Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Review - Alice Cooper - Dirty Diamonds

The man keeps churning them out, doesn't he? At least he isn't touring on music he wrote dozens of years ago. This is another good-to-pretty-good album that doesn't get much spin time with me. I smell an all-Alice Cooper day coming up at work!

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As a long time fan of Alice Cooper and all-things-spooky I was at first disappointed with Dirty Diamonds, the latest Cooper album because there’s nary a hint of his Welcome to My Nightmare side. The first few listens made me think he was harkening back to the persona presented on Lace & Whiskey but then I realized he was regressing even further, back to the days of the Alice Cooper band and those amazing first few albums.

Written and recorded with the same band as his last album, The Eyes of Alice Cooper, you can hear how the years of touring together has gelled this band into a tight machine. Playing the classic Cooper hits with amp simulations designed to sound like the original albums obviously influenced Cooper and crew during the writing process. While no sound is an out and out rip-off, there’s more than enough to make old-school fans feel at home. For instance, “You Make Me Wanna” has a fuzzy lead guitar sound straight out of “Under My Wheels” but it’s combined with a chugging riff and an unusual bird-call backing vocal bit to make a seriously solid song. “Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)” takes its guitar song and vocal cadence from “Department of Youth” but manages to up the rock edge considerably.

Other tracks are like an alternate-universe retrospect. The monstrously thick guitars and swaggering rhythm of “Run Down The Devil” could have come off Brutal Planet, the New Wave goofy sheen of “Your Own Worst Enemy” recalls his early 80s albums, and the harmonica-laden “Zombie Dance” could have been lifted from the more melodic songs of the Zappa-era platters. Elsewhere Cooper tries on a variety of personalities to flesh out his songs. The chilling bluesy western “Six Hours” finds a man condemned to die and “The Saga of Jesse Jane”, with a joke in every rhyme and Cooper singing like Johnny Cash, is pretty much the novelty song its title suggests. More overt humor is found in “Perfect”, a smile-inducing tale of delusions: “She becomes a pop star in the safety of her car / But then she falls to pieces in the karaoke bar.” Cooper is also able to summon the Detroit rocker of his past, bring sleazy, gritty guitars to the classic “Woman of Mass Distraction” and “Steal That Car”, two songs which bear the distinct mark of The Stooges. The title track takes grungy guitars, Batman horns, James Bond flutes, and distorted vocals to create one of his strongest songs in the last five years.

My only regret on this album is that at this stage in his career, why not have a member of the original Alice Cooper Band come back and play on a track or two, especially when the album digs so far back for inspiration? Such a move would only make the strong power-rocker songs on Dirty Diamonds stronger, at least in the fantasy mind of this aging fan.

Rank: Quality but not classic

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