Monday, June 30, 2014
The album begins with the cinematic "Da" whose instrumental first half is downright creepy! It may be the sample of the baby saying "Dada" that repeats every so often, the tubular bells, the unnerving low buzzing synth tones, or the eerie melody but it all works together perfectly. When the words begin it's Cooper as a character talking to his shrink and there's some confusion on his part as to if he has a son or a daughter, revealing that something is definitely not right with only a very few words. "Enough's Enough" is part two, a rocky exploration of a father and son that makes the label "dysfunctional" seem like a trip to Disneyland. "When my mother died / She laid in bed and cried/ 'I'm going to miss you my brave little cowboy.' / I saw my father smile / A smile he tried to hide / He told me, 'Son, I've really got you now, boy.'" Whatever that means it is totally messed up! The last piece of the trio, "Former Lee Warmer"*, is probably about a dead brother who is kept upstairs in the attic: "No dreams go in / No dreams go out / of the hole in his wrinkled head." And maybe he isn't dead because the singer can hear him up there playing. Starting with hushed pizzicato strings the entire song is very orchestral and masterfully composed and executed**. Near the end there is an all-too-brief instrumental passage every bit as good as those found on Welcome To My Nightmare.
Alice had to break the tension with some humor and the next few songs serve the purpose well. "No Man's Land" is the story of a guy playing Santa at a mall when a young woman comes on to him. It's upbeat and bright, almost cheery, but Wagner's sizzling guitar solo steals the show from an otherwise very well written song. "Dyslexia" is synthy and bouncy with a chorus of "Is dis love? Or is dyslexia?" No idea what it means and it sounds completely unlike an Alice Cooper song but it's a whole lotta fun! "I Love America" is good for one listen per decade with Alice playing the part of an uber-patriotic used car salesman who "love[s] that mountain with those four big heads" in addition to Velveeta on Wonderbread and commies, "if'n [they're] good and dead." If you've a hankerin' for a middle eastern heavy metal song about a pair of seductive sisters then look no further than "Scarlet and Sheba." Very nice guitar tones on this one and Cooper is able to evoke a suggestive, sinister tone without being explicit.
The album closes with a one-two punch sure to leave the listener dazed and bruised. "Fresh Blood" could be a Peter Gabriel song with synth horns, ethnic hand percussion, and a solid groove that borrows a bit from Steely Dan. The lyrics are in the first person concerning a miscreant who prowls the streets at night looking for showgirls, businessmen, cops on the beat, anyone who can provide fresh blood. The last song, "Pass the Gun Around," is achingly sad. A soft caliope opens the story of "Sonny" who needs a shot of vodka upon waking in an unknown hotel room with a stranger in his bed. The song bursts open with organs, a choir, and a change to first person. When Cooper sings "I've had so many blackout nights before / I don't think I can take this anymore" there's such anguished emotion in his voice that you know he's no longer singing about a character***. The song builds into a dramatic instrumental section where Wagner is able to stretch out and play one of the finest guitar solos of his career. It's a shame so few have heard it because Warner Brothers, not even expecting an album**** did nothing to promote this album.
Rank: Essential Cooper
* Formerly Warmer. Or Formerly Warner, concerning his record label.
** Ezrin had recently completed Pink Floyd's The Wall so much of that vibe stayed with him.
*** Trying to describe the excruciating pain of this song to an oblivious classmate in junior high is my first memory where words completely failed to capture what music easily could.
**** And with Cooper drying out.
Friday, June 27, 2014
The great news is that the garden has started producing! For a few weeks the sugar snap peas have been limping along and more than once I've caught one of the younger kids eating a pea pod. Not a sugar snap pea but a regular pea pod full of plump uncooked peas. Weirdos. The strawberries are also revving up, though the berries are on the small side. And look at those lovely beets! I cooked up the yellow and one red last night and they were delicious! The other two red will be turned into beet chips for my lovely bride. This very early marconi pepper was sacrificed to my stomach so the plant could focus it's attention on bigger and better things (that will go into my stomach).
Onto the experiments! The "raised bed" box for melons is working splendidly, though it does nothing to keep the cucumber bugs at bay. And although not an official experiment, I found that the sweet potatoes that were under black plastic are growing much better than the ones without, though I have no idea how they manage to get water.
