Monday, January 29, 2018
Alice Cooper - Paranormal
Review by Mike Kimmel
Alice Cooper's 27th studio release is one of his best in a while – and I loved Welcome 2 My Nightmare. This one (Paranormal) reveals his "Paranoic Personality"; or, in other parts, his
There are plenty of the typical Cooper plays on words, twisted phrases, comments that at first don't seem to belong together. Think about them for a minute or two (or more likely, sometime just before the tune ends), and you suddenly find yourself thinking "Oh! I GET IT!"
In addition to that, he's got more background vocals going on than I remember in previous Cooper releases. Well, he's always had background vocals, but they were done by folks who were actually background singers. On Paranormal, it sounds like he uses the rest of the band for the backups; and it fits so well that you'll wonder why either he hadn't done it before or you hadn't noticed before.
Speaking of the band, personnel on Paranormal includes Neal Smith, Dennis Dunaway, Michael Bruce, Larry Mullen Jr., Roger Glover, Billy Gibbons, Tommy Denander, Tommy Henriksen, Steve Hunter, and a cast of thousands!
Well, a cast of thousands on the live tracks that are included. The live cuts still sound tremendous. I guess sometimes it just might take an artist like Alice Cooper to breathe some OLD blood into younger musicians. Frankly though, it doesn't sound like these guys needed much help and they do the Alice Cooper thing to a T.
A nice, clean, slow-picked chord to start the opening track; the title track "Paranormal", and then it kicks into gear starring Cooper as the condemned paranormal being haunting some young lady. He's "…condemned to the long, endless night…", so she’s gonna suffer too.
Staccato drums accompanied by an equally staccato guitar/bass combination kicks off "Dead Flies". "Please watch your step, dear. The world is out to beat you. Don't you know there's cannibals designed to kill and eat you."
"And they'll kill you with their bible full of psychobabble vomit till they make you drink the Kool-Aid and you ride up on that comet. All lies! We're dead flies!"
Surely you catch the Jim Jones/Guyana reference there. Seems like perhaps a bit of a history lesson?
Then, as if to allay my fears (NOT!), track three fires up. "Fireball" isn't a paranoic's most reassuring message. "On a dark desert night. Lookin' to the sky. Something ain't right – a fireball."
People holding on to each other for support, reassurance, etc., etc., not that it's working or anything. A mass inquiry; "Almighty God… Is it today?" or "Almighty God… The city's in flames."
I generally despise it when reviews turn into political commentaries, and I ain't a-gonna do that. Well, except for one tiny comment about some Asian leader who actually had a desk brought out to a runway so he could sit in an "official office" while watching a test of a nuclear missile. Right or wrong, good or bad makes no difference – I think you have to admit that the "desk-on-the-runway" thing (novel and/or original as it may have been) is just a tad out there!
Which brings us back to track three. Another very good tune. Interestingly, the effect applied to the vocals of Uncle Alice makes him sound much like the vocals are coming over a low quality FM radio – as if in a newscast. Here's hoping the current, uh, disputes between countries of the world isn't about to become a history lesson.
But by now I'm beginning to think this project is a description of things going on in the world today. A long-time mantra of mine has been "Complete paranoia is perfect awareness". Well, that and "Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're NOT out to get me."
That train of thought runs me straight down the track and into "Paranoic Personality".
We start out with the ballsy, sexy distorted bass I wish I could get (my T-Bird comes close, but so far no stogie). The tune is slower than, say, "School's Out", but the bass is vaguely similar with the short walk and then a slide. Where "School's Out" just drops, "Paranoic Personality" mostly climbs but climbs and drops from mid-song on.
If you LUVS you some Billy Gibbons guitar, check out track five: "Fallen in Love". First off, let me say I love the chorus; "My baby's love is hard. My baby's love is tough. If I was anybody else I'd have had enough. She treats me like a dog, not a cute little pup. I've fallen in love and I can't get up!"
You figure out what he's talking about there. Meanwhile, just enjoy the heck out of the song – it's one of the best from the album.
Another compliment to the rhythm section coming up. I mentioned the Billy Gibbons guitar. Pop on the headphones and give it a spin. The Dusty Hill-like bass and Frank Beard-like drums combined with Gibbons make it seem like Cooper is doing a guest vocal on a ZZ Top album. If you like Cooper and you like ZZ Top, you'll LOVE track five.
Does anyone else find it odd that Frank Beard is the only member of ZZ Top who doesn't have a beard?
Next is a strange contrast. "Dynamite Road" is probably my least favorite song from this release, and it's a really good song. Not to spoil the story or anything, but the ending is humorous. "I can understand why he forced the band to take their final breath. But did he have to trash my Cadillac, man? I loved that car to death."
Ever feel like you were going to have some sort of breakdown? Ever feel like you were already having some sort of breakdown? Finally, do you s'pose you can plan or schedule said breakdown? Yeah, probably not so much. So track seven is about his "Private Public Breakdown".
"I feel what's real just slip away. I hope you like my... I hope you love my… I hope you see my private public breakdown. The secret service? I make them nervous."
It's one of the slower-paced tunes on the album, but it has plenty of interesting lyrics and the yes, I've come to expect it guitar from an Alice Cooper release – I'm not talking about smooth or even chunky. We're talking extra chunky here! Bass? Drums? Steady, as expected. They provide a perfect rhythm section for Cooper's lyrics and the guitars setting them off. It's extremely interesting (well, to me, anyway, and some would say I'm a bit odd) how the drummer uses a cowbell in the tune.
