Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Music Review - Alice Cooper - From The Inside

The year is 1978. Alice Cooper has just spent some time receiving treatment for his alcoholism*. Always the trend setter, this was before the Betty Ford clinic so Cooper went to a New York sanitarium where he met a number of colorful characters, many of whom ended up as subject matter for his next album, From The Inside. In my mind this album marks the end of his first solo period, four albums in three years. Fortunately this last of the pack finds Cooper back on his game. Maybe it's not a full-on classic but unlike Lace And Whiskey it is much more hit than miss.

For some reason, lyricist Bernie Taupin was taking a break from Elton John and linked up with Cooper but the effect is negligable. Bob Ezrin is AWOL but his absence is filled by five different bassists. Uh oh. But even superflous bassists can't sink this ship as Alice had plenty of time while drying out to fine tune a load of fantastic melodies. But let us first take out the trash. "Wish I Were Born in Beverly Hills" and "Serious" are both fairly generic rockers, though "Serious" has a nice bridge. "For Veronica's Sake" is about a dog, or a woman, that the singer has chained up at his home and so he needs to be released. How's that melody go? I seem to have forgotten it. Musically "Nurse Rosetta" is ahead of it's time, sporting lots of keyboards, a funky clavichord, and an early 80s sound... in 1978. Thematically it's about a priest who fantasizes about his nurse... not quite my cup of tea**.

Now on to the meat! The title track is an upbeat, lively ditty with slick pop background vocals and an especially dramatic instrumental section packed with strings. "The Quiet Room" has easy listening verses juxtoposed with a sharp edged, twisted chorus of "They've got this place / Where they've been keeping me / Where I can't hurt myself / I can't get my wrists to bleed!" "Millie and Billie" is a sweet and demented duet with lyrics like "God made love crazy so we wouldn't feel alone" and "I liked your late husband Donald / But such torture his memory brings / All sliced up and sealed tight in baggies / Guess love makes do funny things." Classic Cooper. The orchestral accompaniment, singable melody and the chilling instrumental outro make this one fine, fine song. "Jackknife Johnny" is a sad song about a returning Vietnam vet who lost his marbles while "Inmates (We're All Crazy)" is a fitting album closer, starting with an orchestral intro and building to an insane singalong chorus. It's dark humor for sure, though a bit lighter than "I Love The Dead," a close musical cousin.

The single was, surprise surprise, another ballad*** that apparently did quite well for him. "How You Gonna See Me Now" is a touching first person song of a man being released and wondering how his wife will receive him, framed as a letter. "Please don't see me ugly, babe / 'Cause I know I've let you down in so many ways" is typical of the lyrics. Sure, a bit cheesy and the music is on the schmaltzy side but it works. In yet another trend setting move it could also be said that this song is an early power ballad. As a final innovation, a "mini-movie" video was made of the song, years before MTV and Duran Duran. I can't find verification but I'm fairly sure that's Coopers wife and kids in the video, complete with creepy eye makeup at the end.

It was during this clean period that Alice appeared on The Muppet Show as well as a single Marvel comic book issue. He may have returned to the drink when we made the decision to appear in the Bee Gees movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as a moustached villan. I should also note the great album cover which opens up on the front to reveal all the characters contained on the album.

Rank: Essential Cooper

* Reportedly two cases of beer and a bottle of whiskey... per day.

** I was more than a little freaked out when I saw Cooper in concert and he sang this song with his daughter playing the part of Nurse Rosetta. Icky!

*** It's almost like he was addicted.

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