Monday, June 30, 2014

Music Review - Alice Cooper - Dada

Dada is a undiscovered masterpiece despite it being the third album Alice doesn't remember recording. This was to be the final album under his contact with Warner Brothers and they gave him the money not really expecting an album in return. Instead Cooper brought back Bob Ezrin and Dick Wagner who sent Cooper "to the woodshed" over and over again until he returned with lyrics that were up to snuff. Scratch that. These lyrics are brillian! Played almost entirely on the Fairlight CMI, an early digital sampler, the album sound is lean yet orchestral and completely different from anything Alice has done before or since. It is a dark, textured, and unnerving collection of songs. Part of the discomfort stems from the "cerebral" lyrics that explore psychological themes and use ambiguity to play with your head. The album was released in 1983 and never toured. Instead Alice went back into rehab to fight for his sobriety and to win back his estranged wife who had filed for divorce.

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.

No comments: