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Originally Published: December 1989
Author: Jerry Ewing
He's back, the man behind the mask etc... Yes, as anyone with one eye on the charts over the past month or so will be able to tell you, the latter half of 1989 has seen the triumphant return of one Vincent Furnier (aka Alice Cooper). Not since the heady days of the early Seventies has the man had so much profile, back when the man (or the band that was originally named Alice Cooper, young Vince adopting the name personally later on in his career) was topping the charts with classic singles such as 'School's Out', 'Elected' and 'No More Mr Nice Guy'. But this you should know. For indeed Alice Cooper was at the forefront of utilising the use of make-up, rock theatre and indeed some see the man as the instigator of the Glam Rock period in the early seventies, and there's no doubt that he was a major influence on some of today's seminal bands. Alice was wearing a top hat well before Slash was out of his shorts, and as for make-up, well? Kiss, nah, forget it. Even if old Alice did borrow somewhat from Arthur Brown (aged sixties hippie rocker who used to set himself alight onstage) as far as his face paint goes, it's Alice we love for looking the way he does, and sounding the way he does.
And now after a somewhat lean spell commercially, as well as a well publicised battle with the bottle (indeed, just like Aerosmith, Alice is now on the straight and narrow), the man has hit back with his biggest commercial success to date, the debut single 'Poison' reaching No. 2 in the charts, whilst the album 'Trash' also reached No. 2. Alice Cooper is once more hip it would seem.
"Yeah, it's amazing," the great man tells me, as I talk to him before he flies into New York to appear at the Headbangers Ball. "I think what happened was that hard rock came back full blast. In the United States at least in the seventies the two hard rock bands that were the standard were Aerosmith and Alice Cooper, and it really seems to have taken off just where it left off. It's great, I love it."
Indeed, it does seem slightly odd that over here in Blighty, the two most successful hard rock acts, chartwise, and that always seems to spill over into concert ticket sales, are Aerosmith and Alice Cooper, both of whom look likely to clean up on their forthcoming British tours. Elsewhere in the world. It's pretty much the same picture, and it would appear that time has stood still since the seventies if it were not for the fact that both acts are sounding as fresh and vital as ever.
And for Alice Cooper, his latest release, 'Trash', has seen a departure from the classic gore influenced rock of his two previous efforts, namely the excellent 'Constrictor' and 'Raise Your Fist And Yell', (both of which started the ball rolling again for the man), and a style that has been synonymous with the Cooper tag since his early albums like 'Killer', 'Goes To Hell' and his masterwork 'Welcome To My Nightmare'. No, 'Trash' shows Cooper not only linking up with AOR tunesmith and hit making machine Desmond Child, a man whose workload is becoming more prolific by the day, but shifting his attention towards more sexually oriented material.
"'Constrictor' and 'Raise Your Fist And Yell' were both splatter orientated albums, and I really enjoyed doing those albums. I sit back and I love them, and I loved doing that show, that was basically a rock'n'roll nasty. About a third of the new show is in that style, classic stuff you know. But I felt that if I did another one then I was gonna get typecast, you know, 'This is all Alice can do anymore' is what people would have said to me. They'd have only felt that I can do horror rock or riff rock, and I've proved that I can do it all. I've done riff rock, and metal and I can also do hard rock, seventies style. What 'Trash' probably is is a seventies kind of album, you know, 'Love It To Death', 'Killer', 'School's Out' kind of album, but with nineties production. When I tour next, I will be doing some of the classic splatter stuff, but at the same time we'll be doing the sexual material that's more hard rock. I can give the audience more variety up on stage now I feel."
Does that mean that the master of gore no longer enjoys watching horror movies anymore or is even wimping out?
"Oh I watch every horror movie" asserts Alice. "I still have a great love for horror movies and all that stuff, and in the show, like I said, we'll devote a section to classic Alice, and we'll even do new horror stuff, only instead of being 100% of the show it will be about 35% of the show. The rest of the show will be classic material and we'll be doing eight or nine songs off the 'Trash' album, and it'll be a longer show for sure."
And that's bound to please Alice's army of fans. It's probable that part of Alice's recent success can be attributed to his collaboration with Desmond Child (Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, FM etc...), although the list of guest artists appearing on 'Trash' reads more like a who's who of American rock (Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Kip Winger, Steve Lukather, Michael Anthony, Guy Mann-Dude, Kane Roberts and co take a bow). Was Alice at all worried that he would be accused of jumping on the Child bandwagon, considering the fact that Child has already been linked with such heavy rock luminaries in the past?
