Friday, August 29, 2014

Music Review - Alice Cooper - The Last Temptation

It had to have been 1996 or 1997. I had written off "The Coop" many, many years before and had entered a musical dead zone. I don't think the two are connected but regardless, I wasn't paying much attention to albums. But somehow* I heard that Alice Cooper had become a Christian and his last album was much-Christiany but not in an entirely cheesey-bad way**. Maybe it was due to his infamous appearance in Wayne's World ("We're not worthy!"). Sure the movie came out in 1992 but I was always a number of years behind*** so it's likely I saw the movie on TV and got curious about ol' Alice.

In any case I decided to give the man another chance and procured a physical CD of the album. I'm sure many of his new fair-weather fans were disappointed but 1994's The Last Temptation was a return to form for Mr. Cooper, being heavy but not overtly metal. While not totally mind-blowing awesome the music was quite good. Even better, it was true about his conversion because the lyrics were solidly committed to Christ and yet were 100% only something Alice could write.

The first song, "Sideshow" feels expansive and important, starting off with an almost Who-based intro. This song sets up the album, packing lots of horns in with the heavy guitars, tempering their edge. The lyrics are good but a bit clunky, reminding me a bit of my own lyrics written as a young Christian. "Nothing's Free" is better both musically and lyrically, a statement of human free will set to a heavy guitar riff, but it's the single, "Lost In America", that steals the show. Wry social commentary combines with chuffing heavy rock and Coopers humor to make for one stunning yet disheartening song about a kid with divorced parents who can't go to school because he doesn't have a gun and he can't get a gun because he doesn't have a job and he can't get a job 'cause he can't go to school so he's looking for a girl with a gun and a job. And a house with cable.

"You're My Temptation" is another excellent song, smouldering, sinister and dark with judicious use of the wah pedal and lyrics about struggling to stay away from the unhealthy people and things. The lone guest-star on the album is Chris Cornell**** and he sings his best Sammy Haggar impersonation on "Stolen Prayer", a very strong confessional power ballad the ends with a kids choir that evokes memories of late 70s Cooper albums. "Lullaby" is creepy but a bit, what, childish? Cheesy? Cliche?

Hold on, kids, 'cause the album ends with a solid double punch. "It's Me" is a great power ballad, uplifting without being corny. For some reason this song reminds me of the From The Inside era but I can't put my finger on exactly why. More sonic references to that time period are on the finale, "Cleansed By Fire." Hearing this song again for the first time in years I was struck at how incredible it is and then started wondering why I didn't love it more. Then I realize that it has about a two minute post-logue of sounds that drag the song on. However since this is the digital age it's no problem to skip to the end, or back to the beginning. Problem solved! This heavy slab of awesome has background vocals of "Craaaayzeee" and a nod to Welcome To My Nightmare in the middle section to make us old-timers feel at home. The rest of the song is a mid-tempo rocker that builds slowly to a fiery inferno of angst with Cooper actually mentioning Jesus in a serious of questions intended to make the listener think about the important questions of life*****. It might be his most evangelical song ever.

A three comic series was made by Neil Gaiman from this album. I scored a set one copy at a time off eBay and have only read them once. They weren't that good****** but I haven't sold them off yet. Unlike other albums I don't think I really gave this one my full attention but during the past two weeks I found myself listening to this one again and again, as though I hadn't tired myself of it long ago. I'd say that's a hearty recommendation!

Rank: Essential Cooper

* It wasn't over the internets because this was the era of Compuserve and possibly AOL. Due to lack of funds I didn't have either unless I was able to score a floppy disk with 30 free days.

** Or maybe that should be "Whey."

*** Or a number of years ahead. It sucks being out of step with the rest of the world but it's also a kind of blessing.

**** You can't count Derek Sherinian because, like many artists, Cooper hired him before he became famous. And while you're here allow me to mention that there is only one bass player on this album, a very positive sign.

***** No, I'm not talking about what to order on your pizza tonight.

****** And neither was the comic book based on his From The Inside album, or so I've heard.

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