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Originally Published: May 1994
Author: Drew Masters
Moral and Alice Cooper used in the same breath? Could the king of shock rock be turning over a new stone in his life?
Well, that may be just what's happening with his latest Sony release, The Last Temptation - a concept album conceived by the Coop himself about the plight of a young boy growing up in today's hostile society.
And, to uniquely put the concept to max, a series of comic books are to be made available with each album.
Speaking with Cooper from Dallas by phone, he begins by explaining the connection between the two mediums. "If you were going to write a story that tells everything, you'd have to write a total opera where everything had to be said in the lyrics of the song, and that's too grueling," he states. "Plus you can't take a song off the album and let it stand on its own as it sounds out of place. So what I wanted to do was write the story first, and then write the songs into the story. That way when you read the comic book you can see where the songs fit in. And then you can take the songs off and they'll stand on their own.
"It's a very strong concept album - a real morality play," he continues. "It has a protagonist, a hero, a victim; it has a reason, and a conclusion. And the only way I could get that across doing 1o songs was to put a comic book with it. I didn't want to do 10 videos 'cause then the videos are limited as little pieces. Besides, the comic makes it more fun - since albums disappeared Alice hasn't been able to have any fun with the packaging. This way they get the CD and the full-size comic book."
And, of course, it's a collector's dream. "There's three comic books to tell the story," adds Cooper. "We worked with Neil Gaiman, who is the writer of Sandman and another character, Death. It's very well done. I especially picked him out because I really liked his personality, and I liked the way he wrote."
With the story and the concept in hand, Cooper then had to get to the business of writing the songs, on which he collaborated with many well-known writers including Canadian Jim Wallace, Damn Yankees' Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw, and Soundgarden's Chris Cornell - the latter whom Cooper especially had an affection for.
"Chris is great," states Cooper. "It was kind of interesting thing how he came to write with me. We had all the songs written, and Bob Pfeiffer (Epic U.S. rep), who was working with me on the album, told me that Chris Cornell had some songs that he wanted me to hear. Two of the songs - one in particular, "Holy War" - really fit into the concept with just a little surgery. "Stolen Prayer," the other song that he wrote, wasn't quite a song yet, and we sat down for six or seven hours working on it. That song ended up being one of my favourites.
"If I'm going to work with someone, I can't trust them to write an Alice Cooper song on their own," adds Cooper, "because Alice has a certain way, a certain perspective in looking at things. When I look at a song that someone else has wrote, I'll read it and I'll say, 'That's not Alice. Alice wouldn't say that.' So I make changes. Or if I'm writing with somebody they'll come up with a great bit and I'll say, 'That's really good, but I can't see Alice as thinking that way.' So we have to write for him as a person, a character. And it's funny because they never had to do that before - you know, they figure everything is pretty generic, anybody can sing anything, and it's like, 'Anybody can, but Alice can't'."
Is Cooper affected by the changing trends in Music? "Sure," he attests. "I like the energy of Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden, but I find myself liking, lyrically, bands like Crash Test Dummies. I find that I'm listening more to songs with good lyrics; songs that say something, but say it differently."
The last we'd heard from Cooper was his '91 album Hey Stoopid. With its success, and the success of '89s Trash, why take his chance with a concept album - why not just continue on with the streak of hits?
"I just didn't want to do another album of just songs," he stresses. "I think Alice is, at this point, pretty good at getting a story across or doing something theatrical with an album, and I just felt that I hadn't done that in a long time. I wanted to do another Welcome To My Nightmare, and this was the perfect vehicle for it."
Past incarnations of the Cooper character was one that was very amoral in nature (recall the raping of blow-up dolls, and his infamous hanging finale). Yet does Cooper, now well into his forties, feel the need to put across something more positive and constructive for today's youth in this different day and age?