Meanwhile, back at Compost Central, the watermelon is going gangbusters. At least I think it's a watermelon. I'll be surprised if it really grows something because it's likely the spawn of some melon grown in much warmer climates. And how about them taters? These have surprised me, growing like, er, weeds! I had some wire fencing that I made into cages and have been adding dirt as they've grown. I'm not sure but I think the wire fence came with my first house, purchased twenty odd years ago. It's from K-Mart and was made in the U.S.A.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
While similar to Special Forces in musical style, Zipper finds Alice donning a broad variety of personalities and relying more on comical sarcasm. Dick Wagner returns with his impressive guitar playing and songwriting skills, also upping the ante. "Zorro's Ascent" is a galloping ditty with a ratty guitar sound and Cooper singing with a Spanish accent in the first person as Zorro. The first two notes and the guitar tone of "Make That Money" made me wonder if I was listening to "Eighteen" but instead it's a song from the viewpoint of Scrooge. 'Tis a good song, though, and even at times sounds like Alice Cooper Band era songwriting. The laid back "I Am The Future" was written for a movie*** and has a strong, memorable, uplifting melody and wonderful synth sounds later found in DaDa. "No Baloney Homosapiens" is another surprisingly strong song with excellent Wagner guitars and lyrics written to aliens that plead "Please don't eat us." "Adaptable" is a rock-based love song, choppy in a New Wave sense, with lines like "I would leave a craps table for you on a winning streak." It's not exactly Shakespeare but it's sweet.
Then it goes downhill. "I Like Girls"**** and "Remarkably Insincere" find Cooper being a total dog and very disrespectful toward women. Sure, he sings "Cold Ethyl" but these songs are especially callous. Cooper talks instead of sings in "Tag, You're It", painting scenes from a slasher movie*** similar to Halloween while "I Better Be Good" is a ragged New Wave rocker about performing well in bed with lots of slang not fit for mixed company*****. The final track, "I'm Alive", is a novelty song about his dead pet returning to save his life. The chorus is catchy but he speaks the verses that have a limited shelf life because one can only hear a joke so many times before it wears thin.
Rank: For True Cooper Fans/Completists only
* Look what that got them last time!
** Not really... just two guys on FB who said they really liked that album but "lambasted" is a word I don't get to use often enough.
*** Alice sure loves those movies!
**** There was something about the melody in the verse of "Girls" that nagged my ear until I finally figured out that it was from "The Ballad of John and Yoko."
***** Wrangler, huh?
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
The best thing I can say about Special Forces is that it is mercifully brief. Ten songs. Thirty-five minutes.
The best of the bunch is the first, "Who Do You Think We Are." It's got a choppy, programmed drum sound, nice sounding guitars and a strong quasi-New Wave melody. The other song worth a listen is the final one, "Vicious Rumours" which is almost ready for prime time, though at the moment I can't remember how it goes*.
Sgt. Alice then covers "Seven & Seven Is", an Arthur Lee song. Pretty much a straight forward cover with 80s synths. "Prettiest Cop on the Block" has zero value musically but adds to the Cooper cannon of transvestite songs**. "Don't Talk Old To Me" incorporates a bit of menace and a contrasting laid back chorus melody which is actually pretty darned pleasing. "Skeletons in the Closet" is all synthy, like a prequel to Mikey's Thriller, but is simplistic to the point that it sounds like it should be on a kids Halloween album. But in terms of simplicity, "You Want It, You Got It" makes "Skeletons" look like a prog epic. It's not even a full idea, just a sliver of one that is somehow stretched out to over three minutes. Yeah, I'd claim I had no memory of recording this stinker either. The real kicker is that there are FIVE PEOPLE listed on the credits for this one. That's like needing a team of six to thread a needle. "You Look Good in Rags" has a very fun passage where male singers sing the word "rags" over and over again with a happy melody and in stereo! No foolin', it's actually pretty good. And finally "You're A Movie" finds Cooper really, really, really wanting to be a movie star, though he talks instead of sings in this tepid track.
I just realized that this album is so ill-conceived that I only came up with two footnotes!
Rank: For True Cooper Fans/Completists only
* I listened to the album yesterday. This is not a good sign, either for me or the album.
** Alongside "King of the Silver Screen" and "The Saga of Jesse Jane."
There I was, minding my own business in the Garden Weasel aisle when I hear, "Psst.... hey buddy. Wanna blue berry bush? They're on sale."
"Uh, no thanks."
"You know you want 'em. Plus it takes a few years for them to become productive so if you wait for next year that's just longer you'll have to wait to eat these beauties. THINK OF THE CHILDREN!"
"I tried a blueberry plant before at the old house. It didn't work."
"Bad location. Try again! Hope springs eternal, eh buddy?"
"I'll take two."
Lesson Learned This Week: I water way too much.
* Plus it seems to attract suicidal daddy long leg spiders.
