Originally Published: October 1994
Author: Mike Mulholland
In the light of what passes for 'entertainment' in rock circles these days, it's kind of hard to imagine that at one time Alice Cooper was unquestionably King Of Outrage. Back in the late '60's and early 70's, Cooper and his band of hard rockin' outlaws rolled out of the Midwest with an androgynous look and a metallic attack that took the music world by storm. Alice's outlandish appearance outraged some and amused others, but somehow most everyone immediately sensed that beneath the makeup and women's dresses lurked the heart of a commercial beast - a guy who had it all planned out from day one. No, the golf-loving, game-show playing Alice Cooper may never possessed the 'live and die for rock'n'roll' attitude of an Eddie Vedder, but through his deft songwriting touch, his outrageous showmanship and his skilled business acumen, Cooper emerged as a true rock icon. Such albums as Billion Dollar Babies and Love It To Death helped open the doors for everyone from Kiss to Motley Crue, and in the process launched Cooper on a dizzy roller coaster ride through the highs and lows of life.
Today, however, some 25 years later after he first hit the top of the charts with his immortal paean to teen angst, Eighteen, Cooper is alive and well. In fact, with the release of his latest album, his fantasy/horror concept disc, The Last Temptation, the always-inventive, continually creative Mr.Cooper has once again reinvented himself. No, he hasn't done away with his trademark sneer nor has he put aside his penchant for wearing black leather or outraging the masses. But what Cooper has done is take his music and image into the 90's, adding a rougher, tougher edge that, somewhat ironcally, harkens back to the material that first launched his career so many years ago.
"This album may be a little heavier than the last few things I did," he said. "But I don't think that I've sacrificed very much in going to a heavier sound. But with The Last Temptation I've worked to create something unlike anything I've ever done before. We had a concept, and we wrote songs to fit into it. The songs are still very solid, which to me has always been a key ingredient to what I've done. Go back and listen to things from any part of my career, whether it has as dark as Welcome To My Nightmare, or radio hit like Poison, and you'll hear that the quality of the music is always there."
Throughout his long and often tempestuous sojourn up the rock mountain, Cooper has indeed maintained a steadfast belief that a good song and a tight band remain the key to success and longevity. Whether he was wallowing in the depths of depression due to drug and alcohol abuse during the early 80's, or scoring an unexpected platinum hit with 1990's Trash, Cooper's hard hitting, yet instantly infectious music has remained his career's lifeline. Much like the British alter-ego, Ozzy Osbourne, Cooper has lived through the ups and downs of the rock lifestyle and is all too willing to tell anyone who'll listen that, to no one's surprise, the 'ups' are a hell of a lot better. Now with his new disc moving nicely up the sales chart, following the relatively dissappointing sales of 1992's Hey Stoopid, Cooper feels that he has survived yet another rock and roll 'mid life crisis.'
"Every album is a special challenge," he said. "You never can sit back and think 'Hey, the last one sold a million copies, so this one should too.' Yeah, you have a certain fan base that'll probably buy everything you put out. But unless your Guns N' Roses or Metallica, that fan base isn't going to make the album a hit all by themselves. It's almost like you've got to go out and reintroduce yourself to everybody every time out. Nobody really gives a crap about what you might have done before, they only want to know if the new music rocks."
Cooper maybe acting more than a little modest in his assessment that nobody cares about his previous acheivements. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find many hard rock musicians who didn't grow up listening to the man's hard-charging rock anthems. Just ask Guns N' Roses' guitarist Slash who played guitar on Cooper's previous album, or Soundgarden's Chris Cornell who lends some help to Unholy War, the first single from The Last Temptation. They know exactly who Cooper is and why his music is so important. Don't believe us? Well then, maybe you'll believe Slash himself.
"Alice Cooper played such a big role in shaping American hard rock music," the guitarist said. "Sometimes I think he's not given enough credit because people get caught up in the image he had, or the fact that he was so commercially successful, and they don't take time to really listen to the music. Man, he had some incredible albums and some incredible bands over the years. The guy just knows how to rock. He's probably forgotten more about rock and roll than most of the musicians will ever know."
For this part, Cooper takes such praise in stride. He's lived in the limelight long enough to know how to bask in its warming rays. But he's also felt the sting of those who criticized his appearance on TV game shows like Hollywood Squares back in the late 70's. After all, could you imagine the words 'Axl Rose to block' emerging from your TV speakers? He's had more comebacks than the swallows at Capistrano, yet he refuses to view his latest disc as yet another attempt to grab rock's bass ring. For Cooper this album is just another block in a solid-as-a-rock career; if the fans buy it, that's great - if they don't, it's their loss.
"I do make music to make fans happy," he admited. "Any musician who doesn't really isn't being fair to himself or to the fans. But I long ago stopped trying to figure out what people wanted. I just decide to do what I liked and hoped that they like it too. Sometimes I've been right - other times I guess I haven't been quite so accurate."
Now, of course, with the disc out and his media responsibilities taken care of, Cooper's thoughts turn in one direction, and only one direction returning to the road. Nobody, and we mean nobody, in rock's long history has continually put on as many incredible stage spectaculars as Alice Cooper. From beheading baby dolls with a life sized guillotine, to soaking the front rows of his audience with fake blood during his late-'80s 'gore' period, Cooper knows better than anyone how to shock, amuse and entertain - often all at the same time. And he offers the solemn promise that his 1994 road jaunt will be one of his best ever - after all, with an album like The Last Temptation, with all it's rich comic-book imagery to play with, it would seem like there's no outrage too outrageous for Cooper this time out.
"I don't want to give away too many of the ideas," he said. "But when people see this show their jaws will be hanging to their knees. To me, that's all part of the fun. If you can't leave 'em laughing and crying at the same time, what's the point?"