“I’m condemned to the long, endless night. And I live in the absence of light.”
From the opening lines of Paranormal, the first song and title track on Alice Cooper’s first new studio album since 2011’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare, two things become clear:
1) This record sounds BIG. With stellar production by Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Kiss), Alice comes through crisper and cleaner than ever, layered atop a fortress of thick guitars and thudding bass, driven by a big, bossy backbeat and the flourishing theatrics we’ve come to expect from nearly five decades of the Coop.
2) The band had fun making this record.
Guest appearances by Mr. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Mr. Larry Mullen of U2, and Mr. Roger Glover of Deep Purple, bring a freshness and urgency to a group of tracks that, 27 albums later, let fans of Alice know that Alice is still Alice…and he’s not planning on going anywhere.
Touching off with a gentle guitar intro, expect Paranormal’s first haymaker after a mere two bars. If you’re still standing, brace for another…and another…and another. From there the track builds to a sonic rollercoaster ride through the world Alice made for us. Oh, but just wait until after the bridge. Once that cool, dirty riff kicks in (you’ll know it, because a wicked solo comes lapping at its heels), there will be no doubt that Alice has come knocking, and you would be wise to let him in.
“Your sister’s high on angel dust, and so’s your porno brother. And your phone knows more about you than your daddy or your mother.” The lyrics of Dead Flies are an indictment of the cultural sickness of our time; invoking everything from technological ennui, to Jesus and the Illuminati, and every snake oil charlatan and so-called ‘Messiah’ preying on the credulity of the weak-minded. Throw in a little suicide cult action for good measure: “They’ll kill you with their gospel of psychobabble vomit, when they make you drink that Kool Aid and you ride off on that comet.” Shout out to Hale-Bopp, anyone?
Fireball, a straight ahead Rock n’ Roll monster of apocalyptic imagery, is the album’s longest at nearly five minutes. An anthem for those among us who, fed up with the state of the world, often find ourselves searching for the “Fireball in the sky” – a giant asteroid worthy of an Extinction Level Event; that Great Reset Button from Space. “Almighty God, we die today.”
Paranoiac Personality, the first single, opens with a slinky bassline eavesdropping on ambient voices awash in echo. Listen closely for a mid-song nod to the Psycho theme. The driving blues riff of Fallen in Love positively drips with Mr. Gibbons’ signature stylings, while the hopped-up horror flick feel of Dynamite Road regales us with a tale of a band on the road, coming face-to-face with the Devil Incarnate. Fans of Tenacious D will appreciate the metaphor.
More colossal guitars and more of that big, bossy backbeat on Private Public Breakdown. “My strange behavior. I got elected. ‘Cause I’m the savior resurrected.” If this song isn’t about President Snow –oops, I mean Drumpf- then this reviewer will eat his own shoe. “The Secret Service, I make them nervous.” Us too, Donnie. Us too.
Picture Alice as a twisted televangelist in Holy Water, proselytizing with more biting satire about charlatanism, and the human desire to “kill the emptiness that you live with every night and day,” often seeking solace in the con job of religion to cure what ails the soul. The propulsive rock of Rats plainly deconstructs vapid consumer culture (“Give the rats what they want”) with lyrics about the maze-running, bell-ringing, tale-chasing hysteria of life in the modern world. Further lamentation over the superficiality of society on The Sound of A, a Floyd-esque murmur with a spooky intro and psychedelic flourishes throughout. “Meaningless noise is everybody’s toys.” Perhaps the “A” stands for Apathy?
Two collaborations with the original Alice Cooper band bring a strong finish to a strong record, with guitarist Michael Bruce, drummer Neal Smith, and Mr. Dennis Dunaway on bass. Genuine American Girl is a snarling evocation of a proud, tough transgender woman unafraid to be who she is, despite palpable societal resistance to accepting individuals living outside heteronormative gender roles. “You think it’s vanity or some insanity, but this is No Man’s Land and I live here every day.” The message is clear: No one can ever know what life is like in our transphobic/homophobic society unless they’ve personally experienced the discrimination/degradation/humiliation our LGBTQ brothers and sisters cope with on the daily. The album’s final cut, You and All of Your Friends, revisits the public’s anger over rampant corruption and corporatism. “It’s righteous conflagration. It’s how we’re paying you back for plundering our nation.” Prefaced by a huge, Cheap Trick-style intro (think Dream Police), Alice leaves us with a ray of hope: “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.”
Clawing at the scarred, bloody face of contemporary relevance has become a critical challenge for many of our great Rock n’ Roll heroes. But with this hard-charging new record, Alice has proven to us yet again:
School may be out for the summer, but class is in session, and the lesson is fucking loud.