Friday, June 6, 2014
Alice Cooper, that grand ghoul of rock, has never been one to repeat himself. With his latest album, The Eyes of Alice Cooper, he has eschewed the industrial sound and heavy theming of his past two albums in favor of the raw, rough rock of his live shows. Appropriately written and recorded with his touring band of the last few years it’s evident from the explosive opening track to the final grinding buzz that this old man’s feet are far from the grave.
To capture the live synergy that this band has achieved through hours of stage time, producer Mudrock (Godsmack and Powerman 5000) recorded the band live in an empty practice space with minimal overdubs. The result is quite amazing, almost a return to his early punkish days in Detroit, albeit mixed with an updated sound and huge, modern guitars. This very theme is encapsulated in the song “Detroit City,” where Alice sings with great passion about the days when “Me and Iggy were giggin’ with Ziggy” against a big, rollicking rock rhythm rounded out with sax and MC5’s Wayne Kramer adding to a guitar duel. The only spooky song is “This House Is Haunted” which is merely slightly creepy and similar in feel to the “Mirror” song in the cult classic direct-to-video Monsterdog. Instead of horror, Cooper relies heavily on his familiar dark humor which is laced through nearly every song. “Man of the Year” is a rock anthem about a guy who has it all (“My urine tests are perfect / My prostate is a jewel”) until he puts gun to head. The cute “The Song That Didn’t Rhyme,” with an intentionally poorly played drum intro, takes jabs at radio and the music industry. Although the song tends to lean more towards novelty (and I’m deeply offended by the use of accordions on this track), there’s something catchy about Alice singing a hooky chorus of “The melody blows.”
The only other low point is the obligatory sappy ballad “Be With You Awhile” which is horribly out of place with the rest of these noisy garage band masterpieces. Opening with a Rutles-ish basterdization of the opening riff of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” “Between High School & Old School” is impressive with its endless energy and massive guitars. I once heard that his 90's hit “Poison” was very popular with strippers, and I can imagine that his new single, the Stones-tinged “Novocaine,” with its theme of “I’m numb and you can’t make me feel,” will find a similar audience. The album ends with two raunchy punk songs that push the boundaries of good taste, just like an aging Alice in a codpiece.
It’s amazing how Cooper is able to continually evolve and pack a
massive punch, surprising even a hard-core geezer fan like myself.
Fans of the recent crop of “hot” bands like the Vines, the Strokes,
or The White Stripes should do themselves a favor and hear the source
of their bands’ sound. Everyone else should stop whining and buy
this album so Alice can afford to bribe his way back into the AARP.
In the early 80s there was no internets**, so you had to learn about new albums from radio shows or magazines like Tigerbeat and Guitar Player. There were no streaming album previews so you laid down your money and took your chances and I was totally unprepared for the contents of the four early 80s Cooper albums. Cooper is an innovator of the stage and the persona of the rock star but when it comes to the music, he mostly follows the pack***. Enter producer Roy Thomas Baker, he who has worked with Queen, The Cars, Foreigner and Devo. No doubt, Baker was an uber-hot producer in 1980 and he was wisely chosen to accompany Alice on a musical and personality switch to New Wave. Yessir, gone was the gruesome eye makeup, now replaced with short hair, angular cheek makeup and a choppy, synthesizer-heavy musical style.
But ya know what? It's still pretty good! Out of all his New Wave albums, Flush the Fashion is certainly the best and most even. In my most recent listen I was surprised again and again at how catchy and memorable these songs were. Sure, he used more than his usual share of covers but even these are treated in a Cooper fashion. "Talk Talk", like the entire album**** is light on bass and heavy on razor thin distorted guitars, choppy and energetic. "Clones (We're All)" is the futuristic single about loneliness and dysfunction, sporting a Cars-like lead synth line that will stick in your head. Another fantastic song is "Pain", a piano meets synth song that personifies pain with lines like "I'm the holes in your arm when you're feeling the shakes" and "It's a compliment to me to hear you screaming through the night." Chilling! Where "Pain" is stark and unnerving, "Aspirin Damage" and "Nuclear Infected" are tempered with humor, though both also offer some seriously solid guitar playing compliments of members from Elton John's backing band. Actually most of the songs on the second side incorporate humor though musically there's a reason why they are relegated to the second side.
Flush The Fashion is a much better album than I remember, a sincere attempt to change sound and style. However Dear Alice is soon to fall off the wagon and things go south.
Rank: Quality but not Classic
* With the exception of the Zappa albums.
** At least that were available to common folk.
*** Though I must admit that he has a keen nose for discovering new trends and jumping on before they get worn to the nubs.
