Thursday, September 15, 2011

Welcome 2 My Nightmare - Alice Cooper - 2011

Alice Cooper has yet to produce a bad album. Whether as a solo act or as a band proper, every entry into the discography has merits. All the more impressive is the fact that Cooper has maintained a distinct sound while spanning a variety of styles of album: gritty glam rock (Love it to Death, Dirty Diamonds), hard hair metal (Constrictor, Trash), complex concept (From the Inside, Along Came a Spider) and more. He's also no stranger to sequels with a brilliant span of thematically linked records from The Last Temptation to Brutal Planet to Dragontown. 1975's Welcome to My Nightmare was not only Cooper's solo debut, it also stands as one of his most highly-lauded albums and offers a genre only he could master in Vaudevillian horror pastiche. Welcome 2 My Nightmare, the 2011 sequel, brings back not only legendary producer Bob Ezrin and guitar wizard Steve Hunter but, on several tracks, all surviving members of the original Alice Cooper band. This could be monumental. This should be incredible. So, how is it?

It's good. It's not great. It starts great. It gets worse. It gets a lot worse. It ends up OK. I guess.

How does one really rate something like Welcome 2 My Nightmare? A revolving cast of musicians parading through Alice's PG-13-rated bad dreams, bouncing frenetically from one style to another. Opener "I Am Made of You" is getting a lot of flak for its auto-tuned vocals and, frankly, they don't turn me off. Overplayed in all media, to be sure, but I can imagine Alice employing this technology on 1980's Flush the Fashion had it been available then. The keyboards re-introducing Steven lifted directly from his namesake song do a nice job of setting the tone and Steve Hunter's solo is downright searing. This intro had me eager to hear what was next and "Caffeine" fed that excitement. Another big, rocking number, "Caffeine" starts strong and loses momentum only via its weak lyric. If you're looking to get amped up and have already admitted usage of the amphetamine isn't the Mountain Dew beside the point?

"The Nightmare Returns" is a brief interlude again reprising Steven's theme as he apparently, despite his stimulation, returns to sleep. Not much of substance here and, really, what we want is the classic Cooper lineup's new debut on "A Runaway Train." And it derails. Neal Smith has little to do but provide the generic railroad train beat. You've got Steve Hunter on board and we get a lead from...Vince Gill. Vince Gill is an accomplished guitarist, no argument. But this is Alice Cooper. And we already got Steve Hunter! And this is where the variety show flavor of Welcome 2 My Nightmare begins to drag it way, way down.

"Last Man on Earth" is a passable Tom Waits imitation and "The Congregation" comes across as Oasis through the Coop filter. Both are listenable but, dammit, this is a follow-up to Welcome to My Nightmare. That's when we hit the first single, "I'll Bite Your Face Off." Not a bad track by any means, "I'll Bite Your Face Off" is another featuring the classic lineup, again enhanced by Hunter. The lyric is typical Cooper horrorshow and, despite the players involved, sounds like it could have been on any of Cooper's last three albums. Good Stones-y rock with an A.C. flavor but, again, not quite "classic" material.

You want a nightmare?  "Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever" will terrify you. This song, featuring John 5, is so very damn terrible that, somehow, I ended up loving it. From its irrelevant disco reference, its Gaga-esque beat and semi-rapped lyric, it's a trainwreck if ever there was one. But a fun trainwreck. Absolutely mind-boggling - and followed up by the equally silly Eddie Cochran-styled "Ghouls Gone Wild" which fails to fall far enough beyond the line of the bizarre to rate as really memorable.

"Something to Remember Me By" resurrects the spirit of the classic Cooper ballad, "Only Women Bleed."  It's fine and, yes, the dude can still properly sing with the best of 'em but, please, give us the nightmares we came for. "When Hell Comes Home," finally, delivers. Menacing keys and bassline from Michael Bruce and Dennis Dunaway combined with a dark tale of parental abuse plants the listener firmly into that dark familiar place that only Cooper can conjure. Steve Hunter again contributes a lovely lead and, in my opinion, Welcome 2 My Nightmare hits its zenith. How do you follow it?

With an overprocessed Ke$ha duet, that's how."What Baby Wants" is a piece of shit and one that feels designed only to produce pop blog headlines of the OMG - Ke$ha sings with Alice Cooper?!?! variety.
"I Gotta Get Out of Here" brings an odd, bouncy Traveling Wilburys feel (and another Vince Gill guitar lead?),especially considering how its lyric wraps up the Steven story (I won't spoil the ending). The record closes with the instrumental "Underture" and a symphonic medley revisiting classic themes from Welcome to My Nightmare - along with some guest guitar from Dick Wagner (why, oh why wait until the last minute, Alice?).

As I wrap this up I feel as though I'm being overly harsh on Welcome 2 My Nightmare. In fact, it was a really fun first listen. I like the variety of styles, the sardonic Cooper snarl and the overall sinister silliness of the whole affair. But like the local carnival, with its every garish turn immediately intoxicating, if you stay too long the fun wears off and you begin to notice how seedy the operation really is. Having played Welcome 2 My Nightmare through at least a dozen times this week, I cannot say it improves in any way with frequent replays. It's a decent, albeit lesser, entry into the Cooper library and a nice distraction from some of the heavier concepts but, in the end, those trademark fusions of rock and fright are simply too far and too few between to label Welcome 2 My Nightmare a worthy successor to the original.

Want to sample Welcome 2 My Nightmare and decide for yourself? Check it out on Spotify.

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