Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Music Review - Alice Cooper - Trash

And now we come to Trash. This was Coopers biggest selling album since Welcome To My Nightmare and if you ask Mr. Joe Blow on the street (and he's under fifty) to name an Alice Cooper song he'll likely say "Poison." As for me, it's the last song I'd name. To put it bluntly, I don't like this album. Not even a little. There are music snobs out there who dislike an album just because it's popular and while I'll admit that I may have had such inclinations when I was younger those things no longer matter to the older, wiser me. If the music is good, I like it.

Let me back up a bit to 1989. I must have sent a SASE to Alice Cooper Fan Club or something or other because I received a postcard* telling me about the new Alice Cooper album. WHOO HOO! His last album, Raise Your First And Yell was an incredible splatter metal masterpiece and I was hungry for more! For the first time in my life I drove to Wooden Nickle Collectors Store on the album release date and laid down my money. I more than likely broke a few speed limits getting home but eagerly dropped the plastic platter into the tray of my Sony CD player. Huh? Where's the metal? Where's the gore? This song's about sex. And so's the next one. And what the heck's this? A ballad? I thought he said "No more ballads**!" I felt betrayed. I gave it a few more listens over the next few days which confirmed that these were generic, glossy hair band songs that contained next to no Cooperisms, that these songs could have been written and recorded by Bon Jovi. In fact, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora were on the album as were members of Aerosmith. Why not bring back Liza Minelli? And the whole garbage heap was produced by hit-maker supreme Desmond Child. Now at the time I didn't really know these names, aside from Bon Jovi and Aerosmith, because I didn't care for their music***. This was not an Alice Cooper album, it was a Bon Jovi album with Alice singing. This album was... well, it was Trash! In the end I did the only honorable thing... I melted the CD in the microwave and videotaped it.

And so it has been for twenty five years until I started this series and realized that I needed to give the album another listen. Fortunately my library has a service where you can download three free songs a week (for keepsies!) and Trash was one of the options, so it cost me nothing to replace what I melted a quarter century prior****. Surely my eighteen-year-old self had been overly dramatic and overreacting by melting the CD. After all, it's my man, Alice Cooper, and a lot of people like this album. Clearing my palate, I did my best to set aside any judgements against Trash and to give it a virgin listen. I've been able to do this before and have, at times, been surprised to "discover" great music that I had previously written off*****.

But in this case I was spot on. It's still trash. There's a lot of sheen and money on these songs but they're just polishing up turds. I wish I was wrong but I have to call 'em like I hear 'em. As each new song started I would hope for the best but ultimately ended up wincing, knowing that these lame, bland songs are beneath Coopers full potential. Even the ballad isn't very good. So indistinct are these songs from one another that I won't go into any details except to say that "Hell is Living Without You" is almost halfway decent except for the whiney, slidey voice Cooper uses (on this any many other songs on the album) that is quite annoying.

I wish it were different, that I could rejoice in finding some great songs I had earlier dismissed, that my earlier disdain was just because I felt betrayed. But alas, the album is junk. I'm happy for Herr Alice, that this album allowed him to pad his retirement account and pay his bills and launch him into another round of popularity****** but as for me, I'll pass. For some reason, though, I think Alice agrees with me. Look at that album cover! Yeah, you hang your head in shame, Alice. You know this is beneath you.

Rank: For Mr. Joe Blow Bud Lite who goes to concerts and thinks he likes Alice Cooper but really only knows the hits.

* You younger readers might want to look up "SASE" and "postcard."

** See footnote here.

*** Bon Jovi, that is. I liked early Aerosmith and their "comeback" album Permanent Vacation.

**** And besides, I had paid my "right to own" money back in 1989 the record company lawyers should be satisfied.

***** The music of Mark Heard is a prime example.

****** Continuing the trend of the 80s to dust off popular seventies acts with a gloss of big-haired glam. Heart, Yes, Aerosmith come to mind. I'm sure there are others.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Music Review - Alice Cooper - Raise Your Fist and Yell

In returning from his semi-retirement with the 1986 album Constrictor Alice Cooper encountered a surprising amount of backlash, notably from Al "Make-a-Green-Buck" Gore's wife Tipper Gore who has trying to "protect the children" from that horrible rock music, forming Parents Music Resource Center (PRMC) and lobbying Congress to have artists from Cooper to W.A.S.P. to Cyndi Lauper put their lyrics on the outside of their albums*. Alice Cooper's Constrictor album was one of the first that was forced to comply. This resulted in an amazing first side of Raise Your Fist And Yell, a collection of songs aggressively promoting Constitutional ideas of freedom and healthy rebellion against authority. What more could a teen (mullet wearing) male want?

