Monday, March 1, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 99: Alice Cooper

A second disc in a row from 1978 brings us to my third Alice Cooper review, and one of the greatest records it has been my privilege to hear over the years.

Disc 99 is...From the Inside

Artist: Alice Cooper

Year of Release: 1978

How I Came To Know It: I have known this album since my brother bought it home the week it was released. I remember to this day how cool the record was - the back had a set of hospital doors that were perforated - you could open them to see a bunch of asylum inmates charging towards you with "release papers". The eyes on the front also opened - I can't remember what was behind them - but I'm sure it was cool.

How It Stacks Up: I have all 25 of Alice Cooper's studio albums. This is one of the best. I'll rank it 3rd, but I have to say it is the equal of both #1 and #2 in many many ways.

Rating: 5 stars.

"From the Inside" is the 4th of Cooper's solo albums, a period of music I like to refer to as "Drunk and Alone" since he had split from the band and was in the throes of a very serious bought of alcoholism. Contrary to popular belief, Cooper was never into drugs - but he was a serious alcoholic.

In 1977, he became so wasted that he committed himself to a sanitarium, and "From The Inside" is inspired by this experience. Some of this inspiration comes from the characters he met in the institution, such as:
- a sex-addicted priest (Nurse Rozetta)
- a serial killer couple (Millie and Billie)
- a shell-shocked Vietnam veteran (Jackknife Johnnie)

This album was co-written by Dick Wagner and Bernie Taupin (of Elton John fame) and Taupin's brilliance definitely adds something to Cooper's already considerable lyrical talent.

Some of these songs are hilarious, like in "Nurse Rozetta", which has our sex-addled preacher having a tough time dealing with one of the local staff:

"She's so creative with a bar of soap
And so inventive with a stethoscope
To check my pulse she's gotta hold my hand
I blow the fuse on the encephalogram
I surrender to my urges felt
She popped the buckle off my bible belt."

Or in "Millie and Billie", a duet where our two lovers are thankful that "God made love crazy so we wouldn't feel so alone - he was thinking of us," one particularly entertaining vignette:

"Oh Billie it's fresh in my memory
The night that it just had to be
You with your pick axe and scissors
And you with your shovel and gun
And I liked your late husband Donald
But such torture his memory brings
All sliced up and sealed tight in baggies
Guess love makes you do funny things."

While some songs are disturbingly humorous, others show a genuine pathos for people struggling in their own realities. From "Jackknife Johnny":

"Institute lackies, with hot bourbon breath
White coats and needles, Johnny like to scare you to death
Dear Johnny, do you feel your best
When you're strung out at night on your morphine and meth?"

Equally compelling, are Cooper's obvious internal struggles with alcohol addiction, inextricably wrapped up in his difficulty separating from his stage character of Alice. Complicating this, he fights shame of letting his wife down, and how she will receive him when he is eventually released (captured brilliantly in the album's hit song "How You Gonna See Me Now?").

At his lightest, he worries about who is taking care of his dog. At his worst, he sits in "The Quiet Room" having thoughts of suicide. The album is an unflinching look at someone who is unhinged, and yet keenly aware of exactly how they came to be so.

Musically, "From the Inside" isn't nearly as heavy as either his early work, nor his more recent metal-inspired fare. However, what it has is great range, hitting just the right moods at just the right times. It is soft and introspective to match "The Quiet Room", tender and creepy for "Millie and Billie" and adrenaline-fueled seventies rock as Alice channels all the rage and stage anxiety that got him here, in the title track "From the Inside" and "Serious".

The album is also perfectly paced - beginning with "From the Inside" describing how Cooper came to be in this predicament and ending with "Inmates (We're All Crazy)" where Cooper finally and fully identifies with his fellow inmates - and I think recognizing that he is not just observing - but that he is one of them, and needs help.

In "From the Inside", Cooper sets the tone for what will be an album of discovering himself - peeling the layers from anger at what's happened "to" him, until he can take ownership and reconstruct himself (and by extension - rebuild the Alice character) from there:

"You all got your kicks from what you saw up there
Eight bucks buys a folding chair
I was downing Seagrams on another flight
And I worked that stage all night long
You were screaming for the villain up there
And I was much obliged.
The old road sure screwed me good this time
It's hard to see where the vicious circle ends."

It wouldn't end with "From the Inside". Cooper would continue to fight the booze, and he would be back in 1983 - this time admitted against his will. The second time took, and I believe he's been sober for almost 25 years.

Along the way he made some great records - and "From the Inside" is one of the best. It is as perfect as music gets - honest, evocative, provocative and more real in its artificial environment than most albums inspired in what we think of as a sane world.

Buy this album.

Best tracks:all songs

1 comment:

Sheila said...

Awesome album! All hail Alice!