There are some who remark on the drastic change between the sloppy psychedelic album Easy Action and the sharp pop-rock of Love It To Death but there really is no mystery. For Love It To Death a young newbie producer with a love for the dramatic by the name of Bob Ezrin was brought in to work with the band. I consider this to be a brilliant move equal to matching The Beatles with George Martin. Ezrin not only helped the band reign in their songwriting style but also helped them infuse a more theatrical style into their work. He also made them practice. A lot. Those who never really learn a skill just think that it happens, that some people "have it." What these people "have" is a discipline to practice. So while the members of the Alice Cooper Band had formerly practiced enough to be competent on their instruments, they likely not had the focused, intentional kind of practice necessary to get to that next level. The same goes for songwriting, where you go from "good enough" to "killer." To that end, Ezrin made this already pretty good band practice like it was a 40-hour work week, much like The Beatles slogged it out at The Cavern.
Was the result worth it? Oh yeah!
"Caught in a Dream" is the autobiographical story of the band reaching for fame, "trying to catch a ride in a Cadillac." A severely overlooked and underrated song, coming as it does right before "I'm Eighteen", it's got a great guitar hook. "I'm Eighteen" continues the slightly western vibe, adding in harmonica. I've heard this song hundreds of times and it's still solid, even if it isn't one of my favorites. "Long Way To Go" has a loopy bass line and dueling lead guitars but somehow fails to fully connect. In "Black Juju" the band feeds its prog-rock desires, slowly building the song for nine minutes, layering organs and dark guitar chords. However where on the first two albums the longer tracks often seem to lose their way, "Black Juju" stays on track, growing and teasing instead of filling time*. As an added bonus there are definitely hints (or theft) of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive" and a serious nod to The Doors. I’ve never been a fan of “Is It My Body.” Musically and lyrically it just seems off plus it just seems weird to have Alice trying to find out if the listener just wanting his body, like he’s some kind of beefcake, or if they want to get to know the real him. Silly stuff.
Now onto the classic song cycle! “Hallowed By My Name” belies Furniers “religious” upbringing. Organs, gritty guitars, Furnier’s vocal snarl and a non-traditional rock beat make for an enjoyable yet angst-inducing listen, making a great appetizer for the courses to follow. Following a guitar lead in, the “Second Coming” is initially somber with sparse piano and confusing lyrics of hell, the devil and angels. Is the song about Christ? A black magic zombie from Black Juju? Has Alice ever weighed in on this? The song grows to an expectant militant instrumental passage, the piano slowly growing in volume until the main course, “Ballad of Dwight Frye” where a child’s voice asks, “Mommy? Where’s daddy?” I’m sure my wife would say this song is cheesy but to me it is pure mood as the question is answered “I was gone for fourteen days / I could have been gone for more / Held up in an intensive care ward / Lying on the floor.” At six and a half minutes, the song tells an eerie story of a man barely keeping his sanity, dramatically feeding you bits and pieces at a time. A highlight is the creepy piano figure played while Furnier frantically screams “I GOTTA GET OUT OF HERE!” The tension is palpable. Then comes a brief instrumental passage of moaning guitars followed by lyrics that indicate he’s been released and when he sees “a man that was choking there / I’m glad it wasn’t me” it’s fairly obvious who’s to blame, especially as the song ends with him screaming “DON’T TOUCH ME” as he is being taken back. After the dark it’s only fitting that the album ends with the cover song* “Sun Arise”, a dessert to clear the palate. It serves a purpose but otherwise it’s the weakest song on the album, even if they do manage to make it their own with an exciting instrumental passage.
Rank: Essential Cooper
* As a side note, years ago when I purchased an alarm clock that also played CDs I swore that I would make a CD-R of the part where Alice screams out "WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!" and use it to start my day. Fortunately better judgment prevailed.
** Alice Cooper, the man and the band, has properly recorded*** only five covers during their/his career. These are: "Hello, Hooray" by Judy Collins, "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" by Benny Goodman and his orchestra, “Pretty Ballerina" by The Left Banke, "Seven & Seven Is" by Love and "Talk, Talk" by The Music Machine.
*** That is, songs released on an official album. Bonus tracks do not count.