(May 11, 1994)
Originally Published: May 11, 1994
Heavy Metal's original bad guy, Alice Cooper, is about to launch a multi-media album-comic book-video blitz for 'The Last Temptation Of Alice Cooper', his latest, maddest project! And Soundgarden's Chris Cornell is in tow! Chris Smith feels the heat!
One of Rock's original darkmen is back. Having lain low for three years since he toured with his last album, 1991's 'Hey Stoopid', Alice Cooper has returned with his strongest platter in years, 'The Last Temptation Of Alice'.
Featuring many of the same musicians he worked with on 'Hey Stoopid', and its predecessor, 1989's 'Trash', (Stef Burns - guitar, Greg Smith - bass, Derek Shuranina - keyboards, and new drummer - ex-Hooter David Uosikkinen), the LP was produced by some of the biggest names in the biz - Don Fleming, the duo of Don Purdell and Duane Baron (who'll be working on the next Ozzy album), and Andy Wallace (Slayer).
'The Last Temptation...' is like a snapshot of Alice's career to date, with tracks like 'Sideshow', 'Bad Place Alone' and 'Lullaby' harking back to 'Elected' and 'Is It My Body', while others embrace his current more commerical/melodic mode, with a tasty bite of aggro throw in for measure.
"Alice has five or six voices, five or six different styles," begins....er, Alice! "You go back and listen to 20 or 25 albums, and 'Only Women Bleed' is so different from 'Under My Wheels', 'Ballad Of Dwight Fry', 'We're So Crazy', and the other obsure things. So we picked out five or six voices and wrote, like, two songs a piece towards those voices. So we have a high production number like 'Cleansed By Fire', while 'Sideshow', with that clear, Pop voice, reminds me of 'No More Mr.Nice Guy'. 'Under My Wheels' reminds me of 'Lost In America', and songs like 'Bad Place Alone' and 'Nothing's Free' remind me of 'Desperado'. Then you've got 'Stolen Prayer' (co-written with Soundgarden's Chris Cornell), which has a whole new sound to it...almost Johnny Cash!"
Can he be serious? It's a new sound, but...oh, well. One man's Johnny Cash is a new man's Alice Cooper!
Profound musings aside, Alice's enthusiasm at being back on the trail is undeniable. As we speak, he's just completed the third show of a two-week stint DJ-ing for the US national Metal radio station, Z-Rock. Needless to say, the congenial, verbose, trivia-laden and exceptionally sharp Cooper is a natural on the airwave's! Among the topics that came up for discussion was the decline of creative album packaging in the age of the CD.
Alice, of course, will not be presenting his new album with standard cover artwork. Oh, no! In the past, he's thrown in underwear and wallets, and for 'The Last Temptation...' he's chucking in...
"...a Neil 'Sandman' Gaimen written comic," Alice chuckles. "Neil's got a great sense of storytelling, and when we wrote the concept, I had him right there, so he knew what the comic book was going to be".
That's right, kiddies! 'The Last Temptation...' heralds the return of the full-fledged Cooper concept album!
"After we got the concept written, we had to find an opening," Alice explands. "So we thought along the lines of, 'What are kids going to be doing?' They're bored: 'I don't want to go to this. I don't want to do that. I don't want to go to another Rock concert'. They want to do something new, and that sets up the showman saying. 'Well, I've got something right here...but 'Nothing's Free'!
"When you read the comic book, you'll see where it moves from there," closes Alice, not wanting to give too much away.
"The whole thing is built on temptation. 'How volatile is he? How open is he to temptation?' And I think that something we all go through every day is temptation. There are moralities whose lines we cross every day. Do we go past this and become immoral, or do we stay on this side and become what we should be?"
The Coop pauses for breath before continuing, his manner relaxed yet excited. "This is the first full concept I've done since 'Welcome To My Nightmare'. I've always prided myself in doing sort of loose conceptual albums. 'Trash' was loosely conceptual. Even back as far as '71's 'Love It To Death' or 'School's Out', they always had one sound that went through the whole thing. But storywise, the new album is really tight, even tighter than '...Nightmare'. I don't think there's many Rockers who can go ahead and make a full story and put it to music and have it work. That's something I've always thought I was good at, so why not do it?"
