(June 18, 1994)
Originally Published: June 18, 1994
Author: Ray Zell
The nightmare continues! Alice Cooper, Rock legend and alleged chicken murderer, is back with a killer new album - his best for two decades! Ray Zell scoops all the hottest Coop poop as Alice admits: "I look 400 years old!" and wonders: "Am I in another dimension?!"
Alice Cooper and his stooges shuffle about the stage at London Weekend Television. They're waitin' for the call to run-through Alice's new 'Lost In America' single for 'The Brian Conley Show'.
As I sat among the makeshift audience for this rehearsal take, I'm kind of amused that the original 'lock up your daughters' rocker - all nose and no chin, lookin' like a Muppet vulture - is now a family viewing curiosity. Yet the 'legend' lives on.
Behind me, one woman mentions to another: "Do you remember him? That's Alice Cooper - the man with the snake who bites heads off chickens!"
Yep, he's got no friends cos they read the papers...
'Welcome To My Nightmare', 1975's acclaimed conceptual masterpiece, was obviously a pivotal album in the career of Alice Cooper. In countless album reviews since then, many a journalist who took a sudden fancy to a new Cooper offering would delight in hailing this opus 'his best album since 'Welcome To My Nightmare'.'
The Coop's latest album, 'The Last Temptation', finally probably is that good. 19 years later. And this bloke who sings: 'I'm 18 and I like it'!?
I get to chat with me ol' mate (just humour me...) Alice in his dressing room between takes. His attractive wife, Cheryl, sits silently in the next chair browsing through a magazine. I believe Cheryl was a dancer who played 'Cold Ethyl' in the original '...Nightmare' shows: 'She's cool in bed, she oughtta be - cos Ethyl's dead'!
For 'The Last Temptation' Alice used the band from his last two albums, 'Trash' and 'Hey Stoopid', plus a number of producers including Andy Wallace and Don Fleming. But co-concept credit - and, yes, the mucho yakked-about comic-book angle - goes to he of 'Sandman' fame Neil Gaimen....
"Neil and I laboured on the story to make sure it worked," explains Alice. "Then came the hard part - putting the music to the story! Usually, like with '...Nightmare' and 'From The Inside', you wrote the songs first and then you put the story to it. But that's the cheater way. I didn't realise this way it would become a six-month project!"
It's an extremely lyrical album.
"That's what took a lot of the time. You really only have so much time to tell the story, and it does need a comic-book (available free with the album for a limited period) to fill in a lot of the holes. It could have been a double album. The problem with working to a storyline is the fact that you can write a great song...but it might not fit."
It's funny - people who have heard the punchy 'Lost In America' single have told me they love it, and say that the album must be great. I tell 'em that it is, yet there's nothin' else on it like
"Yeah. It's like visiting different periods of Alice. The first song 'Sideshow', reminds me of 'No More Mr. Nice Guy', and others remind me of '...Nightmare' and '...Goes To Hell'. The one song that's weird is 'Stolen Prayer' (the absolute killer cut co-written with Soundgarden's Chris Cornell). That doesn't belong on any previous Alice album, yet it sounds like an Alice song."
I thought I had all yer voices sussed, but the tone on that one's a new 'un.
"The Johnny Cash tone! I wasn't originally sold on 'Stolen Prayer'," concedes the Coop, "and I'll tell ya why - because it was originally in pieces. We got it in the studio and I still hadn't found a vocal for it that worked. But when I found one, it became my favourite song," he laughs.
"It was the most unique thing on the album. And Chris' voice came out good on it, too."
Have you never been tempted to write with members of the original Cooper band (who departed after '74's 'Muscle Of Love')?
"I did actually write with Neal (Smith - drums) and Dennis (Dunaway - bass) for 'Raise Your Fist And Yell' and 'Trash', but the songs never made the albums. But, y'know, I was telling Cheryl the other day, the weirdest thing in the world is, I see those guys once in every five years, and if I ever have a dream about going onstage, it's always the original band. After all this time - since 1974!"
I gotta admit, say I, yankin' the Cooper mind back into the present, initially I found 'The Last Temptation' more intriguing than instant.
"I know what you mean; it grows on you. That's good. And the subject haunts you too. It's about something that's 6000 years old - temptation. And, hey, y'know," he adds, for no apparent reason, "we're trying to get Christopher Lee to appear in one of our videos, because he's the last (horror film star) from that era."
But didn't you hear? He's disowned his latest film because he doesn't like the gore parts!
"Ha! Well, y'know, in his movies there wasn't a real lot of gore. I mean, I hope he sees horror movies like most people look at them - like comedies. They're certainly not scary. You can't write a scary movie any more; there's no such thing as scary!"
