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Originally Published: July 2000
Author: Daniel Oliveire
A legend on the rock scene for over 30 years, Alice Cooper ain't done yet. As he tell Daniel Oliveire, with new album 'Brutal Planet' he aims to prove he still has that essential hunger.
"We're the true dinosaurs," says rock legend Alice Cooper, comparing himself to Steven Tyler, Ozzy Osbourne, Gene Simmons and other rock legends. "And I don't mind being a dinosaur. When people say: 'Alice is a dinosaur.' I go: 'Great!' Dinosaurs were pretty nasty. Dinosaurs were still killing people until the very last day!"
Prehistoric discrepancies aside, Cooper is extremely proud of his longevity in rock 'n' roll. Reclining in a hotel room in Phoenix, Arizona, the 52-year-old singer is ashamed neither of his age nor the wrinkles on his face. Like Aerosmith's Tyler, Osbourne and Kiss' Simmons, he is a survivor of his generation - the generation that introduced hard rock to music lovers all over the world.
"We are in a very strange place," he observes. "We are the first generation in rock stars that have lived 35 years in the business, and we are still hard rock/heavy metal artists. We are the first ones, so it's very odd to me at 52 years old, that I'm still thinking in terms of four-chord rock and making it really loud and powerful. I thought by this age I would say: 'Well, why don't we back off, put more keyboards in or maybe not even be in the business?' It's not me. I still feel the urge to be on stage. I feel the urge to make records. I guess if I gained a lot of weight and lost all my hair, then I would go: 'I don't really think I should do this anymore. I'm not Alice any more.' But I feel great."
Cooper's new album, 'Brutal Planet', proves his point. Mixing the melody of traditional hard rock with the aggression of contemporary metal, it is by far his darkest, heaviest and most powerful record in years. The music departs drastically from the '70s style sound of Cooper's last studio album - 1994's 'The Last Temptation'.
"I really felt like doing a heavy, aggressive album. Maybe it's because I heard a lot of Rage Against The Machine on the radio, Rob Zombie and stuff like that. I like that kind of music. The only thing I think that music is often missing the melody. I think you need to get the power that those guys get and that kind of punch-in-the-mouth music, but I think it needs to pay off.
"My thing is not based on anger. Rage Against The Machine and a lot of those bands are based on just pure anger. I love the sound of that, but I direct it differently. I like to use the aggressiveness in the chord structure and the drums. Man, I love that! I will never get tired of that kind of heavy metal. But I still think it needs to have a melody line."
So can this new musical direction help attract fans of bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit to the Cooper cause?
"It's really not directed toward a young audience," insists Cooper. "It's just the way I am right now. It's just that I really felt a lot of energy on this album, and I didn't wanna back off. We kept writing the songs, and it was like, 'Let's not back off at all. Now that this album is in third gear, let's keep it there.' I think that this is my most aggressive album in years. But I hope it will attract the young audience."
To build this aggressive sound, Cooper recorded 'Brutal Planet' with four guitarists: Bob Marlette (also the album's producer, bassist and keyboardist), Phil X (who has worked with Rob Zombie), China (of upcoming band Sinistar) and Ryan Roxie (a veteran of Cooper's touring band). In addition, he worked with drummer Eric Singer (ex-Kiss/Black Sabbath) and long-time friend Bob Ezrin, who co-wrote and produced classic 1970s Cooper albums like 'School's Out', 'Billion Dollar Babies' and 'Welcome To My Nightmare'.
"I didn't want anything dated," Cooper explains. "I've worked with guitarists like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Slash and all those guys, and they have a sound. I said [to Marlette and Ezrin]: 'I want the next guys' because this album needed to be futuristic. It's a little bit science fiction or maybe social fiction. I said, 'I really don't wanna lean back on the old guitar sounds'. I didn't do that because I was trying to catch a younger audience, I just thought they [the guitarists] had the kind of chops that this album needed. If I had the old kind of guitar solos, it would've taken the album and brought it back. I didn't wanna bring it back. I wanted it to go forward."
Cooper is also going forward with his lyrics. Unlike previous records, 'Brutal Planet' does not have any uplifting or good-humoured messages. The album's concept represents a harsh and pessimistic vision of humanities future.
"When I wrote 'Brutal Planet', I wanted to create a Godless world," the singer reflects. "Let's pretend we're going to a place. Here's a world that God forgot about. Now, who do we have here? We have the vicious young man, the wicked young man [referring to the song 'Wicked Young Man']. He's so bad that all the violent clubs and things won't even take him. It's a brutal planet - it's us in the future."
Instead of criticising the world through generic subjects, Cooper talks about specific situations - telling little stories on each track. For instance, the song 'Pick Up The Bones' describes a horriying event in Kosovo.
"I was watching CNN while we were writing," Cooper explains. "The sound was down, and I'm watching this guy walking through this town in Kosovo. He's got a pillowcase. He's picking up bones, and he's putting them in the pillowcase. I'm going, 'What is this?' I turned up the sound, and there was this guy collecting his family. He picks up the spinal cord with the ribs and says, 'This is my brother'. I went: 'What?' That's true horror. That's more horrific than anything Stephen King can write."
