Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review - Alice Cooper - Welcome 2 My Nightmare

Welcome 2 My Nightmare is the album for which diehard Alice Cooper fans have been waiting for years. Coinciding with Alice Cooper’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this album marks the first time Alice Cooper, the man, has written and recorded with the living members of Alice Cooper, the band, these being bassist Dennis Dunaway, drummer Neal Smith and guitarist Michael Bruce.

Over the years Alice Cooper the man has overshadowed Alice Cooper the band, but let it not be forgotten that many of their hits were written not by “the man” but by the above-mentioned members. Alice’s first solo album, the landmark Welcome To My Nightmare, featured many songs co-written with guitarist Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner. After many years apart these men also lend their wonderful skills to this project. On par with reuniting with former bandmates is the fact that for the first time since 1983’s creepy overlooked masterpiece, DaDa, Alice is working with producer Bob Ezrin, in my opinion the genius behind the best albums put out by Alice Cooper, the man and the band. Ezrin was also at the helm for such classics as Destroyer by KISS and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. A good producer will bring out the best of an artist, sending them back again and again to rework an idea, forcing an artist to reach new creative heights.

And what amazing new heights these are! While not as creepy or achingly lost as the original, there’s something about the songs on 2 that immediately stand out. There’s a quality and a completeness to these songs that has been missing on past Cooper albums. It’s a reunion of many friends and periods, and the joy comes through. Joy isn’t exactly a word that goes with “nightmare.” In fact, there’s tons of humor on this album, contrasting to the eerie factor of the original. Of the songs on 2, only the brief “The Nightmare Returns,” sung in the Steve little boy voice, and “When Hell Comes Come” can be characterized as spooky, and the second is more of a reality-based horrific. The rest of the album tells the story of Alice himself, Mr. Celebrity, having a nightmare about being in Hell, a topic he has covered in various forms at least twice.

The album opens with the familiar spooky piano figure from the original album, morphing into the song proper of “I Am Made of You.” This is an outstanding song which sets up the rest of the album, a kind of “Hello, Hooray” where Cooper sings of how in the past quarter century his own persona and that of the Alice Cooper villain have blended to where distinctions are blurry. Or it’s one of the best and most beautiful worship songs I’ve heard in years. Either way you decide to take it, the song is gorgeous and easily one of the best of his solo career. “Caffeine” is, appropriately, a turbo-charged, heavy, guitar-driven rocker that finds the protagonist attempting to avoid sleep and the nightmares that will surely follow. Not only does this song have a hooky chorus, but it’s got MORE COWBELL!

“The Nightmare Returns” has Cooper/Steven falling asleep, and the first nightmare is finding himself on a train full of the damned and bound to Hell (“A Runaway Train”) with a rocketing beat and guitar solos by Vince Gill. “Last Man on Earth” is a swaggering song with non-traditional instrumentation that could easily find a home on a Tom Waits album. “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever” is almost a parody of itself, though still quite engaging, that either takes a swipe at or pays homage to Lady Gaga before dissolving the disco beat into a metal crescendo. “Ghouls Gone Wild” is also a tongue-in-cheek, energetic outing, this one channeling the 50s classic “Summertime Blues.”

Ke$ha, who called Cooper “dad,” sings a duet on “What Baby Wants.” Since I’m not 12, I haven’t knowingly heard any songs by Ke$ha so don’t know how this song fits in with her music, but for Cooper I’d say this song is a bit poppier and more danceable than usual, but, dang, does it ever have a stunning sound and a catchy chorus. The album is summarized in “I Gotta Get Outta Here,” although with the usual Cooper twist, and ends with “The Underture,” a symphonic and guitar instrumental that resurrects musical themes from both Welcome to My Nightmare and Welcome 2 My Nightmare.

Alice Cooper and Bob Ezrin are a match made in, well, it’s a good thing. While Welcome 2 My Nightmare may not have the uneasy, heart-rending sorrow or the orchestrated rock of the original, it more than makes up for it in quality music packed with memorable melodies. Nearly every song is a birdie and a couple even rank as a hole-in-one.

No comments: