Monday, March 24, 2014

Music Review - Alice Cooper - Pretties For you

Pretties For You is the debut album but the band known as Alice Cooper. By law I have to include the label “shock rocker” though at this time* they were still figuring out who they were. This band existed in the psychedelic world of Los Angeles and had caught the attention of Frank Zappa who was starting a new label devoted to freaky music and signed them for three albums. Freaky they were, seeing as how they were mostly ex-art students and influenced by the likes of Salvador Dali.

So what’s it like? Freaky, of course! It’s raw, rough, sloppy and experimental. But through it all is a strong melodic undercurrent, the very same one that eventually created the classic hits that are still played on the radio forty years later. Because this isn’t a well known album I’ll go song by song. Bear with me or feel free to check out the latest celebrity news.

“Titanic Overture” is a brief instrumental that sounds orchestral, mostly due to a thick wall of organs. Weird worm-like sounds augment “10 Minutes Before the Worm”, a lumbering, bouncy ditty with vocal harmonies. “Swing Low Sweet Cherrio” is definitely a hippy dippy song of the times. Throughout Vince (before he legally changed his name to Alice) sounds very young and had yet to develop his signature vocal snarl. Very clean, his voice is. This song is a bit progressive in that it switches around a bit and even includes Vince playing a harmonica solo, dueling against the lead guitar while the rest of the band goes gonzo. In fact, most of this nearly six minute song is this crazy, energetic duel. The theatrical story song “Today Mueller” is under two minutes, featuring piano, falsetto backing vocals, a reference to the “red rover” nursery rhyme, and is incredibly catchy. Think Sid-era Pink Floyd. “Living” is another late sixties song of its time… decent and with a pretty good natty guitar tone but nothing amazing. The lengthy “Fields of Regret” is an acid rocker with lots of electronic effects and quirky rhythmic patterns before settling into a spacey jam session that settles into a disturbing dream-like section of spoken word poetry.

Side Two. “No Longer Umpire” is another brief theatrical art-rock song that packs a big memorably melodic punch. It gets in there and gets out, leaving you wondering why this song won’t leave your brain. “Levity Ball” suffers from poor recording, sounding like everyone was too far from the microphones, but it’s a good song that is allowed to breath and develop, going through a number of interesting musical stages. I have no idea of a levity ball is so don’t ask. “B.B. on Mars” is a disposable 1:17 ditty but the next song, “Reflected”, was later reworked as “Elected” for their massively popular Billion Dollar Babies album. It’s a major transformation and you won’t readily catch it unless you’re listening closely as they only took part of verse and what might be called a post-chorus to create the rock classic. “Apple Bush” is catchy psychedelia with loads of big, thumping drums while I barely remember the dramatic, experimental tittle coined “Earwigs to Eternity.” The final song, “Changing Arranging” is slow to get started but once it does you’ll hear a pretty little flower power song pleasingly overpowered by thundering drums before breaking down briefly in sheer weirdness.

By the time I finally got my hands on this record, and yes in the mid 80s, it was a record, I had absorbed most of what Alice Cooper had released and was well prepped for anything they could throw my way. Which is good because it isn't hard rock or even remotely like their early 70s albums. But I digress. Back when I first heard this album there was nothing called eBay or Amazon, kids, so if you wanted to find a rare album you contacted a local used record dealer, such as the amazing local Wooden Nickel Collectors Store, and put the word out. When I called Tim, the manager at the time (as well as now and probably until he dies), wrote down my request and many months later called to inform me that someone had finally brought one in. Hop in the car, drive in anticipation, pay for album, feast your eyes on the artwork in your car, drive home with even greater anticipation, and finally feast your ears on the music after months of waiting. That’s how it was in those days… not even a thirty second preview to give you a clue of what you were getting. Collecting rare music back in the day was not for the impatient. Overall I enjoy this album and get the hankerin’ to listen to it now and then. In any case, I prefer Pretties For You any day over Trash or his other early 90s albums.

I was going to rank each album in terms of its standing as an Alice Cooper Band album and as part of the entire Alice Cooper catalog, including his solo years, but I just can’t do it. I mean, how can I say if Easy Action is a better album than Special Forces? So instead I’ll create a few broader categories and leave it at that. I also just realized that I either have some holes in my collection or I’m getting sloppy in my archival duties. For some reason I don’t have listed that I own Muscle of Love, Trash or Constrictor. True, the first two are not even close to being favorites and enjoyment of the last is mostly nostalgia but I thought I had purchased these on CD, previously having had one on record, one on cassette, and one on CD that I, em, trashed, because I hated it so much. But that’s another story for another time. I guess it’s time to dig through all those boxes of CDs from the move and see what I actually have.

Rank: True Cooper Fans Only

* That being 1969.

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