Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Music Review - Alice Cooper - Lace & Whiskey

The year was 1977 and Alice Cooper had been touring since 1970. To cope he was drinking heavily and footage of performances at this time period show that he was no longer able to hide it, though interviews with the man find him saying that no one knew because it appeared to be part of the act. I disagree. Hearing live recordings of that era, such as the bonus tracks of the deluxe Billion Dollar Babies reissue, find Cooper making many mistakes. If it had been an instrumentalist messing up that much they would be replaced or have their amp turned off, i.e. Glen Buxton. However since the rhythm section was sober and tight the show could carry on with Alice slopping* everything up.

As a result of this drinking, Cooper and friends thought that a new personna would be fitting. How else can you explain such a poor decision? Gone is the ghoul and in is Maurice Escargot, a noir-era detective, and the album Lace And Whiskey. If the album is a concept album it's a very loose one as only a couple songs might fit the story. Otherwise it's just Cooper without his makeup.

This was one of the last albums I had to track down, probably in 1986 or so, and was underwhelmed**. There are two awesome songs and a bunch of filler. The first "awesome" is the ballad "You and Me" which I originally heard on The Muppet Show where Cooper sang it with Ms. Piggy, though Ms. Piggy had been transformed into some monster. This stunningly perfect song captures the simple joy of domestic love with lines like "We share a bed / Some popcorn / And TV." Yeah, it borders on cheesy with the gushing strings but those same strings also help a heart to ache. The line "You and me we ain't no movie star" reveals Coopers continued fascination with becoming a star of the screen, but that's another topic for another time. The other "awesome" is another ballad, a weepy confessional "I Never Wrote Those Songs."*** Such a sad, lonely song****. "My tape recorder/ It must be lying / 'Cause this I just can't believe / I hear a voice that's crying... / That's not me." Soft horns, piano, acoustic guitar, a nostalgic feel and even a sax solo all blend to make one's teenage heart ache. And if that's not enough how about lines like "I've been living in my own shell so long / The only place I ever feel at home"? Speak about dialing into the self-absorbed tortured-artist psyche of the youth! But for Alice it was genuine: he was lonely. Until the mid 70s he had been surrounded by his blokes, his high school pals, and they made this incredible journey together, touring and exploring the world. Then Alice decided that he had to do his own thing for a bit and now he had new friends but they weren't the old friends who have watched your back during the days when you had nothing. It was during this time period that these old friends decided that Alice wasn't coming back to the band and so formed their own, Billion Dollar Babies, with Michael Bruce singing lead vocals. This is another gem that The Wooden Nickle was able to get for me. It was nice, often catchy, but didn't have any killer tunes.

As for the rest of the album (L&W, not the one by Billion Dollar Babies), well, there were a couple of halfway decent songs. "It's Hot Tonight" is built on an infectious, wonky guitar riff and "(No More) Love At Your Convenience" has a melody that will stick in your head. Too bad it's a disco song and Cooper can barely be heard over the female background singers. Yes, a disco song. Cooper has this affinity for disco that he won't admit but this style of music shows up throughout his catalog. It's okay Alice, come out of your disco closet and embrace the beat.

That leaves five songs. While relistening to this album I honestly did not remember most of them. "Road Roats" is from or for some movie of the same name that I haven't seen. Again, it's that desire to be a movie-star thing. This isn't a bad song, being semi-tame gritty rock with piano, but it's monotonous. "Damned if You Do" is a countryish song and "Ubangi Stomp" is 50s rockabilly sung in Elvis voice, neither of which I remember. Was I drinking along with Alice every time I heard this album? "King of Silver Screen"***** has no memorable music to speak of but the extended spoken word ending where Cooper says he wants to be a starlette and make someone a great little wife, all backed by a rendition of a patriotic song, was vagularly familiar. Weird and messed up, but familiar. "My God" starts with nearly a minute of church organ and then continues with encouraging lyrics that could make a decent worship song with a few minor changes.

Rating: True Cooper Fans/Completists only

Originally I was going to review The Alice Cooper Show but in listening to it again I'm not finding much to say that I haven't already said except that I'm surprised that I had this one in my digital collection but only had Constrictor on cassette. It's a live album containing songs he's still playing live twenty-five years later. Not much else to say.

* Yeah, I made up that word.

** My first clue should have been the fact that three different bass players are used. Never a good sign.

*** I learned to play opening acoustic guitar part on the keyboard, thanks to the sheet music folio I had of this album as well as Welcome To My Nightmare and From The Inside, lucky finds at a sheet music store in the mid 80s. Check eBay this Thanksgiving if you want to buy 'em from me!


***** More movie star theory proof.

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