The blisteringly visceral rock music on four Alice Cooper albums - 'Love it to Death' to 'Billion $ Babies' - accompanied me though many a formative bungle. Alice the snake draped, cataleptic, baby killing, desperado. The razor stealing, dentist abused, attic dancing, victim of domestic pet attack.
But it's now late 2003 and, with the notable exception of 'Welcome to my nightmare', and a few lesser hiccups, where has Alice been since? Bulldozed into the ground, and replaced with soulless, inferior imitations, just like so many of my old haunts?
With my expectations of another spectacular album slipping, like the spinning wheels of an accident bound Cadillac, I was introduced to Alice's finest resurgent moment, 1994's 'The Last Temptation'.
Sideshow gets off to a melodic, acoustic start, and then rips into an up tempo stadium stomper, reminiscent of 'Department of Youth'. The album's central character is bored and wants a kaleidoscopic distraction. Buckle in and enjoy the ride, but save a little thrill for the way the track disassembles itself, and for the sideshow barker's taunt.
Nothing's free sees Alice being cajoled with the freedom imparting benefits of signing a nefarious contract. Deeds without retribution could be yours, but you'll spend your retirement as the devil's butt monkey if you relent. The vocals almost rap along, only in a non nausea inducing way, and include the album's first rhyme of 'fire' with 'higher'.
Lost in America is, like a smear of black eye make up, simple yet classic. A catalogue of gripes from a disaffected youth drives us (in, presumably, his fantasy girlfriend's car) humorously forward to the intentionally discordant end.
Bad place alone is 'Gutter cat' for grown ups, and finds Alice in fine voice, as two deceased, monikered, low lives recount their undignified demise. The chorus tinkles along on a funky/punky electric piano, which strongly suggests that the Jets are sharpening their switchblades in a nearby alley. The change of tempo in the chorus will catch you out and, if you're like me, when you first hear the track right through you'll have to play it again.
You're my temptation seems to be a less heavy outing of the 'Deeper' riff from 'Dragontown'. It's a cracking track, which extols the attributes of an irresistible siren who will lead you to hell. If her celebrated assets are not being exaggerated, this temptress will unquestionably earn the satanic version of performance related pay. The devil beckons and, I believe, plays the guitar solo from the depths of Hades, reminiscent of Brian May's work on 'Innuendo'. Beatles fans will spot similarities with 'Blue Jay Way' during part of the track, which terminates with some sinister intonations not discernable to those with aspirations of playing the celestial harp.
Stolen Prayer has the acoustic guitar front and centre again, for a change in tempo. With the devil at the door, it's a litany of desperate hopes spent in silent prayer. The chorus gets in your head and stays there, and there's a choral contribution from kids - always good for a spot of evil inference when done properly.
Unholy war starts with a forlorn guitar, rather like that in Who will save the world?/Groundhogs, but it's not long before Scary monsters/David Bowie take over. Old Nick flexes his muscles threateningly, and lets us know that there's no escape. Not the best track on the album, but it still drops on you like a spider in the dark compared to any other post 1976 Alice album.
Lullaby begins with.....well just what are those demonic voices saying!? Don't play this one when you're alone. Alice and Satan converse with intelligent humour, and the latter gets his marching orders with the belting chorus and the memorable lines commencing 'I'll tell ya right now.....' It's so good that we can even excuse the album's second use of the rhyme 'fire' and 'higher'. This is high camp on the hellmouth - another track with the classic Alice feel.
It's me is a mandolin driven ballad, which has hints of 'Every day hurts' by Sad Café. There's nothing offensive about this ode to commitment which, despite its solemn subject matter, is breezy rather than a blast from an open mausoleum door.
Cleansed by fire is a classy piece of work with which to finish the album. In 1974 the Alice Cooper band came up with the rejected 'Man with the Golden Gun', and Cleansed by fire shows that Alice can interpret the Bond style better than most non John Barry offerings. This powerful song throbs along, has subtle harmonies, and even wanders in the direction of 'I am the Walrus'. Oh yes, and has Alice slamming the gates of hell in the devil's face.
Intended as a morality tale, this concept album was meticulously planned, rehearsed and (pardon the word) executed. The cover features a nightmarishly bizarre collage, carrying through the sideshow theme with Japanese symbols which translate as 'Nothing like it in the world', 'Honored by being viewed by the Emperor three times', and 'Stupendous illusions'.
With this album, Alice blows the funhouse wide open and takes us on a freak show guided tour to hell and back. I've tallied long enough. The sideshow's in town and another scary ride on the 'carousel' beckons. You won't find better value for money, so climb on board.