Monday, April 14, 2014

Music Review - Alice Cooper - Killer

Killer is a mixed bag. The fact that it was written, recorded and released only nine months after Love It To Death can excuse the paltry listing of a mere eight songs. Of those eight, the ones that are my least favorite are the ones that were released as singles which means that I’m the polar opposite of this guy. Go figure.

“Under My Wheels” has a peppy horn section to back up the driving hard rock beat and dark yet humorously delivered lyrics about driving over someone. The entire album is supposed to be a loose concept album concerning killers, though I’m lost as to the manner of death in the next song/single, “Be My Lover,” a simple story song about hooking up whose redeeming feature is when drummer Neal Smith dropped his sticks at the end and they intentionally kept it on tape. The simplicity is counteracted by “Halo of Flies,” an attempt to write a prog-rock song in the vein of King Crimson. Back in the day, I had no idea of what “prog rock” was but I seriously liked this song! At 8:22, there are many different styles and sounds and changes to accompany the espionage-themed lyrics. And because they can, they even threw in a mini drum solo. Side one ends with “Desperado”, a somber song about a gun slinger for hire that culminates in a stunning inclusion of strings that brings a level of beauty and sophistication to the dusty west. It’s one of the best singles from the Alice Cooper band catalog.

Side two is half meh, have genius. The rocking “You Drive Me Nervous” is two and a half minutes of attitude with no focus while the raunchy “Yeah Yeah Yeah” is just as repetitive as its name. Hey, they can’t all be golden. Interestingly*, the final two songs, the best on the album, do not list Bob Ezrin as a co-writer, possibly blowing my theory out of the water that Ezrin is the bands muse. Possibly. I’m not willing to throw out that theory yet. “Dead Babies” begins with a simple yet ingenious bass line**, one that I’ve played many times and sometimes even when warming up at church. Then the guitars enter with a slinky, shimmering pattern and it’s creepy all over even before the singing begins. But these, too, add to the tone, with a faint whisper of “Little Betty ate a pound of aspirin / She got them off the shelf up on the wall.” It’s eerie, morbid stuff and the band handles the subject with all the tact of a Doberman, launching gleefully into a bombastic chorus of “Dead babies / Can’t take care of themselves/ Dead babies / Can’t take things off the shelves.” It’s almost Doctor Demento except for the knives in the guitars and the snarl in the vocals. Nearly six minutes long, the song stretches out, nicely exploring an instrumental passage, adding a perfectly timed horn melody, writhing and contorting to a boiling point of an anthem of “Goodbye, little Betty!” This leads directly to “Killer”, another lengthy prog-pop song, this time about someone who finds themselves on death row, a rather seedy someone who “saw just what I liked / And took what I found.” The band jumps into a tasty instrumental battle after this brief verse, eventually winding down the dueling lead guitars to a chilling and dramatic passage where the protagonist repeats the verse in spoken form, almost in a kind of shock to find himself caught. Then begins a quiet, unnerving organ melody, apparently music for walking to the electric chair, and then the switch is thrown, treating the listening to loud, dissonant electronic sounds as the convict fries. Years and years and years ago, while in high school, I fell asleep to this cassette while doing homework but was jolted straight up at the jarring noises of this “execution,” my heart in my throat until the sleep fog cleared and my confused brain remembered what was making all that racket. Good times…

Rank: Essential Cooper

* To a music dork like me.

** Speaking of bass lines, Dennis Dunaway really starts stepping up his game on this album, adding yet another layer of melodic interest and complexity to the songs. But this album is just an appetizer for the next album, School’s Out, where he transforms into an absolute BASS MONSTER!

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