How did you work the two songs Chris Cornell wrote ('Stolen Prayer' and 'Unholy War') into the concept?
"When Chris came in with his songs, 'Unholy War' was almost completed and he didn't know what the concept was. I listened to the tape and said 'That's really good, and with just a little surgery, lyrically, I can make that work on this album...because we need something big and tough like this'.
" 'Stolen Prayer' was a series of parts that was kind of scattered around. I heard a song there, but it wasn't arranged. So when Chris and I put it together, we kept just editing it until it was a song. Finally, I said, 'OK. Now it's got a verse, chorus, bridge...' and it ended up being my favourite song on the album!"
What of those who'll see Cornell's involvement as a cynical attempt to cash in on the Seattle cache? Alice jumps in before the final two words have left my mouth:
"I hooked up with Chris before Soundgarden were that big. They were big in Seattle, but I don't think they'd made a national impact yet; they were bubbling under. And, as far as I was concerned, the Seattle sound - sort of slackers' anthems - wasn't that new. 'I'm Eighteen' (off 'Love It To Death') was a slackers' anthem.
"I like the Seattle bands," Cooper continues. "I liked Nirvana a lot, because they made great records and wrote great songs - it wasn't just jamming. Some bands forget the art of writing songs. They think, 'We'll do this guitar solo and get the drums going and it'll sound great', but they forget to actually write a song and it becomes indistinguishable as to who's who."
That is not a problem Alice has to grapple with. But Rock 'n' Roll's other major pitfalls - not least chronic substance abuse - are more familiar ground for Cooper. What has enabled hime to survive while generations of others - from Jim Morrison to Kurt Cobain - have died?
"I think as long as you have something to contribute, you'll always be around and Alice always tries to contribute something," Alice answers, still talking about himself in the third person! "I would be embarrased to release as album that repeated what I'd done before.
"I felt that this (new) album had underlying messages. I usually stay away from messages, but this time I want to tell people something."
'Nothing's Free' is a fairly stark exploration of the depth of one plumb....
"Yeah," agrees Alice, "and the end of 'Cleansed Fire' is written an awful lot about what I believe. But you have to set it up so the problem can be recognised. I brought it up through the kid being in a place he shouldn't be, and now he's got to stand up for what he believes - against all this bombardment. If you go out into the world, you'll find that kid everywhere, and he's been bombarded by everything."
But how do some people survive this bombardment, when others fail?
"Some people don't have a background to fall back on. They don't have family. I was lucky to have a family all my life. I had a mom and a dad. I had grandparents, I had uncles," Alice says sincerely. "When a kid doesn't know who his dad is, doesn't know who his new dad's gonna be, he's gonna go out in gangs. He's gonna go to people who are always going to send him in the wrong direction. If you're going to be a kid on the streets, you've got to be strong, not just physically, but spiritually, morally...just to survive. If you can't resist temptations, you're going to die out there."
In this context, 'out there' includes the life of the Rock 'n' Roll musicians. "Fame and money, things like that," confirms Alice. "Luckily, we did it over a long period of time and got used to making a little at a time, till finally we had a lot. Some bands put themselves together, then they're on a label, then they're filming a video, then they're on tour - within five months - and they just don't know how to handle it. If they get a hit, they get money, which is going to support every bad idea they ever had.
"This has a lot to do with what happened to Nirvana and Kurt Cobain. For him, it was too mich too soon."
Alice Cooper has been through his dark ages. He's danced with the demons so close he could feel their spit on his eye. And he's still here, saving his ritual self-sacrifice for the stage. There isn't a tour lined up yet, but there will be. Stronger than ever, with a story to tell, Alice is back.
Alice has just completed a video for 'Lost In America', the first single to be taken off the new album. And, hey!, it's not not a psychopath's nightmare but really rather nice! Alice elaborates....
"It's funny, because I've found it to be - as far as the other videos go - very straight ahead Rock 'n' Roll. There weren't a lot of setups involved in it. It was basically the band playing over the song.
"It's the first real straight Rocker I've done in a long time - like 'Under My Wheels' or 'Elected' - so I really thought that the video ought to be very straightfroward as well. There are not a lot of gimmicks going on. I tried to aim it towards a kind of Stooges feel. The guitar and riffs and everything are so bare-boned, that you just have to listen to the lyrics!"