"Well I really don't mind if people think that," Alice freely admits. "I would pick my ten favourite records when I would listen to the radio, and eight of them would be written by Desmond. In that case, I would sit there and think that I wasn't writing with anyone at the moment, and there's a guy who seems to be exactly on my wave length, and he's writing the stuff I should be writing. So I thought, why not work with him, but on my terms. I went to Desmond and said 'Let's write an album, but it's got to be an Alice Cooper album. I want you to bring out something in me that I've forgotten about. I wanted something brought out of me that I'd forgotten about in my records. I have a tendency to write for myself a lot of the time, and then when I listen back to what I've done, then I'll realise that I'll understand the lyric, but I may have excluded 90% of the audience, because it's a private little escapade for me."
"I think Desmond is more general, he'll say this, this or this, and more people can relate to it. Musically, he'll say 'Where you would go here normally, let's go here, because it's not that far away from what you normally do, and I think it'll grab more people. It's really not a prostitution, I think it's kind of like he brings out the best in Aerosmith, he brings out the best in Bon Jovi. I've heard what those guys write, and I've heard what they write after Desmond's done with it. He's like a Svengali kind of thing. I think we all really like him, because we all like what he writes. He doesn't really turn us into anybody different, he just brings the best out of us. That is a real talent. He'll do a Kiss song that I wouldn't do, or a Joan Jett song that I wouldn't even dream about. He takes you out of what you are, and puts you on the radio. I don't quite know what that power is, I can't pin it down, but it's there somewhere."
This is all very good, but taking into account the fact that the dreadful Stock, Aitkin and Waterman are viewed in this country as nothing more than a computerised hit-machine by anyone with any musical integrity (but not by the hordes of little girls that buy their records or idiotic DJ's that play them), was Alice (who incidentally had heard of S,A and W) worried at all that people would soon start viewing Child in the same context within the rock world?
"I would say that if he was turning out stuff that was boring or not interesting. Like I said, the stuff that he is bringing out is always really good stuff. That's what the amazing thing is, it's always quality stuff. When I listen to 'Dude (Looks Like A Lady)', that's really good stuff. Or the stuff he does for Joan Jett or Bon Jovi. I am not necessarily a power rocker like Bon Jovi, but when I listen to 'You Give Love A Bad Name' or 'Bad Medicine' I just think that they are great, powerful records. I would never do those songs, or if I did, I would do them totally different. I would add more guitar or gravel in the throat, but then I doubt that Bon Jovi or Aerosmith would do 'Poison' the way I did it."
'Trash' is Alice Cooper's first release on his new record label, his earlier output being on the Warner Brothers label, and latter material on MCA (although 'Welcome To My Nightmare' is - or at least was available here on import on the Anchor label), and it seems that this is a happy partnership.
"Epic has been unbelievable," he states. "They came to me for this record and gave me an unlimited budget and absolutely no time limit. What more could you want. How can you turn that down. You work all your life for somebody to have that much faith in you to say 'whatever it costs, go ahead and spend it and whenever it's done, just make sure it's something as good as 'Billion Dollar Babies' or 'Welcome To My Nightmare' or something like that', and I think that when we delivered the album they were very happy. I think that's why it's doing so well."
And it would appear that Alice is once more relishing his step into the limelight, especially as it comes hand in hand with his new found health.
"It's great, especially now that I'm healthy. I can enjoy it now," he tells me, referring to the drink problem that laid him low in the latter half of the seventies, leading to a string of poorly received albums, and which led to the conceptual 'From The Inside' album. Looking back over Alice's distinguished career, from his earliest days through his already mentioned classic era, and on through his leaner period that saw the release of poorer selling albums like 'Lace And Whiskey', 'Flush The Fashion' and 'Special Forces', and up to his present successes, what did the man himself feel were the high points of his career?
"Well strangely enough, one of the things that made Alice Cooper what he is, was getting banned in London the first time. That was one of the first things that brought us to world attention. You know the reputation of the band was so strong, people were so confused and so shocked by the image and the music. It was all peace and love until Alice came along, and then we were actually pre-Clockwork Orange (seminal yoof film by Stanley Kubrick), and all of a sudden we stood for everything that wasn't necessarily peace and love. They said we were money orientated and glamour orientated and stuff, but most of all, we just wanted to have fun. We just wanted to get the beer, buy a convertable and get the blondes, and after a while people went 'wait a minute, that's fun!', and I think that's what shocked everybody."
