Monday, March 31, 2014

Music Review - Alice Cooper - Easy Action

Easy Action is the Alice Cooper band's second release, just one year after Pretties For You. That would make it 1970. The title comes from a line in West Side Story, a favorite of the band that later received even greater tribute on their School's Out album. To my ears it's obvious that the band focused on writing more accessible songs but the critics at the time didn't much like it. But at this time, as well as back in the late 80s when this odd record first made it's way to me, I likes it. Not a whole super lot but there's certainly a unique appeal in that it's more defined than their first and has some very memorable songs. However it would only be fair to admit that I had "Apple Bush" from their first album stuck in my head most of this past weekend.

"Mr. & Misdemeanor" is notable for Mr. Furnier finding his vocal snarl. Just the tone of his voice leads one to think that this is one nasty duo, but the fuzzy guitars help. Dig the heavy use of piano and slippery bass line, man. "Shoe Salesman" is an amiable song about a drug using fellow, written with heavy nods to Revolver-era Beatles and well worth 99 cents to download. "Still No Air" begins without much direction but soon becomes a West Side Story tribute, a first attempt at what will later become "Gutter Cats vs. The Jets" on School's Out. Only two and a half minutes long, it's a fairly ambitious, dare I say progressive, undertaking. At 6:54, "Below Your Means" is mostly an instrumental jam song and has so few hooks that I had forgotten it existed. A cold pocket in an otherwise warm lake.

The snarl comes back with a vengeance on "The Return of the Spiders", a gritty, menacing rocker where the band finds it's voice but doesn't know it yet. "Laughing At Me" is another song which packs a huge punch in a small footprint. Harmonizing guitars, flutes, a gentle melody, occassional progressive rhythms in an otherwise very singable song. "Refrigerator Heaven" is about being frozen "until the find a cure for cancer," eerily stuffed with fuzzy guitars, bone clanks and sound effects. Sung by Michael Bruce, the piano-led "Beautiful Flyaway*" has always been a favorite of mine, appealing in the same mournfully nostalgic way as "Dear Martha" by The Beatles. The final track is another lengthy monster, "Lay Down and Die, Goodbye", a progressive mostly instrumental beast which shares much in common with Pink Floyd of the late sixties. It's an interesting song, very experimental, and was surely the result of recreational drug use.

In retrospect, this is one of those albums that is not as good as I remember it, mostly due to a couple of very strong songs. Not as good as Pretties For You but still worth a listen for the curious.

Rank: True Cooper Fans Only

* Decades ago, right about the time I was starting to drive, I signed up for keyboard lessons with some big-haired guy at a music place that used to be a Schwin dealership. He came highly recommended as a rock keyboardist (it was the 80s) and so I paid the man for a month of lessons. I had part of "Beautiful Flyaway" figured out but wanted him to help me figure out the rest and then to help me learn it. Instead this guy gave me a chart with the circle of fifths and explained that it was important to learn this chart and that since I had already began to incorrectly learn the song that it probably wouldn't be a good idea to work on it. The unassertive sixteen year old me said, "Okay." Something happened where I had to reschedule the next weeks lesson but the following week I drove to the studio only to find that the guy had left town to find his fame and fortune in Nashville. The lesson rooms were rented out privately and there was no refund to be given, no way to get in touch with the bandit. The unassertive sixteen year old me was ticked but rolled with it. To this day I still don't know how to play "Beautiful Flyaway."

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