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Alice Cooper The Eyes of Alice Cooper

By Frank Meyer, Contributing Editor
Tuesday, September 30, 2003 @ 11:10 AM

(Eagle Records)

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Well, folks, now I’m just plain stumped. I just don’t know what to make of what I am hearing. Is this a gift? Is this a dream? Is it possible that this is happening? I pinch myself. Ouch! Yeah, it’s real alright….

Folks, Alice Cooper has finally given the fans what we’ve been begging… no, pleading for…for years. At 55 years young, The Coop has unleashed his finest album in over 20 years, his best work by a mile since Welcome To My Nightmare, and it’s a complete return to form. Folks, on The Eyes of Alice Cooper, it is 1974 all over again and it feels so good. It’s as if one of the younger dudes in Alice’s backing band said, “Hey Al, whatdaya say instead of making another industrial-techno-metal album, we cut a good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll album like Love It To Death?” and Alice went, “Um, sure, okay!” And so it was…

Now I know what yer sayin’. Suuuure, it sounds like the old Coop we all know and love. I’ve heard that before. The last time the critics called an Alice Cooper album a return to form was Trash, and that was his most pop metal album ever, nothing like the old school Coop! Well, believe me, buster. THIS is what you’ve been waiting for. When I say return to form, I don’t mean no “Hey, let’s program the drum machine to sound like a vintage Ludwig kit” kinda comeback. No way! I’m talking about a full-fledged, pedal to the metal, raw and dirty, hard rockin’ Call-you-on-the-phone-from-New-York-City/Steven’s-in-the-attic-hearing-voices-in-the-head return to form, baby!

The second the grimy brass section comes in on “Bye Bye Baby” and Coop sings, “I tried to call you on the telephone” over a Chuck Berry-style riff, a huge smile will slide across your face. Alice hasn’t sounded so good and so comfortable in years. His singing is top notch, his voice is peak shape, and the songs… man, the songs are fucking great.

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“Bye Bye Baby” is the most Love It To Death-sounding thing here and just oozes with sticky sleaze. It also happens to feature one of the most memorable choruses this side of Aerosmith. Along those lines, “Novocaine” has the Broadway blues swing of the old days and “I’m So Angry” rips and snarls with jousting snake-like twin guitars like the whole band was wearing lace and drinkin’ whiskey in the studio.

In fact, assisted by the stellar production by Mudrock, the rockers rock about as hard as anything Alice has ever recorded. The group sounds as close to the original Alice Cooper band as anyone can (kudos to bassist Chuck Garric for his Dennis Dunaway style runs) . “Spirits Rebellious” is pure arena thunder, like a runaway train carrying three cars of Les Pauls. “Backyard Brawl” sounds like it could be off a Nashville Pussy or Supersuckers album, as if The Coop is showing these younger bands how it’s done and who invented this garage rawk shit. The song is mean, rabid and wild just like the white trash wrestlers it’s penned about.

And speaking of trailer parks, the Coop’s hometown gets a salute here in the form of “Detroit City,” simply THE BEST ode to the Motor City since “Detroit Rock City.” Shit, the song even features MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer and name-checks The Stooges, Bob Seger, The Nuge and Kid Rock. “Shock rock, chopping block, songs that make your heart stop” indeed.

Yet it’s the handful of mellower, poppier tunes that really shape this album into a classic. Like all great Cooper albums, there has to be at least one tender, beautiful ballad (and not a cheesy one!) and one song about going crazy. As if consciously making sure to push every button, to hit every mark, Cooper gives us one of each, and they too are his best in years. “This House is Haunted” is basically “Ballad of Dwight Frye” part 2, with Cooper donning his insane asylum straight jacket once again for trip down distorted memory lane, accompanied by creepy guitar and an eerie clarinet. “Be With You Awhile” is a sparse, tender ballad featuring Alice crooning alongside an electric piano. Man, if the ‘80s hadn’t given ballads such a bad name by adding the word “power” to the title, these kinda tunes would be smash hits today.

Speaking of smash hits, there are potentially tons of them on this album, if only radio would give an aging shock rock kingpin a chance. If “Man Of the Year” were the first single by some baby band, MTV would be all over it like flies to shit. This tune sounds like Coop trying to remind Rivers Cuomo and his Weezer geezers that he was writing ironic teen anthems while they were still a horny thought it their daddy’s pot-fueled brain. If “The Song That Didn't Rhyme,” arguably one of the most clever and catchy songs Cooper has ever written, were the debut single by some new alternative band, Rolling Stone would be showering them with praise and K-ROQ would rocket them to the top of their playlist. These are friggin’ HITS, mate, but the way radio is these days they will likely not be heard by the folks that make songs into hits -- the kids. Too bad, because “Between High School and the Old School” is about as good as radio is gonna get in 2003 and the kinda tune that most bands would saw off their left arm to write.

The only slight misstep here is, ironically, the opening track, “What Do You Want From Me?” With its lines about X-Boxes and other trite teen trademarks, the youthfulness feels a little forced. Elsewhere, Cooper sounds quite natural singing about teen angst and wanting to blow up the school (Hell, he practically invented this stuff), but on this one he sounds like he’s reaching a bit. The song itself is strong, but the lyrics try too hard to be hip. But…um… that’s it. That’s the only so-so spot in an otherwise flawless album.

Alice, you did it. You gave us billion dollar babies a truly special gift. You stopped trying to outdo Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, you stopped trying to update your sound and you stopped trying to be something you’re not (and this is coming from someone who genuinely loves EVERY Alice Cooper album, even Da Da, but has been longing for a return to the glitter gutter of yesteryear). You grew up in Detroit, you play in a long-haired rock ‘n’ roll band, you like to piss people off and school is a drag. This album tells us that. We need to hear that from you. We need to be reminded that real rock ‘n’ roll comes from the hips, not the head, from the crotch, not the computer. Coop, we need to see through your eyes and you finally decided to let us. The Eyes of Alice Cooper is your best work in two decades and for that we thank you.

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