Saturday, November 5, 2011

Alice Cooper - Welcome 2 My Nightmare



He’s back…the man behind the mask. Well, strictly Alice has never really gone away. Now Alice, in my humble opinion, has never made a truly terrible album although some do shine far brighter than others. 1975’s original Welcome To My Nightmare set, however, stands head and shoulders above anything else in his solo career. As a die hard Alice fan, when I heard in 2010 he was working on a sequel to that album, Hell, I was intrigued…I even got wood!!! When I heard that the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper band were also involved then I was sold…and I got wood…damn, I could have done with having two dicks!!! When I heard Bob Ezrin was back in the production seat…yeah you guessed it, I don’t need to draw you pictures now do I!!!

This album has some pretty big shows to fill so how does it fare? Being honest, this album is everything it should be…and more. Alice has taken the grandiose, hard rocking concept blueprint he laid down in the 70’s and revisited it like an old and trusted fiend whilst understanding that it ain’t 1975 no more. This album is pure Alice 2011 style. How many other artists can you think of that have a career spanning over 40 years who are able to continue making music that is as relevant to their past as it is to the current musical climate…yeah, you’re struggling to think aren’t you? Look no further.

The basic concept is not that far removed from the original story, Alice’s dreams plunge him into a horrific world but this time there is a twist. Without giving too much away this is Welcome To my Nightmare meets Alice Cooper Goes To Hell in one tidy package.

Opening with “I Am Made Of You” shows Alice in contrary mode. Instead of the big statement that sets the scene from the off this is a subtle slow burning piece of dark, heavy pop. I will admit, this caught me off guard on first listen and the vocoder affected vocals did make me wince…what the hell is Alice playing at??? Repeated listens, however, reveal the song’s true strength and the delicious melody not to mention Steve Hunter’s sublime guitar solo. Throughout the album Hunter’s playing is at the top of his game and the years have done nothing to dull is ability or his ideas. This is both new and old ground for Alice as piano themes echo the original “Welcome…” album whilst exploring modern, contemporary musical turns.

Things really kick off on the next track, “Caffeine” where Alice realises he can’t face entering the dark world of sleep and needs to stay awake at all costs. Co-written by and featuring Buckcherry’s Keith Nelson this is, as you may expect, a balls to the wall slice of ass kicking hard rock and roll that throws riff after riff after riff into the melting pot. The song itself is packed full of ADHD driven twists fuelled by the variety of stimuli that Alice catalogues in the lyrics.

Unfortunately for Alice, the caffeine doesn’t work and “The Nightmare returns” (see what I did there?). A brief but brilliant segue between the original 1975 set and the new album, this explores the familiar piano themes from the original and reprises the dark, orchestrated horror sound that set the original “Welcome…” album apart.

And now, here’s where I start to salivate. “A Runaway Train” is the first of three tracks written with and featuring the surviving members of the original Alice band; Dennis Dunaway on bass, Neal Smith on drums and Michael Bruce on guitar. As Alice rides the train into his hellish nightmare world it is clear that the guys are relishing working together once more. A motorvating, rockabilly fueled slice of rock and roll, you can almost hear the tethers break at the start as the band throw themselves into the track with the energy of a band a third their ages and with every ounce of gusto they mustered on the original classic Cooper albums.

The train crashes and Alice realizes he is “The Last Man On Earth” and with all the freedom to allow himself any level of debauchery that entails. Here Alice shows the diversity he used to display back in the good old experimental 70’s days with a drunken, Tom Waits styled hoodoo blues stomp that sounds as though it comes straight from a Vaudevillian theatre in the Louisiana swamps. Banjo, violin and tuba power this irresistible piece of irreverence…but wait, the round of applause Alice receives at the end suggest all isn’t as it seems and Alice isn’t really alone!!!

Rob Zombie appears and takes over Vincent Price’s role from the original album to act as Alice’s guide on “The Congregation”. Zombie points out the various levels assigned to the wrong doers and undesirables including lawyers and…mimes!!! The track itself is pure, high energy metallic Beatles with Alice delivering his finest John Lennon impression. Throughout the album he is in fine vocal form exploring all aspects of his character from tender balladry to acidic hard rock. To still have a voice at 63 is remarkable, to have such a strong voice is almost miraculous!!!

