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Originally Published: July 1991
Author: Jerry Ewing
It's only lately that I realised that Alice Cooper has been rumbling away in the background for as long as I've been listening to rock music. Uncertain childhood recollections like flashbacks to some grisly nightmare dip in and out of memory: Alice in the Seventies, gore splattered and grinning, boa draped around his skinny shoulders, outraging politicians and the self-appointed guardians of public morality. And the laughable memory of a school friend reprimanded by his teacher for wearing an Alice badge on the lapel of his blazer!
Then later, the distinctive racket of 'Elected' and 'School's Out' blasting from the jukebox of the local bikers pub. And a battered copy of the 'Killers' album which I borrowed from a mate and never returned. The album which prompted me to catch up with the man on his 1982 'Special Forces' tour.
'Special Forces' was the album which saw Alice Cooper finally starting to emerge from the creative wasteland he'd been occupying since the late Seventies. The tour, including the show I caught at Wembley Arena, found the high priest of darkness tottering around looking to all intends and purposes like a Japanese geisha in the throws of some particularly virulent acid trip. Quite horrific and quite memorable!
And with the subsequent 'Raise Your Fist And Yell' and 'Constrictor' albums Alice clawed his way into the spotlight and begun to regain some of his former glory. With the release of 1989's 'Trash', Alice was a man reborn, and songwriter/producer Desmond Child, the Dr. Frankenstein responsible for breathing life into the corpse!
'Trash' found Alice heading into the domain of commercial Rock occupied by the likes of Kiss and Bon Jovi. Hardened aficionados may have panicked when the decidedly lightweight strains of 'House Of Fire' and 'Bed Of Nails' glided across the airwaves. But 'Trash' went platinum, selling over 200,000 copies in the UK alone. Alice was very much back in business.
Released by Epic on June 17th, 'Hey Stoopid' is Alice Cooper's latest album. Having enrolled an incredible all-star cast of guests including most of Guns 'N Roses, Motley Crue, and Skid Row's Sebastian Bach, and the production talents of Peter Collins, 'Hey Stoopid' see a return to the Alice of old. Commercially astute yet a good deal harder than 'Trash'.
"You've got to excuse me, I have a touch of laryngitis', coughs Alice down the transatlantic phone link. "I had five interviews yesterday, four from Finland and one from Germany ... All before nine o'clock in the morning", he rasps.
The title track of 'Hey Stoopid', now released as a single, finds Alice tacking some more serious social issues within the framework of a good time hard rock song.
"I wanted to write another anthem", reveals Alice. "I haven't written an anthem for a while and I wanted something that sounded really positive for the nineties. Something that could be a real sing-a-long..... everybody wants to sing 'Hey Stoopid', everyone that's heard it says 'I've got to play that to my boss or girlfriend!' the idea came from the fact that I get so much mail from thirteen or fourteen year old kids telling me stuff like "my dad's a crack dealer and my mom's an alcoholic, I think I'm gonna kill myself!". And every tenth letter I get is like that. For once even Alice was shocked! I couldn't believe there was that much rampant suicide. And I cannot believe that Rock'n'roll is to blame for all that. 'Hey Stoopid' is an anthemic kind of song saying "hey, don't give in to this, don't kill yourself!"."
Which of the special guests were involved with this song?
"Slash played guitar and I thought is was poetic justice to have Ozzy Osbourne singing on it with me", he explains with a dry chuckle. "I couldn't get hold of Rob Halford which I thought would have been a nice touch in the light of what Priest went through. There's just no way anybody writes a song that makes a kid commit suicide. Every time a kid kills himself they're trying to see what records he listens to, instead of what's happening to him at home!"
Strong sentiments indeed and made all the more poignant by the involvement of some of US rock's most notorious Bad Boys. Try this for an impressive role call - Nikki Six, Mick Mars, Sebastian Bach, Axl Rose, Slash...
"Well you know I used to be very protective about Alice Cooper albums", he confesses. "When I was doing 'School's Out' and 'Billion Dollar Babies' I never would have considered putting another rocker on the record! I always thought Alice had to be so exclusive that he had to be on his own all the way. But I've lost that now. Maybe I'm a little more secure musically than I was before. So that's why, on the last album 'Trash', I brought people in that I hadn't worked with before like Desmond Child and Aerosmith."
"With the new record it was all written and I thought 'hey, let's colour it a little'. So I called up Joe Satriani and Steve Vai for one song. I called up Slash for the real dirty guitar on 'Hey Stoopid'. It was as simple as that!"
