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Originally Published: June 1994
The title of Alice Cooper's new album, 'The Last Temptation', is an apt one on this particular occasion. Video shoots are invariably tedious events to attend, and the growing temptation is to do a runner from the soundstage where Alice is shooting the video for 'Lost In America', the track that is to mark Alice's re-emergence after almost three years out of the spotlight.
Having taken the opportunity to arrive at the early hour of 10 am in the hope of beating the press posse to the draw and getting out early, having initially defer to the video crew is the start of what stretches out into a long and increasingly frustrating wait. It's a full 13 hours later - long after the last of the many temptations to leg it and escape from the tedium has been resisted - that we get together and sink into our respective chairs. Alice exhausted after a long day of performing and yours truly suffering from brain-numbing boredom. (During an earlier break in shooting, Alice had joked that, "Maybe by the end of the day I'll actually know this song." After countless playbacks, everyone else at the shoot certainly knew it!)
Alice is totally drained by his first day of rock'n'rolling - studio work apart - in almost three years. But, as he conceded from the depths of a comfortable leather armchair, it has actually been a great day in comparison to many previous experiences.
"Videos are just like albums," he explains, still winding down from the physical and mental demands of performing for the camera. "And so often people waste time trying to make things perfect, and end up losing the feel of the song. Usually on a video, your first three or four takes are the best ones, before the energy begins to flag. And this director was great, because he got what he wanted and then moved on - bang, bang, bang.
"It's just the same as in the studio. When I had Slash come in for 'Hey Stoopid', I asked him for a quick run-through that would give me an idea of the solo he had planned. And the first time he played it was dead solid - it was exactly right. I told him how impressed I was and he goes, 'Oh, I was just noodling around,' and insisted on doing about 20 more takes. They were all very good, but the first one had all the raw energy, and that's the one I think we ended up using.
"Rock 'n' roll needs to be spontaneous - records and videos both. And I do enjoy videos. When they began to become important I was overjoyed, because artists were going to be forced to become theatrical. Whatever they had thought before, they were going to have to acknowledge that rock'n'roll is showbiz, and start paying much more attention to visuals and image."
The theatrical aspect of rock'n'roll is an essential part of Alice Cooper, of course, and he's not so much a musician as an actor who makes music. Watching him on a video set (for hours and hours!) is quite revealing: With most performers, it's like flicking a light switch at the end of a take; but Alice gradually eases himself out of character before he's ready to listen to the director and prepare for the next run-through.
"When you're heavily into what you're trying to say with a lyric," he explains, "it's very hard to just turn it off. If the lyrics are any good at all then it has you emotionally involved. For a long time the lyrics just didn't matter in rock'n'roll, they were just more sounds to go with the guitar and the bass and the drums. Nowadays I think they're much more fundamental, and it made this song ('Lost In America') so bare-bones Stooges that you just have to listen to the lyrics - they are the sole feature of the song, with nothing to get in their way."
The song is a pretty effective stab at the de-evolution of American society, where in theory everything you could possibly dream of is there for the taking, but the reality is painfully different: Some guy might feel that he hasn't got a grilfriend because he hasn't got a car; he hasn't got a car because he hasn't got a job; he hasn't got a job because he hasn't got an education...
"He hasn't got a father because his parents spilt up," Alice continues, picking up the thread, "he's just got some guy that his mother is trying to pass off to be his dad. So who's he going to listen to? That's the trouble today - kids 'families' today are the gangs, because their real family is broken down and the gang members look after each other much better. So where should the kids' loyalties lie?
"But when you narrow it all down - and I know this will sound odd to you because it's Alice Cooper saying it - I think the problem is that we've put ourselves on the throne, we've made man into God, and because we're such slaves to our lust we do a really poor job of being God. We'll give up anything for that girl, that drug, that money, and as far as I see it we need to take ourselves off the throne and put God back on it. Just look at the moral decay around us. Life has become so cheap - someone goes to steal a car, the guy gives it up, and they kill him anyway. There's a real lack of moral fibre today, and that's because we've replaced God with ourselves and we're doing a really poor job. It scares me.
"And as for organised religion here, TV evangelists are probably the worst enemy of true Christianity. Because I know real Christians, and they (TV evangelists) are not real Christians. Satan is using them to discredit Christianity, and yet all those dumb people continue to support them even after the scandals that expose them! Duh?!"
Yes, the fertile mind of Alice Cooper has, as ever, been an active observer of American life. Whatever else he has done, Alice has always had something to say if you cared to read between the gory lines. Recently, that tendency towards depth was something subverted by Epic Records' attempt to turn him back into a pop star. But at the risk of sounding predictable, it has to be said that 'The Last Temptation' has Alice back at his peak. His first fully-fledged concept album since 'Welcome To My Nightmare', it's blessed with better songs and tougher, more convincing performances than we've heard from Alice for quite some time, and is overall his finest record in years.