How about gore? Not Tipper or Al but slasher movies. During this time these blood-fests had become mainstream. Cooper had particularly been targeted by the PRMC for his horrific shows** so he decided to give them something worthy of their criticism and upped the ante of his live shows, making them almost live slasher movies full of simulated deaths and spraying blood***. To back this up, the second side of his album concerns a serial killer. What could be better for a male teen in the late eighties than slasher movie metal music?

Whereas Constrictor was a test drive, Raise Your Fist And Yell finds Cooper comfortable with this new machine and he opens up the throttle to see how far he can push it. From the very beginning it's obvious that these attacks spurred Cooper's creative juices. "Stop pretending that you've never been bad / You're never wrong and you've never been dirty****" are the first lyrics on the album from the single "Freedom", accompanied by machine-gun metal guitars and pounding drums. The chorus is pure teen anthem: "Nobody better tell you / How to live your life" and "Freedom to rock / Freedom to talk." And yes, the snarl is back! As good as this song is, "Lock Me Up" is even better as Cooper taunts and flaunts how he's going to cover the stage with blood each night*** and if you don't like it, well... The stomping beat of "Step On You" is almost industrial metal and you can forget the "almost" for the masterfully chunky mechanical dissonant bridge. "Not That Kind of Love" is a superb cautionary tale for daughters but told from the excruciatingly honest point of view of the male. "Don't get ideas / This won't last forever / I just want to touch you / I just want to feel you" are what to expect in this hair metal bonanza.

Side Two begins with "Prince of Darkness" from the John Carpenter movie of the same name, of which Alice had a very small part*****. The song is definitely about Satan, giving Cooper a chance to sing about an aspect of his faith, and has some amazing period clean guitar tones, rising far above the movie for which it was named******. This unsettling song sets the tone for what follows, "Time To Kill" and "Chop, Chop, Chop"... the titles say it all. Even better is "Gail*******", a creepy song akin to "Mary Ann" but with a harpsichord and concerning a victim yet to be found with bugs who "serve time in her skeletal jail." Alice's chosen guitarist for this and the previous album was a Rambo beefcake named Kane Roberts who had a guitar shaped like a machine gun. Indeed his playing style was much like a machine gun, fast riffing but not thrash. Nowhere is this more evident than in the last hyper-energetic song, "Roses on White Lace", where the killer sees blood drops on the dress of a bride as roses, spouting splatter lyrics like "In my own way / I lovingly kiss the bride / With your ring in your hand / Your heart and your mouth open wide." Everything about this song is kinetic and explosive, a jaw-dropping way to end an album.

If you can't tell, I really liked Raise Your Fist and Yell. Still do. Somehow Alice was able to write a late eighties metal album that was free from most of what became genre cliches******** such that even now the album refuses to sound dated. Lyrically and thematically the album is also very strong, confidently treading on familiar, creepy Cooper territory. Quick! Someone hit the repeat button!

Rank: Essential Cooper

* Whew! That was a long sentence, wasn't it? Thanks for sticking with it.

** This was before GWAR had released an album so if you wanted over-the-top bloody stage antics this was it!

*** Of which I can attest. During the Fort Wayne show, after he decapitated the monster, which then leaned over and sprayed the crowd with fake blood, I got blood in my eye and on my jean jacket. Ruined a contact, it did. And yes, I was wearing the standard Alice Cooper eye makeup... why do you ask?

**** Can I hear an Amen? Isn't this the first step of presenting the gospel, admitting your sin? GO COOP!

***** But large enough that it coaxed me into the theater! Okay, coaxed nothing... I RAN!

****** The movie was confusing and not very enjoyable. A decade or so later, after reading a number of glowing reviews about how Prince of Darkness is an overlooked Carpenter masterpiece I watched it again. It still stunk.

******* Alice's wife's middle name is Gail. How about THAT for a tribute?

******** Okay, so the album cover is a bit cheesy and period heavy.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Worlds Most Expensive Vegetables - Part 13

It's been a tough couple of weeks in the ol' garden. Tough for bugs, that is.

About three weeks back my six year old daughter, ever the inspector, brought to my attention that there were yellow and black striped bugs in the garden. I had noticed them before but figured, "What's a garden without some bugs?" That was a mistake. These were cucumber bugs and they will destroy anything on a vine: melons, cucumbers, squash, you name it. Not only do they eat the leaves but they carry a disease that makes the plant wither and die. As my garden contains a whole lotta melons, etc I soon realized that this meant war! I'm too cheap to buy the goopy stuff that attracts and then traps these vermin (not technically vermin and I probably won't be too cheap to buy the stuff next year). Although I found them on all my vining plants, they were particularly heavy on one plant. Because I had "helpers" and didn't take especially good notes when transplanting this row of plants I'm not 100% sure of which kind of plant these bugs are chowing on, though I think it was a cucumber. I was half hoping that the plant would set some fruit so I could identify and use it next year for a decoy but alas, for all my effort this plant withered and bit the bucket. That effort was night after night of going outside with a flashlight, catching these buggers often while buggering, and squashing the squash eaters between my fingers. Early on I killed about two hundred in ten minutes but near the end my efforts had paid off to where I only found about a dozen. This same inspector daughter also noticed squash bore eggs on the zucchini plant. Tessa has earned the right to eat whatever she wants from the garden!

