Originally Published: May 1973
Billion Dollar Babies
Quite simply, Billion Dollar Babies is the Sgt. Pepper of punkdom. Or a reasonable facsimile thereof, which in the end is probably just as acceptable to the army of millions that will buy any Alice Cooper album the moment it's released but can only barely remember who Paul McCartney once was.
Just look at what they've got to occupy themselves with: that slick imitation snakeskin cover, the oversized Alice Cooper dollar bill that'll be on more teenage bedroom walls than Bobby Orr and Rod McKuen posters combined, and a whole section of wallet-size punch-out photos of the boys at play which gives way to a handsome color portrait of our heroes surrounded by 500,000 authentic big ones b/w a lyric sheet and listing of the credits. Oh, and there's also a record.
The opulence of the packaging aside, the record itself is where the Sgt. Pepper analogy holds most substance. The theme of the record is teenage affluence, a projected world where "Dad gets his allowance from his sonny, the dealer," and where we're all gonna rock to the rules that President-elect Alice makes. Instead of taking their affluence as a tool for some loftier task, they opt for the ultimate punk pose: they revel in that affluence as easily as one devours an imaginary chocolate cake. In some ways, the fact that the fantasy - at least for Alice Cooper - is now concrete reality may only be incidental. The key is the opening cut, which begins "Hello, hurray / Let the show begin," and the rest is only as serious as you feel like making it.
In a sense, this is Coopers' most overtly theatrical album. In the past, they've been plagued by the lost visual element when they attempted to commit their more "theatrical" pieces (like "Black Juju" or "Dead Babies") to wax. But the thing about the material on Billion Dollar Babies is that it'sperhaps the first time that they've consciously conceived of an album as a soundtrack for their live show, rather than just trying to record the show as an afterthought.
"Elected" is the perfect example. When you hear it live, its simple chord patterns fill the room as powerfully as anything the Who have given us recently. On record, however, an unnecessary horn section and awkward spoken interludes tend to cloud the picture. Coming back to the song after seeing it live, your response is at least twice as strong. The same holds true for "Hello Hurray," which is kinda flat on record but comes off live with all theBroadway majesty that they've ever dreamed of.
And, quite surprisingly considering the let-down that was School's Out, there's more that even we old-line Alice Cooper jades can find comfort with. "Raped and Freezing," which chronicles a young innocent hitchhiker's sexual misfortunes on the road, fits their short 'n' sweet singles approach in almost casual good form, as does "No More Mr. Nice Guys," wherein we find Alice lamenting about how he's been made out a monster by the press. There's also "Mary-Ann," a little slice of two-minute nothingness that lets Alice work the Paul McCartney imitations out of his system.
If a lot of this music seems only superficially satisfying - appealing on the surface, but doubtful in the hands of time - you're probably right. But the thing that most critics are going to have to come to grips with is that, given Alice Cooper's audience, such mundane concerns are of no consequence. Alice's audience isn't into sustenance, they're into NOW. If it feels good for now, who cares how deep it runs or how long it hangs around? It's like TV: the program lasts 60 minute, and then it's time to change the channel. Which might help to explain their Billion Dollar attitude towards affluence: it might disappear by tomorrow, so the only thing to do is celebrate it while it's here.
Much of the horror-show material ("I Love The Dead", "Sick Things" etc.) threatens to become almost a parody of Alice's trademark menace, dull musical frames on which are hung self-consciously ghoulish sentiments. Yet even these relative failures will be openly embraced by Alice's audience, simply because ghoulishness, no matter how one-dimensional, is what the audience expects of Alice Cooper. And, perhaps more than anything else, Alice Cooper in 1973 is about giving the audience exactly what it wants. Nothing more, nothing less. With Billion Dollar Babies, as with so many albums lately, the proof is not in the pudding at all, but in the number of spoons that dip into it.