The original Alice Cooper band appears for their second shot on the album, and one of the undoubted highlights. “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” is a sleazy slice of gutter level rock and roll that harks back to the days of “Killers” and “Love It To Death”. The Rolling Stones have been trying desperately to write a riff as irresistible as this for the last 30 years and failed…give the Cooper band a few days in the studio and look what happens!!!

No sooner have you showered off the grime from the sleazy onslaught than Alice hits us with one of the most bizarre and left field tracks on the album. “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever” is, as the title suggests, a disco infused up tempo piece of frippery that sees Alice throwing his tongue round some hip hop style wordplay. It’s an unusual move for sure and bound to divide opinion but the track is saved by a guest appearance from John 5 who delivers an incendiary guitar solo over a balls out thrash to the conclusion. Whatever people may think of this track it proves that Alice isn’t prepared to play safe and if pushed into a corner will come out fighting.
Alice continues to confound expectations as he parties on down with a bunch of surfing zombies…presumably they are the victims of the disco bloodbath and what better way to recover than going for a surf and beach party. Keep up folks, this is a nightmare after all, it isn’t meant to make perfect sense!!! Alice intended this to be a homage to the Beach Boys but once it’s been rocked up it has more than a little Ramones in its blood. Imagine Alice jamming with Johnny and the brudders whilst Brian Wilson and the guys sing pitch perfect harmonies…you’re imagining that right? It works doesn’t it!!!

Now, in the mid 70’s Alice gained notoriety amongst the rock fraternity but widespread recognition for his ballads. “Only Women Bleed”, “I never Cry” and “You And Me” were all smash hits back in the day and it seems Alice and writing partner of the time Dick Wagner kept a little something in the back pocket for a moment such as this. Originally written back in the 70’s, “Something To Remember Me By” never saw the light of day as Alice didn’t feel he could do it justice…but now he can. The track is as vital and heart warming as any ballad he’s ever done in the past and proves that some things are worth waiting for. Ezrin’s lush orchestration takes us right back to when Alice was storming the mainstream airwaves…and should be again.

The original Cooper band make their third and final appearance on the dark and deceptively heavy “When hell Comes Home”. Riding on a riff that Sabbath would have been proud of it shows that there is still plenty of life in the old dogs yet and they’re still capable of sending a frosty shiver down the spine in this tale of alcoholic spousal abuse, you see folks, it ain’t all fantasy in Alice land..

And so, in his journey through the Underworld, Alice meets a chick…and she is hot!!! “What Baby Wants” is a slick pop rocker that would have been a huge hit if it had followed “Poison” into the charts. The fact that Alice has drafted in bratty electro pop diva Ke$ha to join him on the track also shows that he is fully aware of the current musical climate as well as being able to spot talent where none of the rest of us can. Playing the Devil to Alice’s victim Ke$ha nails a performance that drips with seduction while Alice desperately tries to control his libido and retain his soul.

In an album full of left field twists, Alice delivers yet another on “I Gotta Get Out Of Here” co-written with Patterson Hood from Drive By Truckers and featuring country legend Vince Gill on guitar, this is a prime piece of rolling Americana. The genius stroke appears half way through with a chorus of heavenly voices that repeatedly ask Alice “what part of dead don’t you get”. What do you know, it seems that Alice isn’t really in a nightmare after all but has died and gone to Hell…or has he? The question is never fully answered and doesn’t need to be…maybe not until the third instalment!!!

And so we come to the rousing conclusion. “Underture” is an audacious piece that pulls themes from the 1975 original though the title track, “Steven”, “Devil’s Food”, “Only Women Bleed” to name but four and mixes them up with themes from the new work such as “Ghouls Gone Wild” and “Something To Remember Me By” to create an orchestrated instrumental denouement that puts a lid on the album in the only way it could possibly be finished.

Welcome 2 My Nightmare is a wild ride. Alice and his newfound partnership with Bob Ezrin have succeeded in pulling out all the stops to create an album that stands as Alice’s best work in at least 30 years…in fact make that 36 years since the original album came out. It’s as big, bold and brash as it is subtle and proves that Alice need no longer just be remembered by the younger generation for “Poison” and that for the older generation, he is still the master of the bizarre. Alice, we’re not worthy!!!


--Ollie

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