"I don't need meds to tie me down. Or squads of feds to stand around. 'Cause I'll have floated off the ground. So welcome to my... I hope you like my… I think I love my private public breakdown."
HORNS?! ON A COOPER ALBUM?!?! Well, it's really not that unusual at all. He's shown over the past many years he's really not afraid to try anything, and he's not exactly shy, either. "Holy Water" keeps the hits a-happening on Paranormal.
The bass in "Holy Water" is tremendous! The horns, drums, and vocals are really way in the foreground on this track. The guitar is relegated to providing occasional accentuation, and the bass is pretty background, as well. That doesn't stop either of them from adding so much to the song.
"She is an angel. Her name is Tiffany. She kinda strange though, but my epiphany. I wouldn't change, yo! Cause she's a gift to me."
The ninth track of the 18 in this release is my favorite. Once again, my feets jis' won't be still. "Give the Rats what they want. Give the rats what they want. Open the cage. Give the rats what they want."
"Give 'em the cheese, the grill and the ride. Some bling and some sex and they glow inside."
"Let them run the maze. Let them ring the bell. Let 'em chase their tails. Let 'em go to hell. Let them multiply – that's what they do. You better give 'em what they want or they're comin' for you."
A minute 54 into it the tune, it sounds like it's ending. And that is downright depressing. It's not a long song, anyway, and at 2:38 it's over for real. Trust me, this one will let you know if your seat squeaks or not, because you won't be able to keep still.
Ha! A song about rats, and I said "squeak". Unintentional at first, but… I KILL ME!
"The Sound of A" brings us to the 10th and final new studio tune with Cooper's current band from the Paranormal CD basic release and is the slowest track on the album. But it, too, is a really good track. "The sound of A is in the air. The sound of A is everywhere. Meaningless noise is everybody's toy."
There's some very interesting stuff going on with the keyboard in this cut as there is with the vocals, as well. Probably best experienced (again) using headphones.
We're back in the studio again, but this time we're accompanied by Coop and members of his original band (with the exception of Glen Buxton - RIP).
"Genuine American Girl", written by Cooper, Neal Smith and Bob Ezrin, is the first of two brand new songs with his brand old band, and it is spectacular, vintage Alice Cooper rock and roll. The old guys have still got it! As a genuine rock and roll fanatic I have to say that… Well, let me just come out and say it, OK?
THIS TUNE GIVES ME GOOSEBUMPS!
It's got basically everything you have ever wanted from a Cooper tune, let alone expected. The bass. The drums. The guitars. Good grief, man! The lyrics.
"I do my hair. I paint my nails. It pours outside. It never fails. So the makeup runs down my pretty face. I'm a muddy mess. A mac disgrace. But when I hit that floor tonight I'm gonna look and feel alright because my mama says the world's an oyster and I'm the pearl."
"I look in the mirror and what do I see? An immodest little goddess looking back at me. The boys all whistle when I walk by so I toss my hair and wink my eye."
"So come and dance with me. Come take a chance with me. I'm only 30 out of 50 shades of grey. A feminine fatality."
Things might have headed back toward the history lesson (or lesson in pending history – I think probably one of those two) with the second original track by the original Cooper band. Cooper, Dennis Dunaway, and Ezrin teamed up again to write "You and All of Your Friends".
"We're burnin' down your city. The message has been sent. Angels without pity. We hold you in contempt. And this is how it all ends for you and all of your friends."
"It’s righteous conflagration. It's our way of paying you back for plundering our nation and painting heaven black. So this is where it all ends for you and all of your friends."
"And when the sun goes down tomorrow we will no longer be your slaves. And it will be the end of sorrow, 'cause we’ll be dancing on your graves. 'Cause this is where it all ends. Too late to make amends. For you and all of your friends."
I just realized I may have typed the vast majority of the lyrics for the song, which I'm not sure the laws of review-writing allow you to do.
That's OK, though. I mean, if it was the first rule I'd ever violated, I guess it'd be a more remarkable event. Further, your honor, when the lead/solo-type part of the song kicked in, so did my goosebumps again. Guess what, kiddies. The fossils still got it! (Maybe playing in a band with your grandfather could teach you a thing or two, eh?)
The two tunes with guitarist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith finish things up on the standard release. If you have been paying attention over the past few months, you know that IF there is a deluxe version of a CD you are considering for purchase THAT should be the version you get.
Oddly enough, Cooper's Welcome 2 My Nightmare was the release that really drove that point home for me. To try and put the Paranormal CD into some sort of perspective. I absolutely LOVE Welcome 2 My Nightmare. I think it's a fantastic idea, and it builds on and is as enjoyable as the original Welcome to My Nightmare. In fact, I think I might like 2 a bit more than the original.
I like Paranormal more than I like either of the Nightmares, and as you just read, that's going quite a distance. The review isn't even over yet! I haven't addressed the six live tracks (recorded on May 6, 2016 in Columbus, OH) done by Cooper and his current band, who I've also already mentioned are by no means any slouches at all!
But rather than going through each of the live Cooper classics included, I think I'll just enumerate them and sum them up as a collection. I mean, after all… There's a better-than-average chance you've heard each of these songs and may already have an opinion one way or the other.
The six classics are "No More Mr. Nice Guy", "Under My Wheels", "Billion Dollar Babies", "Feed My Frankenstein", "Only Women Bleed", and of course, "School's Out". They're all better live than the studio versions of the same tunes. His current band rocks them home as convincingly, as enthusiastically, as talentedly (is that even a word?), and as "true-to-the-original" as Cooper's original band.