How did you find writing with people like Mick Mars and Nikki Sixx?
Alice pauses. "It was odd because they're all garage bands!" he declares. "There's really no mystery about these people, they don't sit around in a big mansion and write songs. They sit in a small studio with a guitar, and amp and a piece of paper. And when I went to work with Nikki and Mick sure enough, we all ended up in a small studio with a guitar, an amp and a piece of paper!"
"You know, maybe I'm naive about this but I think rock'n'roll is a very fraternal thing. When you're on tour you see other bands coming through the airport and you know they've been through the same things as you and you gravitate towards them. It's the same with writers. There aren't many people I'd be afraid to call. It's kind of a social thing with me, I meet someone new and it's like 'hey, let's write a song'.
Do you think that some of the names on the record might attract an audience that wouldn't have listened to Alice Cooper before?
"Hmmm, maybe", he ponders. "If people get into 'Hey Stoopid' because of Sebastian or Axl then that's great. Any new exposure is good! We actually had about fifty songs written for this record, and there's about three songs I wrote with the guys from Skid Row that didn't even make it onto the album. Those tracks will end up as B-sides, so people will be able to hear them. Something I learnt from 'Trash' was that you don't have to spend a year in the studio. We wrote these songs and then we went in and recorded them, it was just that spontaneous."
Judging by the material I've heard, 'Hey Stoopid' is a lot closer to the old Alice style than 'Trash' was. In fact one track on the three song sampler in my possession, namely 'Wind Up Toy', could almost have been an outtake from the 'Welcome To My Nightmare' sessions.
'Wind Up Toy' is very, you know.... 'Stephen' from the 'Nightmare' album", he agrees. "Originally that song was a lot more commercial..... too commercial. And I just said to the guys 'hey let's take this and do it the way Alice would do it'. So I did major surgery on the lyrics and it kind of ended off as a piece of candy for all the old hardcore Alice fans".
In retrospect do you think that 'Trash' was too soft, too commercial?
"Yes I do", he admits with a sigh. "Desmond Child is a very talented guy. I wanted to work with him because all my favourite songs at the time were written by Desmond. But in the studio, Desmond Child is a very overpowering force, and you don't realise that until you sit down and really listen to the record. There was too much Desmond on 'Trash' and not enough Alice. Although I do think that the biggest hit single, 'Poison', was a real Alice song. Whereas 'Bed Of Nails' and 'House Of Fire' were a bit too Desmond. I've worked with Desmond again on the new album but not to such an extent. The new material is a lot heavier without losing that radio appeal".
Peter Collins was a serious choice of producer, having recently worked with Saraya, and notably, Rush and Queensryche.
"Peter will never be the same again after working with Alice", he chuckles malevolently. "He started out as this nice polite little guy and he ended up completely out there! But seriously, I needed a sonic producer. When I worked with Bob Ezrin and all the others I always wanted a songmaster, somebody who could tell me what worked and what didn't. Peter can do all that. He knew just how I wanted the drums and the guitars to sound. I would work with this guy on every album, believe me he's terrific."
Moving away from the album itself, no Alice project would be complete without some serious visual accompaniment. What exactly does Alice have in the pipeline this time?
"Well, we started the video shoot for 'Hey Stoopid' today. I don't want to give too much away though", he announces coyly. "Let's just say this. It's about a couple of kids who take an horrific ride into Alice land. It'll take four days in the shooting and there's a lot of real technical stuff, special effects and so on".
And I'm sure we can rely on Alice to provide the customary blood and guts on the forthcoming tour?
"Of course! We're starting rehearsals in a couple of weeks time, before going out on a tour of open air venues with Judas Priest, Motorhead, Dangerous Toys and Metal Church. We have one thing, a finale which is real spectacular", he hesitates again, laughing wickedly. "We've had people building this.... er..... thing for about a month now". More laughter. "I'm not going to say any more than that!"
I gather the Alice circus will be rolling into Europe in November and December this year?
"It's always a pleasure to go there. England really is my second home. Europe's been very good to Alice, I can't wait to see you people again".
Do you think there'd be an outcry amongst the public if you didn't provide the full show?
"I would hope so", he replies, "but I think there's a lot more straight ahead rock'n'roll on this tour than there was on 'Trash'. We had all that but straight ahead rock'n'roll in the hands of Alice Cooper becomes theatrical. It's just not normal, and that's what I pride myself on. Hell, I just can't do a normal show and I'm happy that
Talking about the whole subject of what is and isn't acceptable for Alice Cooper, have you ever felt trapped or even a little frustrated within this character. Has Vincent Furnier ever wanted to leave Alice behind for a little while and do something completely different?