Alice himself is particularly pleased with the well-conceived storyline: "The Showman appears in a Mid-western town and invites all the kids into his theatre," he explains. "And they're too scared - it's too weird and spooky looking. But one kid finally takes the dare. And he doesn't have to pay to get in, and the Showman shows him all these wonderful things. But as the song (from the album) says, 'Nothing's Free' - somewhere in the fine print there's a price to pay.
"And all these acts come on, which are represented by the songs on the record - like 'Lost In America' is Johnny Blunder, who's a kind of Butt-Head character - and this kid begins to realise that all these characters are actually dead, they're zombies. The Showman seems to have some very tempting things to offer, but what he's actually selling is death. After all, 'Nothing's Free'...
"He leaves the theatre and begins to realise that what's going on is wrong, and decides to do battle - 'Unholy War'. And he has this dream of redemption, which basically says that however badly you lead you life on Earth you will always be taken back if you repent - the possibility of salvation is always there and there is a way out. So he goes back to the theatre and burns it down in 'Cleansed By Fire'.
"But at the very end he's cleaning his teeth and looking into the mirror, and the face is there looking over his shoulder - no matter what you try to do and defeat it, temptation will always be there."
The album will be accompanied by three comic books depicting the storyline in pictures. And although this idea is something that has been occasionally touched on in CD booklets before, Alice is possibly the first to use the idea in order to tell a story of his own creation rather than simply depicting himself, as has been done recently by the likes of Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne. What's more, Alice went to the very top in selecting his comic book collaborator, choosing Neil Gaiman, of Sandman fame, who also helped by filling in the gaps in the storylines before the songs were written around them.
Mercifully, some might say, the songs themselves no longer bear the mark of Desmond Child and similar corrupters of the Alice legend. Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw may not be immediately credible in the minds of many metalheads, but if they're good enough for Aerosmith then who can complain; and a pair of songs ('Unholy War' and 'Stolen Prayer') shared by Alice and Chris Cornell are certainly noteworthy.
"With Jack and Tommy it was 'You're My Temptation' and 'It's Me'. After all the solid rock, 'It's Me' was something that I really wanted to tear your heart out with, and they were the perfect guys for that. It's a great ballad, and something that really touches you. After all that the hero goes through, you see that there's still hope."
So how does Alice respond to the suggestion that 'The Last Temptation' is his best record in years? Some artists get very defensive about the implication that previous records may have been a little lacking; Alice is simply happy to accept the praise for his latest release - and is getting used to it, too.
"It makes me really glad. I've been getting that reaction from everyone. 'Trash' and 'Hey Stoopid' were commercial successes, but this is a much better record. There was a real inspiration to write this record. I don't know where it came from, but I knew I that I just couldn't write another album of pointless rock'n'roll songs for teenagers making out in the back of a car.
"Let's face it, Alice Cooper can't speak for a 15-year-old grunge kid. He can observe though, and offer his thought. Guys like Steve Tyler and Ozzy and myself are out of touch with those kids. Violence has become much more acceptable, and everyone's getting very dour and nihilistic.
"I wish all the Seattle bands would get together and have a party, go to Disneyland or something - we already know life sucks, do something to entertain us! But they think it's so cool to be grim; and now we've got Kurt Cobain, spokesman for a generation, blowing his head off! What kind of message does that send? He had everything in the world to look forward to, he had a wife and baby, and he blows himself away. Obviously he had a lot of problems, but hopefully if his death does achieve anything it will be to open people's eyes.
"I feel so sorry for his family and his band; there were so many people who loved him or depended on him. Sucide is so selfish. And they were a great band, he was an excellent songwriter. There were a lot of people who believed in his music, and what are they to do now?"
As it happens, 'The Last Temptation' is not the only Alice Cooper record we can look forward to this year. Unfortunately, the interview is cut short by the approach of midnight; but luckily the man who can provide a few details on a forthcoming retrospective is here - Alice's long-time assisstant, Brian Nelson.
"I don't know what's going on," laughs Alice. "I told him (Brian) to surprise me. He's been collecting tapes for 20 years. And I'll be just like one of the fans, keen to check it out. He's more of a scholar of my material than I am."
"It's been delayed to September," notes Brian, "because Warner Brothers have upped it from three CDs to four. It'll be totally comprehensive, right back to the Spiders, in Phoenix, in 1967; there'll be at least one track from every album, plus out-takes, rehearsal tapes, demos and live stuff. It'll be absolutely comprehensive, and the booklet should be amazing too. I've got picture that go back to high school."
