Friday, March 23, 2012

Music Review - Alice Cooper - Alice Cooper Goes To Hell

Hoffometer: 9

Alice Cooper Goes To Hell was the sequel to the very popular first solo album by Alice Cooper-the man as opposed to Alice Cooper-the band. Of course when I picked this album up in the early 80s it was out of order and I didn’t consider its chronological importance. For that end I’ll only say that this was an attempt to repeat the success of Welcome To My Nightmare, intentionally using the same musicians and stylistic variety.

And you know what? It works just as well as a sequel as a standalone.
The title track is a mid-tempo rocker with plenty of instrumental passages to be used as a playground when played live, giving Alice a chance to slay some costumed beast of the week. The masterful part is that these bits add to, instead of distract from, the overall flow of the song. Alice has always stated that despite the controversy that surrounded him he always portrayed clear cut morality. The song is a Greek Chorus of sorts that condemns Alice for his actions (“Making us doubt our parent’s authority” and “You’d even feed a diabetic a candy cane”), serving as a story prelude to the rest of the album. “You Gotta Dance” is light, even including flutes. Pay no attention to the disco beat (or that Alice completely rehashed the theme of this song in “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever” on his Welcome to My Nightmare 2 album. It’s the weakest song on the album but the torture only lasts 2:45. The devil himself sings about himself in “I’m The Coolest”, a slow simmer of a song with jazzy drums (compare the style to “Some Folks” from the original Nightmare.) “Didn’t We Meet” is the first killer song, at least for the teenage me whose heart was packed with emotions needing an outlet. Part love song, part hard rock song, I’m still not sure what the song is about but when Cooper sings “Didn’t we meet / In the night in my sleep / Somewhere?” with such earnest yearning, well, how could my tender self not indulge? Just as Nightmare had “Only Women Bleed” so did this album need a ballad for radio. What we get is “I Never Cry,” a song which is vastly superior to “Women” with such lines as “I may be lonely / But I’m never alone” and “Just a heartache that got caught in my eye.” When the chorus brightens from the soft acoustic guitar into vibes and rich vocals it’s pure sugar. Yes, a bit syrupy hey, it’s good syrup (pure sugar, no corn syrup).

“Give The Kid A Break” finds Alice singing from hell in the first person with “Don’t know why I’m down here / Must be something I said / Or some small imperfection / In my soul or in my head.” The music is 50s influenced classic rock with lots of piano and fairly nice at that. Eventually he is answered by the devil himself and the two have a humorous conversation before Alice is abandoned by the Greek Chorus, again a trick used in Nightmare 2 (“I Gotta Get Outta Here”). “Guilty” is an auto-biographical hard rocker (nearly metal) with a very catchy chorus. And it’s an honest assessment of his standing before God, which is more than most people give. “Wake Me Gently” begins with a pretty passage played on Spanish guitar, blossoming into another gushy ballad that hit hard with the teenage me. Now that he’s in Hell Alice looks back on a life of lost opportunities and regret (“This dreams a novel / That I don’t dare complete / No happy endings read / I think the heroes dead.”) When the strings sweep in for a dramatic instrumental passage, well, it’s pure emotional manipulation but done so amazingly well you won’t stand a chance. “Wish You Were Here” breaks up the dream with heavy guitar set to a rompy/disco beat and the kind of chorus destined to remain in your head for a good long while, ending with some solid guitar solos. “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” is the classic bar song with Alice singing to a piano before everyone jumps into the pool for a big weepy singalong that heads to the finale, “Going Home,” a song which breaks my heart even now. Here Alice bares his lost soul, absolutely nailing the innate longing we all have that somewhere there is a better place. The song itself is big and dramatic with flutes and strings and timpani and horns, gushing all over itself with a killer melody that never goes over the line into camp. The lyrics capture the state of the fleeting nature of fame in that even at the height of his career he wonders “How many said / “I wonder what happened to Alice?” / How many shrugged or laughed? / How many cried?” Instead of fame and fortune he wants to be off the road, “To my own room / To all the mess / To all the dirty laundry / It looks so good, I don’t care / I’m just so glad to be back / Home sweet home.”

Rank: Essential Cooper

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