"I'm a closet fan of lots of different types of music", he replies. "And there are times when I hear something and think 'I wish I could do something like that', especially with great soundtrack music. And once in a while I'll hear a ballad that really knocks me out, but I know Alice could never do that type of thing. I've written some killer ballads which I just know would be hits and I've had to give them away to others, because I don't want Alice to become known for ballads again. That happened to me before in the seventies during that horrible disco plague. The only songs I could get played on the radio were ballads."
"It's real difficult to get decent rock'n'roll on the radio. But this summer could change all that. We've got albums from Alice, Skid Row, Guns 'N Roses, Van Halen all coming out at the same time and I sure hope that swings the radio a little bit!"
Out of that list of acts, Alice has been around the longest. And when you look at the guests that crop up on 'Hey Stoopid' you realise that with the exception of Ozzy and Mick Mars (although he'd probably tell you otherwise!) most of these guys were running around in short pants and nappies (or diapers for our American readers!) when Alice was first polluting the minds of our impressionable youth.
It rather puts things into perspective doesn't it? And when you consider Alice's role in the hard rock world today you can't help but see the guy as some kind of godfather to today's younger groups.
"I guess that's true, but I don't really dwell on it", he replies. "I look at bands today and believe me I know where they're coming from. I love Jane's Addiction, they're right out on the edge, and from what I understand about their reputation I wouldn't want to cross a border with those guys. It's the same with Guns 'N Roses."
"I look back at the last twenty years and it all started with The Stones, then Alice, The Sex Pistols and now Guns 'N Roses, Motley Crue and Skid Row. Everybody has to take the baton of the bad boys! I don't know who the next one will be, I guess Guns have it at the moment."
"Like I said earlier it's a fraternal thing. I understand, I've been there. The most important thing though is to stay in touch and keep aware of what's happening in the rock world. I went through a long period towards the end of the seventies when Alice was not functioning properly. That's all changed now, I guess some of the pressure's off. I feel really good, I'm happier now than I have been for a long time. It's nice to be able to relax, get in a few friends and make an album like 'Hey Stoopid' and to know it'll appeal to Alice fans. I guess I've moved with the times without selling out or going really mainstream. 'Hey Stoopid' will prove that."
Indeed, if the new record is anything to go by then Alice will be heading into his third decade as a performer with the kind of confidence and power that marked his debut in the seventies. He's come a long way since his days as the young apprentice snapping at Frank Zappa's heels, and the gothic superstar of the seventies, caught up in the heady excesses of that decade.
Alice is back on form. And just when you thought it was safe to go back into the record shop.
Author: Jerry Ewing
(Epic Advance Tape)
After the at times insipid and comercial 'Trash', it is with much glee that I find old Alice re-taking his throne as King of Splatter-rock. Yes, that's right folks, old make-up arond the eyes is back with what sounds like his strongest album since the heady days of 'Goes To Hell' and 'Welcome To My Nightmare'.
There's still the odd Child-inspired melody line and chant-a-long chorus, but 'Hey Stoopid' rocks like a motherfucka!
The title tracks an anthem in the same way 'School's Out' or 'Elected' were, and should be heralded as such by Alice's new generation of fans. 'Snakebite' belts it out like there's no tomorrow and 'Frankenstein' kicks off acapella before roaring into a bastard of a riff. It's all so good to hear.
'Love's a Loaded Gun' blends latter day Desmond Child inspired Alice with the man who wanted us all to go to hell with him! 'Little By Little' also hints at the kind of thing that appeared on 'Trash' but there was nothing this heavy on that album!
'Hurricane Years' rips off the 'Teenage Frankenstein' riff but is still a powerful track in it's own right, whilst the balladic charm of 'Burning Our Beds' is a strong piece of musicianship.
But the piece-de-resistance of 'Hey Stoopid' are the sleaze ridden classic 'Dirty Dreams' and the nightmarish 'Wind-Up Toy' that brings the album to a close.
The former pure leering filth, the latter is a real 'Welcome To My Nightmare' classic reviving the memory or dear old 'Stephen'. A haunting carousel ride that's the best thing I've heard Alice come up with for years.
'Hey Stoopid' is the album that sees Alice acknowledging his past,whilst retaining a few (but not many) elements of commercialism to keep him in the charts.
The nightmare has started again!