Not so long ago there was also a compilation of alternatice-flavoured covers of Cooper songs on Triple X Records, called 'Welcome To Our Nioghtmare', which Alice also accepted as a fan and throughly enjoyed.
"I love to hear new versions, how people have interpreted my music. I enjoyed it a lot. I like to do the same with other people's music; Yardbirds or the Pretty Things of Them..."
"In fact," Brian interjects, "we've got some of that stuff on rehearsal tapes which might make it onto the boxed set - there's a very cool version of the Yardbirds' 'For Your Love', something which otherwise would never be heard."
The most unceratin aspect of 1994 for Alice Cooper is if and when he'll tour with the new record. Things have changed a great deal over the last couple of years, and having admitted already that he's perhaps out of touch with young record-buyers - and hence concert-goers - of today, Alice is quite prepared to stand on the sidelines and see how things develop before commiting himself to the huge expense of a touring schedule which might prove to be unrealistic.
"Right now, I haven't planned that far ahead," he admits. "We're doing a full promotional tour, then there's the record and the three comics. We haven't toured since Operation Rock And Roll, and I think things are different out there now. My inclination right now is perhaps to put this record into a theatre and really produce it - lots of special effects, turn it into a real event that you physically can't put together when you're setting up in a new town every day. That would be a new way to present a show and make it exciting."
(Warner Bros, 1972)
"Telephone is ringing..."
The first of two albums released in 1972 (the other being the more well known 'School's Out'), 'Killer' was Alice Cooper's fourth outing as a band (rather than the individual) and followed on the tails of 'Love It To Death', another slice of debauched, grinding rock'n'roll that would later prove the blueprint for gutter rockers everywhere (who mentioned Faster Pussycat?!).
Kicking off with then show opener 'Under My Wheels', a taut rocker live, yet perhaps a little more sedate here, much of 'Killer' lays out the Cooper ideas of sinister lyrics combined with evocative rhythms. A far cry from the then forthcoming glam movement in which Cooper (the individual) would wrongly be grouped - the sordid sentiment of 'Be My Lover' and the title-track pay testament to that, whilst 'Dead Babies' indicates a black humoured sickness found in the man's work to this day.
Although 'Love It To Death' (1971) is often said to be the first true Cooper album, 'Killer' ( a top 30 hit in both the US and UK) hints far better at the horror that was to come.
Billion Dollar Babies
(Warner Bros, 1973)
"Hello! Hurray! Let the show begin..."
The previous year's 'School's Out' may have offered the big smash with its title-track, but 'Billion Dollar Babies' is a real hit fest, boasting no less than four smash singles in the title-track, the excellent 'Elected', 'Hello Hurray', and the sinister call of 'No More Mr. Nice Guy' (covered by Megadeth a few years back).
Immediately hitting the top on both sides of the atlantic, this is Alice Cooper at their commercial best, and yet the sting on 'Billion Dollar Babies''s tail is undoubtedly the obvious 'Sick Things' and the closing fleshcrawl of 'I Love The Dead' - surely the true flavour of Cooper.
This was Alice Cooper's last outing as a band. From hereon in it was Vincent Furnier going it alone as the titular character, although never quite achieving the same level of worldwide success.
Welcome To My Nightmare
"Welcome to my nightmare, I think you're gonna like it..."
And like it we most certainly did. The year was 1975. Alice Cooper has reunited with producer Bob Ezrin, ready to unleash Cooper's monster, although this only saw the light of day on the little known Anchor label - even though 'Muscle Of Love' and 'Alice Cooper Goes To Hell', albums between which this was sandwiched, were released on Warner Bros.
Whatever, it is Cooper's only true concept album (till this year's 'The Last Temptation'), and what an album! Rightly regarded by Cooper-ites as his finest ever work, this breezes in on the sinister title track, explodes with the dark delights of 'Devil's Food and 'Black Widow' (complete with the added touch of Vincent Price in cameo role as an arachnid-obsesses museum curator).
Elsewhere, 'Cold Ethyl' is a highly disturbing tale of necropilic love, 'Years Ago' is as haunting today as it ever was, and 'Steven' even touches on full blown rock operatics. As for the big hit, 'Only Women Bleed', well, we here at the office thought best not to talk about its subject matter!
Cooper may have hit the big time once more with 'Trash' and 'Hey Stoopid', but Alice fans know that 'Welcome To My Nightmare' is what he was really all about.
