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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Alice Cooper - Love It To Death

This is probably still my favourite Alice Cooper album. I picked up pretty much all of the Alice albums I own in a very short time and, though it's interesting that I haven't actually expanded my Alice Cooper collection since 2004 or so, I still rate the dude and the band as one of the better musical acts to come out of the 70s.

From (originally published 29 August 2004)    

Alice Cooper is one band/artist that I never expected to like, let alone like enough to write a positive review about. I never really could see past that - let’s be quite honest here – ridiculous image that was built up around him/them. It was the kind of image that influenced the likes of Kiss or Marilyn Manson and based on my less than enthusiastic opinions on these bands, I always figured that Alice Cooper would be just as detestable. Alas, as it turned out, I was wrong – very wrong, in fact. Unlike those bands/artists, Alice Cooper has plenty of musical substance behind all the gothic makeup and ridiculously over-the-top “evilness”.

Before I go any further though, I do want to point out that I have liked Coop for a grand total of four days so what I am about to say is based mainly on the few tracks that I downloaded as a means to sample his/their music as well as on the one album that I own – the one that I am currently reviewing. Also, as for why I keep referring to Alice Cooper as both a band and an artist is because, well, Alice Cooper is (or perhaps was) both of them. Alice Cooper started off as a fully functioning band collectively known as Alice Cooper. A few years later though, front man, Vincent Furnier decided to appropriate the name Alice Cooper for himself, even going so far as to change his name and continued releasing new music as Alice Cooper even after the original band broke up in 1975. Anyway, back to the actual review.
end sidenote

As near as I can tell, Alice Cooper at their (I will continue to refer to Coop as a band because that’s what they were at the time of this album’s release) best came up with some of the very best music of the nineteen-seventies. Often ironic, often silly, often emotive but always clever yet accessible lyrics were backed up by some of the most irresistible 70s rock and roll melodies you will ever hear played by a band that were the very definition of “tight” and sung with authentic passion by Vincent Furnier. This was rock and roll at its most exciting but it was also rock and roll at its most accessible.

Managing to find an uncanny balance between likable pop sensibility and no-nonsense, relentless rock and roll aggression, Alice Cooper put out music that could be enjoyed by even the most casual of classic rock and roll fans. Simply put, Alice Cooper at their best produced music so great that it makes the image part of the band an almost rudimentary extra that has no real impact on the enjoyment of the music at all, which in itself puts Alice Cooper light years ahead of their many imitators. Love it to Death is Alice Cooper at their best – and if it’s not, well then I simply can’t wait to see this band’s best is because this here album is simply one of the best 70s rock and roll albums I have ever heard. It may not be their first album – they released two cult albums for Frank Zappa’s record label – but it is the one that brought the band mainstream acceptance. And for good reason: the material on this album is almost uniformly great and the production values are of the highest level thanks to producer Bob Ezrin.

There are for all intents and purposes three kinds of songs to be found on this album. The first of these are the kinds of songs that Alice Cooper has always been best known for – straight out, three-minute long rockers. It would be easy to simply say that all the rockers here represent everything you might want from a rock and roll song: great riffs, awesome performances, hook-filled melodies, clever but straightforward lyrics and of course tons of reckless, youthful energy. As it is though, these songs are different enough that I feel I would be underselling them if I didn’t mention at least some of the unique touches that each song presents. 

Take the most famous song here, I’m Eighteen, which just may be the greatest teenage rock and roll anthem ever recorded. It has one of rock’s most memorable riffs, clever but straightforward lyrics and plenty of hooks but for me it’s the way the pleading, introspective verses are driven home by the way that Furnier sings, nay growls the chorus that elevates the song to the next level. Then there’s the album’s fastest song, Long Way to Go that is notable for its youthful, exuberant energy, plunking piano and some truly odd-sounding drumming that comes in at the end. 

Is It My Body is a great rocker in every way but the thing I remember most about it is the way the guitar perfectly complements Furnier when he sings “As I really aaaaam”. It’s a little detail but it all but makes the song for me. Hallowed Be My Name meanwhile has Furnier singing the main riff, in much the same way as Ozzy Osbourne did on Sabbath’s Iron Man. The last of these rockers, Second Coming starts off as a really pretty ballad before exploding into a mid-paced but thoroughly energetic rocker that turns into a march somewhere along the line. As for the album opener, Caught in a Dream, well it just might have the best riff here so that’s certainly something. 

The second type of song to be found here are two dark epics that clearly take their cue from the Doors but they’re interesting enough not to be seen as merely rip-offs. The first of these Black Juju is actually a bit too long for my tastes – it takes forever to get started – but it is diverse and creepy enough to get a stamp of approval from me. I don’t know if I would ever call this scary but it does have that same sort of unsettling creepiness of the Doors’ epics The End and When the Music’s Over. 

The Ballad of Dwight Fry is much better though. It starts off with a simple but beautiful piano melody played while we hear a girl’s voice ask “Mommy Where’s Daddy…” before some acoustic guitar plucking that reminds me of the Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want and at last the vocals kick in and the song simply moves from strength to strength as it alternates tone and pacing consistently for all of its six-plus minute length. Also listen up for some truly harrowing “I wanna get outta here” screaming over another repetitive but moody piano (or maybe synthesizers?) melody, it’s the albums scariest moment.

 The last type of song here comes in right at the end with the truly strange cover of a folk song, Sun Arise, where the band sing a few lyrics over a simple melody. Somehow though it works magnificently, giving us the album’s most optimistic and joyous song.

So, after listening to this album for what may well be the tenth time in a third as many days, I can honestly declare this album to be a true masterpiece. Aside for the length of Black Juju, I have absolutely no problems with this album. As my favourite reviewer on the web, George Starostin, said at the beginning of his Alice Cooper page, “don’t be afraid of Alice Cooper” and please, please, PLEASE get this album. 

Of course, if this is your first Coop purchase (like me) be prepared to get a burning desire to pick up as many of his/their albums as humanly possible and therefor be many rands, pounds or dollars poorer. If those other albums are even half as good as this one is, that monetary loss will undoubtedly be compensated for by some phenomenal music – and from what I hear Alice Cooper was very even(ly great) right until the mid-eighties! 

South Africans Buy Love It To Death from Take2 (or from this alternate option from their More UK store)

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