**** And the entire recording industry at the time, possibly having to do with sonic limitations of the very popular cassette tape.
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Now a new member to the discography is born: Shadow Weaver. As I take off my nostalgic cap and don my critical music reviewers fedora, I can honestly saw that it's at least twice as good as their last album. But this isn't saying much because The Loudest Sound Ever Heard is my least favorite Choir album, ranking even lower than their sophomore effort Diamonds and Rain. It (LSEH, not DAR) was a transitional album where the lyricist was newly sober and his wife asked for the troubles in their marriage to no longer be the subject of his songs so he was struggling to find his new muse. Now that he's had some time to adjust his lyrics have definitely improved.
But there's still a problem. The rhyme scheme he has chosen for seven out of the thirteen songs on the album is repetative.
Name of the song
Name of the song
Here's an example: It hurts to say goodbye / It hurts to say goodbye / Feathers ride on the wind / The bird was made to fly / It hurts to say goodbye
There are slight variations, such as "Everybody's Got a Guru" where the chorus is just the title of the song repeated over and over. Do this in one song, fine. Do it in seven out of thirteen (actually out of eleven since one song is an instrumental and one is a nearly instrumental reprise) and it's going to wear out it's welcome pronto.
Being the analytic dork that I am I wondered if perhaps this was typical for the band and I hadn't noticed it before so I did a quick random sampling, picking one or two songs from each album:
Everybody in the Band - somewhat
Cain - no
Merciful Eyes - no
Listen to Her Eyes - Oh yes. - from Diamonds and Rain
Flowing Over Me - no
Away with the Swine - no
Weather Girl - no
Nobody Gets A Smooth Ride - no
Alright Tonight - Chorus is just title twice - from Voices in Shadows
Robin Had A Dream - no chorus
Wide Eyed Wonder - no
Legend of Old Man Byrd - no
Melodious - no
As you can see, the only instances where I found what I consider to be a lazy form of poetry occurred in their earliest and least mature albums. I wouldn't mind so much except that The Choir used to be the example I would turn to for proving that Christian lyrics can have depth and layers of nuance, taking everyday events and turning them into universal themes. Now they're returned to simplistic and often politically correct preachiness that made songs like "You do that triangle" so cringe-worthy. For instance, "Antithesis of Blue" which tells of a day where Steve's wife asked him to do some things while she was gone but returned to find that he'd done nothing. She pretty much calls him a lovable scamp and sends the boy out to the garden to get some herbs. That's it? Where's the tension? Good fiction relies on tension and resolution and I'd say the same applies to music. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!
Okay, enough out of this cranky old man. What's good about this album? For starters a few of the songs actually have a bit of grit about them. I never was one for ambient shoe-gazer music but what made The Choir great was their ability to mix this style with others, creating something new in the process. In that vein, "What Do You Think I Am" is a very strong song, mixing murky shimmers of guitar tones with a gutsy bass and confessional lyrics. More washes of sound and guitar fuzz are to be found in "It Hurts To Say Goodbye", a highlight where the ache of letting adult children go is captured in a very few poignent verses. "Get Gone" is another one with a nice head of steam, energetic in a relaxed way but with classic surreal Choir lyrics that leave much for the brain to chew on. A final quasi-rocker is "White Knuckles" where a slower, quieter verse opens up in the chorus, surrounded by lots of noise. Much of this noise may be due to Julian Kindred who has returned with his magic suitcase of effects, adding textures and noisy swirling distortions like no one I've ever heard. I also like the low groaning distorto-bass on "Shadow Weaver Reprise", though once again it seems like bassist Tim is muzzled on most of the album. Sure I'm biased but I think it was his "wrecking" their pretty songs on earlier albums that added interest, depth and tension. As a whole, the album sounds more like an album, instead of a series of songs, which has been their trend as late.
That's it. The grumpy old man is done grouching. This album at least showed promise and a step back in the right direction as well as adding a few new strong songs to their catalog and for that I'm grateful.
Monday, June 2, 2014
Instead of being busy planting things I spent the weekend being busy worrying about things. It turns out that most of my green bean seeds rotted during the cold so I replanted quite a few instead of starting a second two foot by two foot plot. And then I noticed that while most of the seeds that sprouted are doing great two or three appear to have had the cotyledons eaten off. And then I noticed that some of the melon plants that I started early and transplanted have great leaves but dried-out and wrinkled stems. Is this normal? Not being sure I planted a couple seeds in each of these worrisome mounds just in case.
* Or so I thought. We'll see what happens with those melons.