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.

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