I remember well riding the bus in junior high, blasting "Department of Youth" out of my jambox while enduring the confused and scornful looks of my peers. Since it was 1985, and "Department" was released as a radio single in 1975, the reaction is somewhat understandable. Although I happened upon Welcome To My Nightmare, the album from which "Deparment" was culled, 10 years after its release, the songs retained a timeless quality I've found common in well written music.
Now 1975 is 27 years in the past, and the loving folks at Rhino records have remastered and re-unleashed this classic album to feed upon the masses. I'm pleased to say that despite a few pre-disco touches, the songs continue to hold up amazingly well, a testament to this loosely-formed concept album that inspired such classics as Kiss' Destroyer and Pink Floyd's The Wall.
For those not versed in musical history, Alice Cooper was the lead vocalist in the early 70s for the band Alice Cooper, a group which spawned a number of albums that only grow in my esteem for their musical punch and imaginatively macabre lyrics. In 1975 the man known as Alice Cooper took a respite from the group to focus on his penchant for rock theatrics, resulting in the band breaking up. The solo album that resulted was Welcome To My Nightmare, and the accompanying sideshow, er, concert was packed with vaudeville, theatrics, drama, gore, monsters, skeletons and other undead things, all without sacrificing the song.
And the songs! As is true with many of my favorite albums, the styles are all over the place. The opening and title track is an ode to Jim Morrison, a raucous horn-filled funkfest that introduces the rest of the album. "Devil's Food," "Escape" and "The Black Widow" all foreshadow pop-metal with blaring, yet melodic guitars and heart-pounding rhythms. The ballad "Only Women Bleed" is home to a full string section, and the raucous "Cold Ethyl" is a gritty and humorous homage to necrophilia. The creepy "Some Folks" hints at the pinnacle of the album, the psychologically freaky trilogy of "Years Ago," "Steven" and "The Awakening," a grandiose orchestral masterpiece in which the mentally disturbed Steven awakes to find that he's murdered his wife, the blood dripping from his fingertips echoed in an arhythmic piano figure.
Remastering-wise, I can't tell any difference between this CD and the original release I bought 15 years ago. Bonus tracks are nicely included, however. These are alternate versions of "Devil's Food," "Cold Ethyl" and "The Awakening," taken from the ABC TV special which aired in 1975. The slightly altered lyrics on these versions give a somewhat more rounded view of the songs, while fans of Vincent Price will enjoy the ending narrative where he warns the listener "bedrooms are only temporary sanctuaries from nightmares."First published 2003 in WhatzUp.