"We made fun of sexuality, money, pretty much everything. And on top of all that, we did this horrific thing that no-one had ever done, and this choreographed violence. It wasn't real violence, but again it was something that was very shocking for the time. Now it's very difficult to shock an audience, with all your 'Friday The 13th's', 'Freddy Kruegers', and the wide open sexuality and stuff. Now I think the best thing you can be up there is professional, and the best thing you can be is innovative. To do things that no-one else has done before. I really don't think you can go out there and shock an audience like you could in the seventies, this audience is pretty wired. They've seen everything media wise and they've experienced everything."
Does this mean that Alice Cooper no longer wants to shock?
"Oh I'd love to shock," announces Alice, most vehemently. "In fact in the new show we're trying to come up with ideas that people want to see. My fan mail says 'You've got to do the guillotine this time', and they're demanding certain things this time. We will do the guillotine this time, and it's almost like it's a whole new audience. And we're gonna be doing songs that we haven't done on stage before. I kinda took a cue from the Rolling Stones. I saw them recently, and their song choice was great. They'd do stuff like '2000 Light Years From Home' and 'Little Red Rooster' and stuff I'd never have expected them to do, so we're doing five or six songs that we haven't played for fifteen years or so, or never played on-stage, and I think that'll be fun for us, and I think the hardcore Alice fans as well. We'll be doing stuff like 'Gutter Cats Vs The Jets' and 'Desperado', and we're still doing 'Eighteen' and 'School's Out' as well."
So how did Alice now view his commercially lean period, that spawned albums like 'Dada', 'Zipper Catches Skin' (great cover concept - think about it, and also the only Alice Cooper album not to chart in this country since 1972), 'Special Forces' and 'Flush The Fashion', that I personally find quite listenable, (but then I am a fan!), but many obviously didn't?
"Well, they were very experimental. They were very selfish albums. I was doing those albums for me. There was a lot of different influences on those albums, the main one being alcohol. I was drinking myself totally into the grave, and I think those albums came out during the disco era, and the only songs that got played off those records were the ballads. What they were basically telling me was 'Disco is good, dance music is in, and since you are not willing to do dance music, we're only going to play the ballads', so for a period of time I became nothing other than a ballad singer. I would do an album with eight or ten rockers, and one ballad and the ballad would be the only thing that got played. I had three of four hit ballads in a row, and people thought I was going soft. I don't really think I had a choice, it was either do the ballads and keep your hand in the game, or just do nothing. I still loved recording."
That period also saw a change in image. The Alice Cooper of 'Trash' is similar to the Alice Cooper of the early seventies, but during the early eighties, our Alice paraded around in some kind of female Japanese garb.
"Oh, I tried lots of things," he says. "I'm not against playing with the Alice image. I don't see why Alice shouldn't go along with this new sex thing as long as the basic Alice thing stays the same. I think that there are certain things that'll always be Alice. During 'Flush The Fashion' I added more keyboards than I would normally add, and less guitar. 'Dada' was just out there, you know. When I think of 'Zipper Catches Skin' and 'Special Forces', those albums were.... well I was just having fun. Of course I was plastered at the time, but I wanted to do 'Seven Plus Seven Is' by Love, and 'Talk Talk' by the Music Machine and a live version of 'Generation Landslide' to make it a little tougher, but I was into two bottles of whiskey a day, and I don't really remember too much about doing those albums. Luckily I straightened out, and now I can remember what I'm doing."
So with Alice Cooper about to hit the UK on his latest tour, what memories did he have of his recent successful tours of Britain, including his headline spot at the Reading Festival in 1987?
"Oh, Reading was great, I loved Reading. I have a special place in my heart for Britain, because Britain has always been the biggest supporter of Alice Cooper. England was big on Alice before the United States, and so when we first came to London, I think that they understood us more than any other place. They understood the underlying put on and stuff. We brought Hollywood to London, and I think they liked that. I think in the same mentality as the British. I may have been the first person in the States with all of 'Fawlty Towers', and no-one over there would understand it, so I've always had really good support from England, even during my worst period. If I had to leave the USA then I wouldn't live anywhere but London, cos I feel at home when I'm there. In some cases I think Alice is more English than American."
And Alice is pretty certain to feel at home when he appears over here in December, touring on the back of his most successful album since 1973's 'Billion Dollar Babies'. The show, as we've said, is set to be a thrilling combination of classic era Cooper, a few surprises for older fans, and a healthy batch of newer, perhaps more accessible Alice Cooper to keep the new fans happy. His open fondness of Britain, which resulted in the release of the 'For Britain Only' single a couple of years ago (released only in this country) has been matched by this country's open fondness for Alice Cooper, and which seems to grow with each new release. To be honest, even though I am a fan, I never really expected to see old Alice nestling at the top of the singles chart, but I am much happier for it. And anyway, it all just lends more credence to the adage that old rockers never die, they just get better with age.