When you manage to get it together, stage-set wise you've got a lot of work with on this one.
"Well, there's only one way I can see it working - and that's to take it into the theatres. Because I'd like it to be as good as '...Nightmare', with a lot of moving parts and scene changes. What I want to do would be so hard with a normal travelling show."
I gotta admit, I love this 'Showman' Alice character. Your leather's were getting to clean. You always moved better in rags.
"Ha! Well, I've still got the legs for it! I haven't gained and weight, so I'm okay in that department. But, yeah, Alice looks tattered. He looks like he's 400 years old. And the showman is sort of like all the old Alice's put into one. He's kind of the spirit of Alice. It's actually Alice playing the part of the Showman. And the Steven character, y'know, he's always been in my shows. The young innocent victim character. He's also Alice. The innocent side. So I have to figure out how to play both parts!"
And the comic?
"Oh, I loved it! Neil and I worked pretty tight on it. In fact, when I started it there was no thought of a comic-book. I only brought in Neil in as a story writer because I liked the Sandman. I said, 'We've gotta make this like a Grimm's fairytale'. It was only after we wrote the story that, Marvel came to us and said, 'What about a comic-book?'. And I said, 'If you can do it, it would be the coolest thing in the world!'. You can't give anything away any more with packaging that's CD sized. I gave Marvel my blessings. I said PLEASE!"
On a heavier note, a coupla months back when I spoke to you on the phone, you were talking about the finality of a lot of modern bands as opposed to Alice's 'Rocky Horror...' approach to death. And Kurt Cobains committed suicide a week or so later...
"Y'know," Alice sighs, "it's so glamorous, the idea of suicide and flirting with death. I understand that. It's something the kids are always thinking about. And then someone comes along and - BOOM! There's no second take. He's pulled the trigger. His head's gone. That's real, and I don't take it lightly at all. Some people looked at him as a voice, so when you do something that loud - that's a voice. When you blow your head off, that's a pretty big statement! But I don't think rock 'n' roll was his problem at all. He had suicidal tendencies before that - he must have. Rock 'n' roll doesn't drive you crazy - it made him rich!"
It's said that post-Grunge attitudes have dampened rock 'n' roll's celebratory ethic.
"Lollapalooza says that, too! Everybody's getting very politically aware. It's almost like a generation of beatniks!"
Some kids don't crave escapism - they want reality.
"Yeah! That's scary! Well, look at 'MTV unplugged', I could never understand all the unplugged albums. I said 'It can't be the kids - the kids want it loud! I tell ya, the greatest example was doing 'Top Of The Pops' - and there's like nine identical Dance bands on the show. We wound the show up, and the kids ran over to the stage. We did 'Lost In America' and they're like - 'What is that!?'. Am I right, Cheryl?," Alice says, turning to his missus.
"Absolutely," she nods. Cheryl speaks - Kerrang! shock exclusive!
"I don't think these kids had ever seen a rock 'n' roll band!" exclaims Alice. "It was amazing! I said 'Am I in another dimension here or what?'!"
Alice Cooper. A prisoner in the Conceptual Zone.
Alice Cooper is one of the most infamous names in rock 'n' roll history. Most legendary Coop tales are rooted in the true exploits of the man and his band back in the late '60's and 70's, although a rabid press blew some of the stuff out of all proportion.
Of the many Cooper legends the most notorious is of course the 'Alice Cooper Chicken Killer' headline fiasco!
The Alice Cooper band were somewhere down the on the bill for the 1969 Toronto Rock 'n' Rlll Revivao Festival. They were playing in front of 75,000 people when, mid-set, a chicken wanders on the stage!
Now, at this point, you either exercise your improvisational skills to the limit - or look stoopid. So, not bein' a farm boy, Alice grabs the bird, acknowledges it has feathers, and just considers the critter can fly. He tosses the animal skyward, and instantly notes its distinct lack of gravitational reversal powers!
The doomed bird plummets like a rock into the crowd, who instantly tears it limb from wishbone! From then on, there was no two ways about it - Alice Cooper bit the heads off chickens!
Credit to 'em: honest all-American pissheads that they were, the Coop troupe never claimed false responsibility for their exaggerated misdeads. They just sailed along on the notoriety!
There were, of course, a few problems. Some time after the Toronto Chicken incident, Alice and Co travelled to one US state - only to be promptly arrested for a crime they'd allegedly perpetrated in the state they'd just left! The law enforcement officers had got wind that Alice Cooper had crucified a kitten onstage! Says Alice of this heinous charge...
"That's a great idea! We didn't do it...but I wish we'd thought of it!"