Look who is back! It’s the man behind the mask! Not only is Alice Cooper back with his first album in six years, but I am also getting back in the saddle after a break from reviews of over a year. Alice’s new “Paranormal” album seemed a fitting excuse to take the plunge and start writing once again. It also doesn’t hurt that I will see Alice perform at the Wacken festival next week.
I have been an Alice Cooper fan for a long time. My appreciation for his music spans four decades (and his career spans six decades!), but I have to admit that the last time I sank my teeth into one of his albums was “Hey Stoopid” way back in 1991. Sure, I gave cursory listens to “The Last Temptation,” “Brutal Planet” and “Dragontown” but to be honest, I spend most of my Cooper time hanging out in his 70s glory days and late 80s “metal” albums.
On our last METALHEADS Podcast, I brought up the observation that over the years Alice Cooper has probably evolved (successfully) more than anyone else in the hard rock/metal scene. To loosely describe my take on Alice’s career I would say he started out in the late 60s as kind of a hippy-dippy rocker, and then with “Love it to Death” he evolved into a hard rock star. When Alice went solo with “Welcome to My Nightmare” I think he went a little more theatrical and with a slightly different sound. Then in the late 70s/early 80s things started to stagnate a bit, but in 1986 he came back with the killer “Constrictor” album, which is where my trajectory first met up with Alice. “Constrictor” started down a more metal path, and that led to Alice’s next album, and in my opinion heaviest, “Raise Your Fist and Yell.” Within two years Alice morphed once again into a hair metal monster with the hugely successful “Trash,” which spawned the single “Poison” which still gets tons of airplay today. When grunge came along and killed all the hair metal, Alice stripped away those elements starting with “The Last Temptation” and, to my knowledge, up through “Dragontown.” I haven’t heard the few albums since then.
Despite all the changes over the years, I never got the impression that Alice was merely jumping on the coat-tails of whatever the latest trend was, but rather that he was just talented and creative enough to go with the flow of whatever happened to be going on at the time. When I heard that “Paranormal” was getting ready to release and that it seemed to be getting a bigger-than-usual push in the media, I was curious to see where Alice would take us this time.
“Paranoiac Personality” was the first song from the album to drop, followed shortly after by the title track. When I heard “Paranoiac Personality” I was immediately drawn to it; it had a very familiar and comfortable sound. It has the pop hooks reminiscent of something from the “Trash” album, but it doesn’t sound dated (though given the current musical landscape I wouldn’t call it contemporary either.) It feels fresh like a brand new tailored suit that fits exactly right when you slip it on for the first time.
“Paranormal” the song has a more classic Alice feel. It has the signature Alice Cooper creep-factor going on, and benefits greatly from the bright, modern sounding production. After having heard both of these new songs, I started getting excited; something special was cresting the horizon.
The album released today, and it seems my anticipation was justified. “Paranormal” sounds like an album recorded by someone who has been in this business forever and is just here to have some fun, and trends-of-the-moment be damned. To me, this sounds like the re-invigorated soul of the master of shock rock. If you go looking for it, you can probably hear nods to whatever era of Alice Cooper you seek. It’s like the natural and fantastic cumulative result of a lifetime spent rocking the world. Bravo, sir, for once again coloring me impressed.
Shameless accolades aside, what else is going on here? Well, if you go with the two-disc version (I’m not sure if there is any other kind) then the first disc contains the ten main tracks of the album. This disc is the main course of tasty rock and roll goodness.
The second disc begins with two new songs recorded with the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper band. The first one, “Genuine American Girl” left me wondering if it was a cover due to the lyrics seeming to be from a female perspective. A little digging into the press release reveals that the song is actually about “a tough guy who is transgender and not afraid to let the world know about it.” Trust a man named Alice to brush off conservative bigotry and pick up the flag for personal freedom. You make me proud, sir. The music may be hard rock, but the sentiment is pure fucking metal.
I am not always the greatest at interpreting song lyrics, but the last new track, “You and All of Your Friends,” sounds like it might be an indictment of a certain current administration. Just saying. The final six tracks on disc two are live versions of classic Cooper songs performed by the current incarnation of Alice’s band.
During the course of writing this review, I have listened to the album through several times in one sitting and had many feels. It gives me no end of joy to be able to pronounce “Paranormal” a true winner. If you are an Alice Cooper fan from the way back time, I am confident that you can find something to be excited about on this album. Paint your eyes, grab a baby doll, and rock out, my friends.