The album's modern lyrical and musical approach suits with people's renewed perception of Cooper. When 'The Last Temptation' came out, the singer was seen as a dated old nostalgic, trying fight a hopeless battle against the wave of grunge, alternative and pop-punk bands. Now with hard rock back in the charts, Cooper has become acceptable and fashionable again. Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson have been acknowledging his influence in interviews. Steve Jones (Sex Pistols), Billy Duffy (The Cult), Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) and other artists played on a recent Alice Cooper tribute album, 'Humanary Stew'. Even Grammy winning director/producer/designer Todd McFarlane - the man behind Korn's 'Freak On A Leash' video and the 'Spawn' comic books - is soon to release an Alice Cooper doll.
Touring wise, the seven-date UK leg of Cooper's 'Live From The Brutal Planet' trek begins on July 11 at the Newport Centre. And Cooper has been working on the stage set with a company who specialise in Hallowe'en shows. Without giving away too many details, the singer promises a big horror spectacle for his fans.
"Yep, we're gonna bring the guillotine back, but it's gonna be a lot different, a lot better," he says. "And that's just one thing! There are probably six or seven new things in the show that are gonna be really cool visually. We finally found somebody that can do what we want. If I say, 'I want my arm to fall off and crawl across the floor', these guys can make that happen. It will be like that - a pure Cooperesque show." Indeed, we would have it no other way.
"I always felt: 'Marilyn, I am your father.' Like Darth Vader did with Luke. I don't even know Marilyn Manson. I think Marilyn Manson was very effective at pushing people's buttons and pissing people off. He even pissed me off a couple of times, whis is really hard to do."
"I love the stage energy. I love what they do on their records. I just hate the politics. Him as a singer? He's fine. For that kind of music, he's great. It's very hard to talk about that kind of music, because it's all based on anger, and he does that very well. I'd like to hear him do some other different emotions."
"Rob is one of my best friends. To me, tech music has pulse and no heart. It's mechanical, and it doesn't have a heart to it. Rob Zombie can take industrial rock and give it a heart, because he injects his sense of humour. He injects all of his psychosis. He is very, very entertaining."
"I've heard so many strange stories about him. I heard he's a Christian. I heard he's some sort of a suburban white kid. It's sort of black and white hip-hop metal. It's an odd combination. He's an odd combination of things. I think he's very good at what he does."
"Every time I see him, he looks different. I like the fact that he changes his image a lot. His adrenaline on stage is great! He's sort of a hybrid of Iggy Pop and Trent Reznor. I'd say that he's one of the most creative guys out there."
Amazingly, for a man who hasn't released a studio album since 1994's ill-fated 'The Last Temptation', Alice's Cooper's standing in the world of rock remains similar to when he reclaimed glorious heights with 1989's 'Trash' and 1991's 'Hey Stoopid'. Yet all we've had are a couple of compilations, while the man suffered the indignity of being dropped by Epic. And the question on everybody's lips: Can he still cut it?
It's ironic, is it not, that Cooper's last bout of chart glory was based around tacky, nay cheesy, glam pop metal like 'Poison' and 'Hey Stoopid', when all true Cooper fans wanted was the menace and depth of, say, 'Welcome To My Nightmare'. But when he finally unleashed it with 'The Last Temptation' no-one was interested. Well, now he's done it again with 'Brutal Planet', and album which contains some of Cooper's finest work for nigh on two decades.
It's the heavier end of Alice Cooper for the most part, with the opening title track, 'Sanctuary' and 'Gimme' all based around dark, intense riffs that suit the old boy's lower vocal register perfectly. Unfortunately for Cooper it does sometimes appear he's trying to hard to be something he's not (there is too much to Alice Cooper for such simplistic metal), he elsewhere it's a different story.
'Take It Like A Woman' bring back memories of 'Only Women Bleed' and could/should be a chart contender. The delightful 'It's The Little Things', with its lyrical nod to his own past, and the catchily effective 'Pessi-Mystic' recall that sinster, unsettling effect prime-time Cooper can have on the listener. With old mate Bob Ezrin overseeing executive production duties, and Bob Marlette getting co-writing credits, 'Brutal Planet' boast of wealth of talent. For the most part it pays off, and it perhaps, his most solid album since 1978's 'From The Inside'. (8)
No strange to concept albums ('Welcome To My Nightmare' and 'The Last Temptation' being two of his best examples in this area), Cooper latest tend to follow suit.
"If I'm going to make somebody thing about something, I want to exaggerate it," says the great man. "To the point where it's so absurd that it can't happen. 'Brutal Planet' gives you a snapshot of this future environment."
Thus, 'Brutal Planet' tend to do exactly what it says on the tin. A harsh, bleak vision from which there is apparently, no hope.
"For me this album should not point to any hope at all," says Cooper. "It should point to the fact that again, we've already fallen off the cliff."