Alice Cooper

Warner Brothers Records, 1971



The band known as Alice Cooper has re-invented itself several times over the years, but at the heart of it has always been the charismatic and articulate singer who gave the band its name, Alice Cooper, aka Vincent Furnier. This man was indeed the one your parents always warned you about, at least in the guise of his stage persona. Although not on speaking terms per se, my sister met with Alice Cooper during a concert in the early seventies and came away with half of his shirt, a not inconsiderable achievement in those days.

Alice Cooper inspired a generation of rebellious teenage rockers, and in my opinion, broke not inconsiderable ground in those days, as an early exponent of gothic and heavy metal rock. I will always remember a Vincent Furnier interview, in which he described the impact that Alice Cooper had had when it played to unprepared audiences comprised of "peace-loving hippies" and the "Children of Flower Power". "Shock Rock" was defined by this band.

I am reviewing an album from the first incarnation of the band. Killer in many ways encapsulated the AC approach to rock at that time - contained within those vinyl grooves are some truly mediocre pieces, for sure, but there are moments of true musicality to delight the more discerning listener. Killer came out the same year as the acclaimed release Love It To Death, which it must be said is the superior album overall. However ...

The album kicks off with "Under My Wheels", a fairly straightforward rocker of a song, but featuring a pleasing horn accompaniment that is typically Cooperesque - it says I am not your average "meat and two veg" rocker. "Be My Lover" follows, a little bland perhaps, but the guitar work is effective and pleasing to the ear.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

We next encounter "Halo Of Flies" and all of a sudden, we are in a different ballgame. This song is an epic, comparatively speaking. It has scope and a breadth of musical approach and style, and is a complete surprise at first listening. Spanish rhythms are interspersed with driving rock , with early examples of keyboard effects and a use of tremelo that is actually very acceptable - I kid you not. A progressive track by anyone's standards, in my opinion , it displays true ambition and it would be churlish to suggest that it fails to deliver what it offers. My favourite track on the album and a real highlight. "Desperado" is next, and together with "Halo Of Flies" represents the best sequence on the album. The string accompaniment heightens the moody, atmospheric sound.

What follows next constitutes Side Two of the LP, which has to be said is a letdown from the best of what Side One has to offer. "You Drive Me Nervous" and "Yeah Yeah Yeah" are entirely unnoteworthy and mainstream, disposable but not unpleasant. The former is slightly manic, the latter quite laid-back.

Lulled into a false sense of security (as long as we haven't read the track-list, that is), we are totally unprepared for "Dead Babies". Cooper eschews coyness here or a subtle approach. The track might have been called "Good-bye, Little Betty", or some such, to accentuate to the shock-value. This is a controversial, truly dark piece of music, redeemed (if it truly can be) only by the quality of the black humour and excellent execution. That said, it is possible that the casual listener would be unable to stomach it, and this was true of me also for many years, when I would simply ignore the second side of the album.

No comfort is on offer to those upset or offended by the previous track from the last track, "Killer". There are some good riffs, here, and a multi-textured approach similar to that of "Halo Of Flies", but the track is meandering and lacking in direction. The lead vocals sound "lost", as from a man who knows he is irredeemable for his sins, a theme Cooper will return to time and time again. The song is not quite strong enough on its own to justify this side of the album, and the odd sound effect that closes the track, and the album, seems to me strangely reminiscent of a toilet being flushed, something I am sure will seem quite appropriate to many people, under the circumstances.

An album with uneven moments of composition and execution, Killer is another example of Alice Cooper's reach exceeding his grasp. His desire to branch out musically was perhaps better served with the band that in 1974 replaced the originals - Mike Bruce (lead guitar), Glen Buxton (who died in 1997, rhythm guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neal Smith (drums) - but the achievements of this line-up should be acknowledged and the best tracks of this album can be numbered with the best that Cooper has ever come up with.

A point of interest to me, the band was originally known as "Nazz" (no connection to the band of which Todd Rundgren was a member). The coincidental nature of this fact delights me, being a huge TR fan!

Rating: C+

User Rating: A


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