"Mr. Gaiman is one of those adventurous creators who sees no reason why his tales shouldn't embrace slapstick comedy, mystic musings, and the grimmest collection of serial killers this side of Death Row. He makes this combination work because he has a comprhensive knowledge of the medium, and knows where its strengths lie...For the time you spend in theses pages, Mr. Gaiman is the Sandman. And look! He just brought you a dream." - Clive Barker
Neil Gaiman's Sandman tales have been thrilling comic fans since their first DC Comics appearance in 1988, and as revered US comic man F. Paul Wilson notes in the introduction to The Sandman Preludes & Nocturnes (a collection of eight Sandman tales), Gaiman is another "Brit" who has helped drag comic culture away from the stereotypical images of the '70s (all swarthy heroes and buxton ladies - in tights!) to the far more sinister and occultist tones of The Sandman.
Sandman is Death's younger brother, Dream, and Gaiman's tales traverse the whole spectrum of fear, horror, dark humour and modern culture (both Dream and his siter decked out as goths!) as Barker intimates in his introduction.
Gaiman is not a talent to be taken lightly, and it is to him that Alice Cooper has truned to flesh out the story of his own 'The Last Temptation' concept. One trusts Gaiman will add his own dark touch to Cooper's return to form, making the three comic books accompanying the forthcoming album worthwhile ventures in themselves.
A third volume of Gaiman's Sandman tales is currently available from all interesting bookshops.
1975 - Alice Cooper falls from the stage in Vancouver, Canada, and breaks six ribs.
Lost In America
GOOD. Hopefully a long bloody way away from any recording studios too.
The Last Temptation
Tracklisting: 'Sideshow'/'Nothing's Free'/'Lost In America'/'Bad Place Alone'/'You're My Temptation'/'Stolen Prayer'/'Unholy War'/'Lullaby'/'It's Me'/'Cleansed By Fire'
Producers: Dom Fleming, Andy Wallace and Duane Baron & John Purdell
IT was around the time of his last 'Hey Stoopid' effort that somebody suggested Alice should really be seeking out dangerous drinking partners as opposed to friendly golfing partners, such was the safe commerciality of both that album and the preceding 'Trash'. So, seeking recompense for his sins, our favourite vaudeville hero has linked up with a team of people capable of producing an opus more befitting of the current climate (the wise old git).
Not only do various producers list Sonic Youth, Faith No More, Nirvana and Rage Against The Machine amongst their credits, but Soundgarden's Chris Cornell collaborates and appears on two songs. The result is probably a more sincere Alice, but most definately a better record than the last two efforts.
Dispensing with crass hooks, contrived melodies or harmony-embellished tunes, 'The Last Temptation' is an album that captures Alice taking a more stripped-down, back-to-basics approach - musically, at least. It leaves him sounding darker and meaner than he has done for some time, aided by a concept (see the man's interview this ish for further explaination) which allows Cooper to explore various corners of his imagination.
The obvious example of the more simplistic musical philosophy is the first single, 'Lost In America', which has Alice declaring, 'I can't get a job coz I can't get a car/So I'm looking for a girl with a job and a car'. You can't get more basic than that. But there's more: 'I can't go to school 'coz I ain't got a gun/I ain't got a gun 'coz I ain't got a job/I ain't got a job 'coz I can't go to school/So I'm looking for a girl with a gun and a job (and a house - with cable)', suggesting that, while Alice can make valid statements, he can also have a laugh at the same time.
But don't think there aren't worthwhile tunes as well, cos 'Sideshow' and 'Bad Place Alone' don't hang around too long before making their impact felt. 'You're My Temptation' confirms the heavier drive of the album, while Cornell-conspired 'Stolen Prayer' and 'Unholy War' serve to add substance to the whole affair, something which 'Hey Stoopid' and 'Trash' were so obviously missing. 'It's Me', however, with its autobiographical feel, could almost have been lifted from Alice's 'From The Inside' outing in the late '70s.
For all the album's plus points, the modern-day Alice is always gonna suffer just a tad from sounding like the solo artist he is, as opposed to enjoying the group sound with which he peaked creatively in the early '70s. A fucking ugly bunch of bozos who drank far too much and never changed their underpants (despite dropping 'em for the girlies on a daily basis), Alice's early sidekicks carried a certain menace that today's cohorts are never going to emulate.
Still, the old codger's back with a more realistic soundtrack, despite the fantasy over which the music is draped. Indeed, it's easy to forget that this is the work of a 46-year-old man who really should know better. But for the moment, let's thank Christ he doesn't.****
"Alice has five or six voices, five or six different styles" - ALICE COOPER reveals exactly why some of those early '80s albums didn't sell that well .