Wednesday, 15 May 2013

100 LPs Shortlist #33: Alice Cooper: "Love It To Death"

Alice Cooper - Love It to Death - album cover

In 1989, after a career languishing in the doldrums through most of the previous decade, Alice Cooper hit paydirt. Aligning himself with the current crop of Big-hair-and-Glam-metal bands, his then current LP "Trash" was a perfect fit for the style at the time. Even the lead single "Poison", with it's lead guitar intro, sounded like a sibling to "Sweet Child O'Mine" by Guns 'n Roses.

Of course, this sudden surge of popularity caused the more curious music fans to dig deeper into Alice's back catalog. Some of the records from the 80s were hard to come by, such as "Dada" or "Zipper Catches Skin", while "Pretties for You" was impossible to find at all.

As I have mentioned previously, my uncle's 6-month European jaunt when I was 11 opened up my musical horizons to hitherto unheard-of areas. At that time, "Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits" was my introduction to the man's work, and it still an essential listen for anyone wanting to know what the fuss was about. So as my mates started digging into Alice's back catalog, I'd already had a primer of sorts.

Slowly but surely, by hanging out with these guys, I absorbed most of Alice's albums by osmosis. Slowly I purchased all the albums myself, but certain ones stick out as favourites.

"Love it to Death" is actually the band's third album and probably still the anomaly in Alice's discography. For many years it was the band's earliest available recorded music (Rhino, having absorbed the non-Zappa releases on his Bizarre and Straight labels, have only, in the last 10 years, reissued the first two LPs) and it features the band in a pivotal time in their development.

The band were trying to find their look and sound on this record. They knew they wanted to create shock and outrage and, looking at the front cover, they were about 20 years ahead of their time. Like David Bowie (on the cover of "The Man Who Sold The World") they were wearing women's clothing. In 1971, this was guaranteed to upset the moral majority in America and elsewhere. They then changed the image to be a more macabre image, with gore and blood on stage, as this would in fact pay greater dividends. As Jayne County said in an interview for the BBC program "Dancing in the Street", they were on the right track but "Americans understand horror", not transgender-ism and androgyny.

Musically they had hit upon a nice mix of melody, heavy metal crunch, prog-rock structure and experimentation. The proto-metal the band would be famous for gets its first run here. The hit from the LP "I'm Eighteen" still strikes a chord with disaffected kids, even those two generations removed from the kids listening to this on first release. Ironic then, that when the band recorded this, the average age of the members was 22.

The first three tracks leap out of the gate like a bat out of hell, solid rockers, all of them.  Track 4 is "Black Juju", a Doors-esque post-psychedelic freakout. It shows hints of the calculated weirdness from their first two albums, but it is buffed with a palatable sheen that makes it easier to listen to.

The jewel in the album's crown is the 1-2 punch of "Second Coming" and "The Ballad of Dwight Fry". "Second Coming" plays like the overture for the main feature, but it is a sombre rumination on mortality and madness before segueing into "Dwight Fry", which is a full-on examination of an institutionalised mental patient. This is clearly the precursor to tracks on mental illness that have turned up on later record like "From The Inside".

After 6-and-a-half minutes of "Dwight Fry", track 9 follows on straight away with no space. It is a version of (wait for it) "Sun Arise" by Rolf Harris. In a sense it is the dawn after the darkness of the previous two tracks, and makes perfect least it did 42 years before the ugliness of the accusations that have since surfaced about Mr Harris...

Alice Cooper had hit on their future direction here and, on successive records until the band imploded in 1974 (on successive records, lead singer Vincent Furnier took the name for himself as a stage moniker) they further refined the blueprint.

For my money it's the best record they ever made, with the first follow-up "Killer" a close second. Even if these albums (both released in 1971) were 20 years old when I got into them, they were still fresh and timeless, even then.

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