Just when I thought my melons were safe, though, my two year old ran over one of them in a PowerWheels car. Not just ran over but literally ran the big grinding back wheel right over the mound where one variety was growing. Fortunately they recovered and I am now extra vigilant whenever said daughter takes the wheel. Who gave her a permit, anyway? This naughty daughter also picked a wee little pumpkin that was just two inches around.

In other failures, something is eating my cauliflower plants. And the first set of broccoli plants went to seed almost immediately. It turns out that I didn't give them enough food and they starved to death. Oops.

Fortunately I was in time to fertilize batch #2 and this weekend one plant provided a tasty head of organic yumminess!

Last week was very busy after work so I barely spent any time out in the garden. However on Saturday morning I noticed that one of my cherry tomato plants had lost most of it's leaves. Weird. Since I over-planted cherry tomatoes I didn't think much about it until later in the day when I saw a big green thing moving on the wire cage. Scroll down if you're squeamish.
Yeah, it was this big yucky beast! After looking up what it was and learning that I needed to do a better job weeding around these plants I went back out and started some weeding. The sure was a lot of odd caterpillar poop around this particular plant. An awful lot. Too much and... WAAAAAAAH! THERE'S ANOTHER ONE RIGHT IN MY FACE!!!! AND ANOTHER! AND ANOTHER!!! Eventually all five of these massive nasty squishy horrible beasts were trapped in a jar where I intend to let them die a slow horrible death of either starvation or being cooked by the sun. Am I mean? Perhaps. But to show that I'm not all wretched, I captured a five legged grasshopper on a butternut squash plant and relocated him to the creek, a few hundred yards away.

Now on to the successes! We harvested a pound of delicious green beans as well as thinned out some yellow and white carrots. As of right now we have approximately two hundred and twenty green bean plants, planted over the course of two months. I hope we're buried in produce!

The Italian squash plant is starting to produce cute, keen and stripey squash, as is the zucchini but that's not a surprise to anyone. If the world ever gets destroyed by a nuke all that will be left will be cockroaches and zucchini.

Also stripey is this surprising find, a white watermelon known as Fred, or Cream of Saskatchewan. It's about four inches across already, even with our colder than normal weather, and it's got a twin and four small siblings! If this plant is able to churn out watermelons up here in Northern Indiana then I'll be one happy man!

In the "Free" department, I went poaching along the creek and brought back black raspberries. What is shown is about a fifth of what I ultimately picked. I also returned with this specimen for a bug-loving child:

So now it starts to be payback time. I spent $500 putting the garden in and have so far harvested:
1# green beans - $1
1 pint red rasp - $2.50
small strawberries - $1
5 organic beets - $3
Lettuce - 7 salads - & chives & parsley- $4
4 parisian carrots - 50 cents
mound of basil - $2
1 head broccoli - $1
Sugar Snap Peas - $3
=$18, meaning that my overall balance sheet is only $482 in the red!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Penguin Point - Footlong Spanish Hotdog

For some reason I have a soft spot in my brain for footlong hotdogs. Perhaps it's their whimsical over-the-top nature or perhaps some long forgotten event in my childhood, a normally denied extravagance granted for some reason that made me feel special and loved, but for whatever reason footlong hotdogs remain wedded in my mind with happy memories. Oddly, you rarely see both footlong hotdogs AND footlong hotdog buns in the store at the same time so if I had wanted to recreate these happy memories with my own children (before they were found to be allergic to gluten and a dozen other things) I had to find a Dairy Queen that had footlongs on their menus.

Which is why I knew from the first time that I saw the ad taped to their wall that it was my destiny to try a Penguin Point Spanish Footlong Hotdog. It didn't help that they also have it on their outdoor sign, a sign which I pass at least three times a week, it's message subliminally soaking into my brain. Spanish Footlong $3.49

Without further ado, here it is:
The big question is what makes it spanish? It looks like a coney dog to these eyes. However the sauce is less tomatoey and has more onions in it. Unlike their regular hotdogs, the bun was not verging on stale though it wasn't going to win any awards for being fresh from the factory ovens. But before I took a bit I realized that it didn't look to be quite a foot. The span of my extended hand is just under nine inches and this confirmed that the hotdog itself was likely a mere nine inches long. I'VE BEEN RIPPED OFF! While I wasn't about to wait until I got home to tape a proper measurement I did measure the paper it came in. In comparing the two photos you can see that the bun was no more than ten and a half inches and you can see that the hotdog is not exactly poking out the ends.
In all fairness, Penguin Point and other restaurants order their hotdogs and buns and serving papers from common suppliers so if the "footlong" Penguin Point Spanish dog is a mere nine inches then it's a good bet that everyone else's "footlong" is similarly sized. THIS IS A NATIONAL HOODWINKERY! SOMEONE CALL GERALDO!!!!

