What's Up

Originally Published: July 08, 1998

Brutal Planet

Author: Evan Gillespie

Brutal Planet
Alice Cooper

When it comes to shock rock that spurs real controversy, I was born at the wrong time to really take advantage. I was just a tiny child when my teenage uncle scandalized the family by going to the Memorial Coliseum to see Alice Cooper pretend to kill babies on stage. A few decades later, when I went to the same arena to see Marilyn Manson do outrageous stuff on stage, I was already too old to understand what all the fuss was about. Kids in my age group had to settle for Ozzy Osborne, and after one little incident with a bat, the Ozzman went mainstream on us. The result of this lack of a truly subversive role model is the tendency to see all these would-be troublemakers as more than a little cartoonish and silly. Now, just in time to reinforce that opinion, comes a new album from the original monster rocker, Alice Cooper, and reinforce the opinion it surely does.

It's difficult to think of Brutal Planet as "new" in any sense because it sounds so uncomfortably familiar in so many different ways. Cooper's social commentary hasn't changed much in the past few decades, and it seems more than a little out of touch. It's been a long, long time since Cooper was a teenager, and the guy who wrote "Eighteen" and "School's Out" doesn't sound much like an angry young man these days. When, on "Sanctuary," he sings, "I'll probably have a heart attack by the time I'm 40," it's not easy to take the social satire seriously, since Cooper himself successfully passed that milestone long ago.

On the other hand, it's hard not to feel some sympathy for Cooper while listening to Brutal Planet. The album is one long attempt to catch up with the newcomers who've stolen his schitck. The title track and "Wicked Young Man" (along with most of the other songs on the album) sound remarkably like Rob Zombie, minus Zombie's knack for hooks. And while it seems wrong to accuse Cooper of ripping off Marilyn Manson, "Cold Machines" is an embarrassingly obvious copy of "Beautiful People." Cooper even manages to copy himself, such as on "Take It Like a Woman," a song that reiterates the creepy feminism of "Only Women Bleed."

Cooper's basically good-hearted social conscience is intact, if a trifle simple-minded, on Brutal Planet, and he gets points for that. Those who are old enough to remember his heyday might like Copper's new stuff, and younger fans of Rob Zombie-ish comic book rock might appreciate the grandfather of the sub-genre. Me, I just don't get it.