash. Very powerful lyrics once again, as Alice finds himself in full take-no-prisoners mode. The music fittingly sounds as eerie as you'd expect hell on earth to sound.

The most enjoyable track on Dragontown in my opinion is "Disgraceland", which makes me laugh out loud every time I listen to it, and along with "I Love America", this has to be one of the funniest songs Cooper has ever written. The lyrics are a very mean spirited suggestion in no uncertain terms that Elvis Presley's last years and untimely death were pathetic. To add insult to injury, Alice sings all the verses in one of the most surprisingly convincing Elvis impersonations I've ever heard...I swear you'll be on the floor listening to this stuff...fantastic! I certainly wouldn't be suprised if you start seeing Elvis fanatics picketing Alice Cooper concerts!

"Sister Sara" is another hilarious story, this time about the indiscreet carnal adventures of a nun! The weirdest thing about the song is that it begins with sludgy Korn-style percussive guitar riffs, and Alice actually *raps* the verses. Now, before you staple that hand to your forehead and whine about Alice pandering to the rap-metal crowd, I have to say that he not only pulls it off without sounding like a fart in the wind, but the lyrics are hilarious! I love the sudden shift to an innocent, mellow waltz timed section with the angelic voices of a girl's choir. Now that is twisted!

Part of what makes these songs so much fun to listen to is that you get a strong sense that Alice was truly having a great time recording this music. He doesn't just sing; he adds expressive character to seemingly every note. Just hearing a performer with so much confidence and unique personality makes the listening experience a true joy...it's almost like Alice is right there beside you, personally guiding you through a trip into his unorthodox mind!

The required Alice ballad is found in the form of "Every Woman Has A Name," a soft acoustic number with a sentimental melody in the fine tradition of the classic "Only Women Bleed". It's an excellent song once again...man, does Cooper even know how to screw up a ballad? He certainly hasn't lost a thing in terms of songwriting diversity.

"It's Much Too Late" throws us another musical curveball, sounding like something you'd expect more from Semisonic or one of those more generic mainstream pop rock bands with it's predictable, simple chord sequence. Don't get me wrong, it's still a great song and very catchy, but I never imagined hearing Alice tackle this style. Of course, he adds a twist that only he's capable of, when the chorus suddenly embraces a tricky overlap of unconventional chords that sound very Beatle-esque...a beautiful change of pace which adds a snappy theatrical element to a song that started off in a very misleadingly straight forward manner, despite hilarious lyrics and a geeky singing voice adopted by Alice for the character being portrayed.

"The Sentinel" ends the disc on decidedly moody note, with a return to ear-shattering, brutal riffs and more disturbing lyrics that once again are eerily reminiscent of the recent terrorist attacks. Judging by the way Cooper decapitated the seemingly rising optimism of the album towards the end with one fell swoop, I'd say it's a safe bet that we can expect a sequel to Dragontown in the future.

Well, I must say that Alice Cooper has definitely struck upon another creative high early in the 21st century, and if he continues to craft masterpieces such as Brutal Planet and now Dragontown in the future, then it will indeed be society's loss if they continue to be ignored. I highly urge anyone to start their Alice Cooper collection with Dragontown, an engrossing album from start to finish that contains a depth rarely seen in rock these days.

Rating: A-

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 Spitfire Records, and is used for informational purposes only.