The hotdog itself, aside from being only 75% of what it should be, had the circumference of a dime. Skimpy. However the taste was good, especially the Spanish sauce, a zesty and meaty concoction that I wish I could try on a more substantial hotdog.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Music Review - Alice Cooper - Constrictor

One nice thing about this Alice Cooper discography review, aside from allowing me to talk to myself, is that I've been able to pin some dates on things such as the year I "discovered" the music of Mr. Cooper. That would be February 1985 when I received the Alice Cooper band Greatest Hits collection from me mum for Valentines Day. I know this because Twisted Sister's Stay Hungry came out in May 1984 and it was in reading about their influences that I read the name Alice Cooper and thought, "Isn't he that guy that was on the Muppet Show?" Months passed and I forgot to follow up on that lead until one night in which I couldn't sleep and call Rock 104 at two in the morning to ask the night DJ the name of the rock singer who had a girls name* and then a music binge where I purchased the back catalog. In 1985 came Come Out and Play, the follow up to Twisted Sisters blockbuster which included this song and video:

Alice looks rather clear-eyed, does he not? Even at 43 I get a kick out of the Tom Savini cameo.

It was also during this time, 1984 to be exact, that he tested his sobriety by featuring in the foreign film Monster Dog which sported two original songs, one of which was quite good. Constrictor came out in the fall of 1986 and was the first Cooper album which I heard about beforehand and had the chance to anticipate. At the time I had a mullet** and was deep into Dio and other metal bands so the new Cooper album felt right at home***. To freak me out even more, Alice Cooper was playing in my home town just a few days before Halloween and I was able to listen to an interview with Mr. Cooper and Doc West at Rock104****. To cap it all off, I repented and became a Christian about a week before the concert and was confused at why other Christians were picketing. Didn't they get that this was just a personna? Didn't they know that Mr. Cooper was also Christian? Neither did I! Oh, the irony!

But enough about me (though this is my therapy), how about Cooper's 16th album? For on thing, it has three bassists, which isn't exactly good, but since one of those bassist is pre-Winger Kip Winger the curse kind of cancels itself out.

So how does it stack up today? If this means anything, consider that when I started on this series I realized that I had never purchased this album on CD, content with my cassette tape in the garage, whereas I had purchased almost every other album in a digital format. However I bit the financial bullet and purchased a used CD when I started the series but have held off until today to listen and... The first thing I noticed is that for the most part the trademark vocal snarl is missing, replaced with straight singing. And the songs, well, they're kinda generic metal. Better than average, mind you, but Alice is still getting used to metal as well as working sober so there isn't a lot of "Cooper" in these songs.

You want more detail? Why sure! Focusing on the songs which sport a true Cooper vibe, there's "Teenage Frankenstein" where he appeals to the awkwardness of the teen years with lyrics of "These ain't my arms / And these legs ain't mine / I'm a teenage Frankenstein." "Life and Death of the Party" has a slightly eerie sound, though the lyrics don't really make much sense. "The World Needs Guts" has long been a favorite, whether it's the heavy yet upbeat guitar riff or the mention of blood and guts, I don't know. "The Great American success Story" was yet another attempt to get into the movies, a Rodney Dangerfield one at that, but somehow did't get picked even though it's upbeat metal-pop is top of the crop. What DID get picked was a tie in with the Friday the 13th franchise, "He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask)" which could also be about himself. This one, though very synth heavy*****, is appriately creepy but I feel that the bridge was very reminiscent of late 80s Christian cheese-rock like Degarmo & Key. Maybe D&K were taking their cues from the Coop?

Of the rest of the songs, er, "Thrill My Gorilla" has a super- heavy flange on a drum fill that sounds absolutely attrocious and "Trick Bag" is so full of poppy, glittery synthesizers that I think Prince would have been offended. Overall, though, these two plus two more that won't be mentioned are pretty generic.

To summarize, the music is good but slightly generic, very much a child of it's times.

Rank: Quality but not classic

* Ah, the days before the internets!

** Though I didn't know it was called that and was the first in my class to sport such a beast.

** I purchased the cassette at Mr. Music in Southtown Mall, neither of which exist today.

**** During said interview Alice said there would be no ballads "this time" which I took to meaning that since coming out of retirement there would be no more ballads hereafter forevermore. This added to the betrayal I felt when Poison came out.

***** It was the 80s and I learned to play this song on my Casio CZ-1 synthesizer. Simple yet effective.