"I'd like to think that," he contends. "Only for the fact that the things that I used to make fun of are real now. I realize that I'm not going to be able to write a song that will get to a kid that is growing up now, especially in the inner city. I grew up with the problems of my generation, but I don't have the problems of Generation X. Everything that they're bombarded with is based on death. Sex didn't used to be deadly - now it is. And I never had to worry about going to school with everyone carrying guns, and being in gangs. There were gangs in my day, but it was good fun - but now it's almost science fiction! The bottom line of this album is to say that life isn't cheap. Life seems to be really cheap right now. There's a real defeatist attitude out there today.
"Alice never promoted anything defeatist," he continues. "Alice always made fun of death, sex, and money. But I never promoted it - I never said this is the way to get out of this life. I've always been very pro-life."
A noticeable part of the new album is how Alice, like in days of old, uses his sinister speaking voice to flavour up the lyrics. "Yeah, the Showman character," he remarks. "Every time I do the Showman character he's kind of half speaking it, half singing it, because that's his character. I went back to the old Alice and said let's dig that up. When he speaks we should definitely know it's him. Those signature songs. Some of the most fun stuff on the album was 'Nothing's Free' and 'Bad Place Alone'. Those are real Love It To Death Alice."
Yet the bottom line remains this: How does Cooper take 'Alice Cooper' - the character a young Vincent Furnier created back in the late-'60s/early-'70s; brought to the height of popularity in the mid-'70s, and peaked once again in the late-'80s - into the '90s?
"It's a matter of what you give an audience," cites Cooper. "I think if you go out there dull and pointless without anything to say, or if you're just out there living on your past, then there's no reason for you to be there. If you go out there with something new then it's going to give you energy. If I decided to go out there and do just all my old stuff again, I would lose interest fast. If an artist hasn't got new stuff that he can't wait to play then he's lost it. He's living on past glory. I've never been one to live in the past. Hey (laughs), I'm shocked when bands come up to me and idolize Alice - I forgot that they grew up on that music."
Guess the "We're not worthy" Wayne's World syndrome follows the Cooper wherever he goes?
"Are you kidding!!! Until my death!," exclaimed Cooper. "That was a whole new audience right there. In fact, I told Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, 'You stuck me with this for the rest of my life! From now on this is me!' I went to a Suns basketball game in (his home city) Phoenix, and I got up to get an ice cream, and half of the section got up and bowed, 'I'm not worthy. I'm not worthy'." (laughs)
Plans for a tour, which will feature a theatrical section on the new album, have not yet be finalized - the most we'll see of Cooper for a while are the forthcoming videos for "Lost In America" and "It's Me". However he can currently be heard co-hosting, along with RIP magazine editor Lonn Friend, a short run two-week only syndicated live morning show, from 6:00 am to 10:00 am, on the Z-Rock network (based in Dallas), which is beamed out to 25 stations across North America. http://www.fortunecity.com/rivendell/timelapse/9/davesite.html
"24 now," he juts in, "Winnipeg dumped us. When they (CITI FM) announced that we were going to do the show, we had our biggest reaction from Winnipeg. Thousands of people calling. After one day or so on the air, they dumped us. We were just too heavy - Lonn was playing Cannibal Corpse at six in the morning (laughs)."
After nearly 25 years in showbiz, what realistic expectations does Cooper have for this new project? "At this point, if it sells a million, great. If it sells three, I still had fun making it," he states. I know the die-hard Alice fans will like it. Alice Cooper has been around for a long time and people are expecting this to be an Alice album, and it will be."
Is Cooper timeless? "The character is," says Cooper. "As long as I keep making albums that I'm not embarrassed by, that I really like, I think I can do it for pretty much as long as I want to do it. I'm in better physical shape now than I was 20 years ago - actually it's the least of my worries. I'd actually like to see some of these new bands try and do an Alice Cooper show - they'd be dead! They wouldn't be able to do it."
What legacy would he like to leave on rock music? Without a beat, Cooper responds, "Alice brought theater to rock 'n' roll, and we brought attitude to rock 'n' roll. Now, lyrically, I'd like to get some things across. I probably won't be making 25 more albums, but at this point, while I have the energy, I'd like to say something."
"And," he adds, "I've left this thing open for The Last Temptation, part two. You never know!?"