Wednesday, May 10, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1003: Alice Cooper

For those who have been waiting to discover which artist I have the most albums by, it is time for the reveal – it’s Alice Cooper.

I’ve been a fan of Alice Cooper since the tender age of five, and while this next album came out when I was 35, time has not reduced my zeal for his music - then or now.

Disc 1003 is…Dirty Diamonds
Artist: Alice Cooper

Year of Release: 2005

What’s up with the Cover? This is now the fourth Giant Head cover in a row. On this cover, Alice Cooper’s head is so large that only the eyes show up. Also, a really large and hard to read font gets in the way. Are those diamonds in your eyes, Alice, or are you just glad to see me?

How I Came To Know It: “Dirty Diamonds” came out around the time I was rediscovering the joy of Alice Cooper after losing track with his new material in the late nineties and early oughts. I believe I bought this one when it came out, but my memory is hazy.

How It Stacks Up:  I have all 26 of Alice Cooper’s studio albums, and once even had a weird early import of live and rare tracks (“Science Fiction”) before I parted company with it. “Dirty Diamonds” holds its own well in that large company, coming in at #13.

Unless Cooper releases a new album (something he hasn’t done since 2011) this will be my last review of him. Here’s the full recap of how everything stacked up at the final tally:

  1. Billion Dollar Babies: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 228)
  2. Love it to Death: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 604)
  3. From the Inside: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 99)
  4. Welcome To My Nightmare: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 449)
  5. Killer: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 429)
  6. Muscle of Love: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 357)
  7. Alice Cooper Goes to Hell: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 447)
  8. Da Da: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 18)
  9. School’s Out: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 406)
  10. Lace and Whiskey: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 180)
  11. The Last Temptation: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 710)
  12. Dragontown: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 950)
  13. Dirty Diamonds: 3 stars (reviewed right here)
  14. Along Came a Spider: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 164)
  15. Zipper Catches Skin: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 355)
  16. Flush the Fashion: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 264)
  17. Special Forces: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 354)
  18. Constrictor: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 89)
  19. Raise Your Fist and Yell: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 286)
  20. Easy Action: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 444)
  21. Pretties for You: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 152)
  22. Hey Stoopid: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 345)
  23. Trash: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 343)
  24. Welcome 2 My Nightmare: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 956)
  25. Brutal Planet: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 833)
  26. The Eyes of Alice Cooper: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 439)
  27. Science Fiction: 1 star (reviewed at Disc 661)
Ratings: 3 stars

After starting out the decade with three heavy metal albums, in 2005 Alice Cooper returned to his roots on “Dirty Diamonds”; catchy but heavy rock riffs with clever lyrics designed to both shock and amuse.

It is clear that the return agreed with Cooper, who delivers a tight little album that borrows from pop, boogie woogie, blues, metal and even rap, constructing songs that are both catchy and edgy. Like he did with the original Alice Cooper Band, Cooper shares songwriting duties with his band-mates and the collaborative approach does wonders to rejuvenate his sound, while still remaining Alice Cooper at the core.

All that praise aside, I admit it took a while for this album to grow on me. The preceding records (“Brutal Planet”, “Dragontown” and “The Eyes of Alice Cooper”) put my ear in a very heavy mood, and this record can seem almost flippant in comparison. However, after a few listens you tune in to what Cooper is trying to do, as he mixes all the lessons he learned from eighties metal and even dalliances with hair and nu metal, and bend those genres to his will.

Like most acts that endure as long as he has, Cooper knows how to adapt. He is a chameleon, able to connect with the sound of the time, without ever losing his inner lizard. After a lot of angry records preceding it, Cooper seems almost giddy here as he sings about the perils of pretty girls, fame and riches, and cross-dressing truck drivers. It is delightfully over the top, sometimes too much so, but if anyone can shamelessly stand in the glare of too much kitsch and make it work, it's Cooper.

The album launches with “Woman of Mass Distraction” a pelvic thrust of a song, dirty guitar riffs and ominous beats growing into a chorus that is basically a strained pun that Cooper makes work. It is corny and catchy in equal measure.

Other standouts include the neo-nu metal “Dirty Diamonds” a track about the empty lives of the rich and famous. Cooper is one of the most down to earth rock gods that currently walk the earth, and his mockery of the wealthy manages to ring true where in lesser hands it could have come off as hypocritical.

Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)” is a song about bad girls walking the strip looking for trouble, and it the way Cooper sings “I don’t know if it’s safe to pet one” makes it clear he’d like to find out. This song also has a sweet little guitar solo that is restrained and well-placed.

My favourite track on the record is “The Saga of Jesse Jane” the tale of a cross-dressing trucker who runs afoul of some rednecks at a truck stop and ends up murdering the lot of them. Cooper is a natural storyteller, drawing you in instantly with this opening:

“I’m in jail in a Texas town
In my sister’s wedding gown
I drive a truck all night long
Listening to Judy Garland songs.”

The song is done in a haunting murder ballad style that would make the Handsome Family proud, as Cooper exchanges his usual raspy vocals for something halfway between Nick Cave and young Elvis.

The album ends with “Stand Up” featuring rapper Xzibit, but even that awkward crossover with rap is kind of fun.

Cooper’s joy in making this album is clear, and years later “Woman of Mass Distraction” and “Dirty Diamonds” are both common songs in his concert setlists, where many other albums from this era are completely ignored. As a devoted fan, I always wish Cooper would pull something off other records from around this time, but there is no denying that it would be hard to replace some of the great material available on “Dirty Diamonds.”

Best tracks: Woman of Mass Distraction, Dirty Diamonds, The Saga of Jesse Jane, Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)

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