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.

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