Sunday, August 6, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1038: Alice Cooper

There’s nothing better than waking up on a Sunday and realizing that you are only mid-way through your long weekend.

After a fruitless day of shopping for my dream car (so close…) last night I got to spend some quality time with friends listening to music, which made it all better. I wanted to get a song off this next album onto one of my playlists but couldn’t quite manage it.

Disc 1038 is…Paranormal
Artist: Alice Cooper

Year of Release: 2017

What’s up with the Cover? A two-headed Alice Cooper. Alice probably thinks this cover is cool, but it is actually silly and a little dated. The booklet features a bunch more pictures from this ill-fated photo shoot, where Alice tries to look edgy and scary. Thankfully the music makes up for the bad cover art.

How I Came To Know It: I’ve known and loved Alice Cooper all my life, and this was just me buying his latest album. I purchased it the day it came out after a day of fretting the music store wouldn’t have it in yet. They did.

How It Stacks Up:  I have all 27 of Alice Cooper’s studio albums (plus one weird compilation album I’ve since sold). “Paranormal” comes in at a solid #13 on that list.

When I reviewed Dirty Diamonds back at Disc 1003 I ranked all the albums, not realizing he was about to break his six year studio silence. That’s OK – here’s the list again for those of you who missed it – now with “Paranormal” bumping “Dirty Diamonds” down one spot, along with everything beneath it:

  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. Paranormal: 3 stars (reviewed right here)
  14. Dirty Diamonds: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 1003)
  15. Along Came a Spider: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 164)
  16. Zipper Catches Skin: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 355)
  17. Flush the Fashion: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 264)
  18. Special Forces: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 354)
  19. Constrictor: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 89)
  20. Raise Your Fist and Yell: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 286)
  21. Easy Action: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 444)
  22. Pretties for You: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 152)
  23. Hey Stoopid: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 345)
  24. Trash: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 343)
  25. Welcome 2 My Nightmare: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 956)
  26. Brutal Planet: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 833)
  27. The Eyes of Alice Cooper: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 439)
  28. Science Fiction: 1 star (reviewed at Disc 661)
Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4

“Paranormal” features two songs co-written and performed with the original Alice Cooper band, which is fitting given how this album bridges the gap between Cooper’s early work and his more recent sound.

The record has the clean post-metal production that Cooper has preferred on his last three or four records, crossed with some of the hard rock weirdness of his early career. Producer Bob Ezrin (who was the mastermind behind that early sound) returns to steer the production again. Ezrin’s previous record, 2011’s “Welcome 2 My Nightmare” fell a little short, but here he seems to get exactly how to take a more mature Alice Cooper and make him creepy again.

The title track starts things off well, with an unsettling guitar riff crossed played quietly, then juxtaposed against a flourish of sound. It is a song that is triumphant in the way a group of cultists would cheer bringing Cthulhu into the world: exultant but more than a little wrong.

Cooper is now almost 70 years old, but his voice on “Paranormal” sound as good as anything he’s done in the past 15 years. It is amazing what not drinking or smoking can do for the survival of your vocal chords.

The next track, “Dead Flies” keeps up that throwback feel, with a song that feels like it could have easily appeared on the original “Welcome to My Nightmare” released back in 1975.

After that, Cooper goes into a metal mood, with “Fireball,” an apocalyptic vision with a pounding beat that demands to be heard while driving (but which will have to wait, while my car search continues).

Paranoic Personality” is a bit too Nu Metal for me, and worse reminded me strongly of that old In Living Colour song “Cult of Personality” only not as good, making the Cooper song stale by comparison.

Disc One ends with “The Sound of A” which is a soft and atmospheric number that is a throwback to Cooper’s early work, and just as good.  Never have I felt more unsettled by a song about a musical note. I was unsurprised to find that original bassist Dennis Dunaway co-wrote and played on the song.

“Paranormal” is a two-disc affair, and Cooper makes some odd decisions on how to divide things up. Disc One features 10 new songs, and Disc Two has two new songs (both performed with his old band) and then six classic tracks performed live at a 2016 show in Columbus. I would have preferred all 12 new songs on one disc, and the live disc as a separate feature.

The two news on Disc Two are two of the better tracks. “Genuine American Girl” is another Cooper song that blurs the lines on sexual identity in the same spirit as previous efforts like “Mary Ann,” “The Saga of Jesse Jane”, “No Man’s Land” and “Prettiest Cop on the Block” among others.

You and All of Your Friends” features a bit of a muddier seventies sound, fueled again, in large part by having the original band add their talents to the mix. Long-time fans of Alice Cooper who have been waiting impatiently for this reunion will not be disappointed.

When I saw six live tracks of his classic hits I cringed a little, not wanting another version of songs like “Under My Wheels”, “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Only Women Bleed” that I’ve heard a hundred times before. I was wrong, however. Cooper nails every single one of these. Even “Feed My Frankenstein” sounds great, with Cooper in full throat and his current band going all out. These tracks reminded me how great Alice Cooper is live, even here in the latter stages of his career. They also reminded me how good his current backing band is.

“Paranormal” may come forty-eight years after Alice Cooper’s first album, but it shows he’s lost nothing over the years. The influences of his old band and producer serve to rejuvenate his sound, and capture some of the early magic, while avoiding becoming pale imitations in the process. In short, Alice Cooper is back, and we’re still not worthy.

Best tracks: Paranormal, Private Public Breakdown, The Sound of A, Genuine American Girl, You and all of Your Friends

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