The Grand Master of Shock Rock, Mr. Alice Cooper, is back with his highly anticipated new release, Paranormal. His 27th studio album since the 1969 debut Pretties for You, he has consistently remained in the spotlight and, over 5 decades, he has horrified as well as delighted in equal measure.
The alter-ego of Vincent Furnier, Alice Cooper has dealt with the darker side of life, discussed the things that were once taboo, he wrote songs about mental health issues back before they were even mentionable, never afraid to tackle the difficult subjects, so his songs have long connected to those dis-associated from society.
In the beginning Alice Cooper was the band name, not its frontman’s moniker, but as Vincent morphed into Alice and band members changed, Alice continued to pay a royalty to the original band members each year for use of the name. Now 48 years on from their first album, they re-unite on Paranormal for two tracks, showing that they still have the magic, together. Guitarist Michael Bruce, Bassist Dennis Dunaway, and Drummer Neal Smith last played with Cooper in 1975, but they have always stayed friends and now seems the right time to do something creative together, although sadly they are missing Glen Buxton who passed away in 1997. Also joining in the fun is ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, U2 Drummer Larry Mullen, and Deep Purple’s Roger Glover, helped by Producer Bob Ezrin, who has worked on many Alice albums over the year.
Released on July 28, 2017 via Ear Muise, Cooper wanted to keep away from the concept album, his last studio work being 2011’s Welcome To My Nightmare Part 2, and so he wrote 20 new tracks dealing with 20 completely different matters and selected the best 12 to polish in the studio. What comes out is a carnival freak show, everything from ghosts to transgender, as well as the devil and the end of the world. While in some ways you know what to expect from Cooper, a sense of humor and a strangeness that not everyone gets, he can still throw out the odd surprise. Far from his counterpart, Cooper revels in the anarchy he creates, while Vincent is tea-total, christian, happily married for 40 years, doting father and golf-loving, Alice hates golf.
Kicking off the proceedings, “Paranormal” is an atmospheric delight, characteristic husky vocals and guitar-work that goes to another level, the song deals with a girl whose boyfriend is a ghost, which from Alice seems completely normal. Swiftly moving on to cannibals and fake news, social media is dissected in “Dead Flies,” a slapstick horror ditty, that hits home in this era of not being able to believe what you read in the news. With a very retro, ’70s psychedelic sound, “Fireball” is Zappa-esque and tells the story of having a bad dream about the end of the world, which turns into reality; impending doom has never sounded so trippy.
Never afraid to tackle mental health, 1978’s From The Inside being a classic example, “Paranoiac Personality” takes a walk inside Alice’s mind, and the expectations of society about him; the music alludes to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho at one point. Visiting the topic of love next, “Fallen In Love” makes love seem dirty, he makes references to a number of his classic hits, but in this love affair, the woman is the one in charge; musically it has a lot of swing and sway, so should be hugely popular live. A band who meets the devil is the subject of “Dynamite Road,” though this is not quite at the crossroads in Georgia, here the devil causes mayhem and drives a limo full of ladies, but the end is an amusing twist.
Something of an oxymoron, “Private Public Breakdown” returns to mental health issues, something Alice has plenty of experience with, even though the subject is dark, the feel of the song is still light and mocking. A change of style, something more of a show-stopper, a horn section and joyous hymn-like quality is present on “Holy Water,” with mentions of things you will see in his shows, as well as a salvation through love. Then the sounds at the start of “Rats” are startling when you first hear them, a fine Rock-n-Roll, tongue-in-cheek, party of a track, where the rats are symbolic and the melody is hectic. Last of this section, “The Sound Of A” is a dramatic and moody track, very different to anything else that has come before, its meaning somewhat ambiguous, the Hammond organ creeps through the mix giving it a ’70s vibe.
For the next two tracks, Cooper recorded with the original band, and they sound like they have not aged a bit. First, “Genuine American Girl” has a ’50s feel, almost The Beach Boys styled. It is a celebration of a man who lives as a woman and the pride he feels about doing so, now transgender is becoming more accepted, except by his own president. This is almost ironic, from a man who adopted a woman’s name 50 years ago. Thereafter, “You And All Of Your Friends” is a short refrain, about the way things will end, revenge and retribution, for everyone knows Cooper always has to lose in the end, for his crimes.
As a bonus, and a great way for new fans to discover what they have missed, Cooper throws in six absolute classics recorded live in Columbus, Ohio from 2016, and he has picked some real favorites from his early days that are all standards in his live set. “No More Mr Nice Guy” is his parody of himself, how his public persona and his stage persona have become muddled, it is guaranteed to get the audience joining in, and this recording shows how even though he is 70 next birthday, Cooper still has amazing energy on stage. The revenge classic, “Under My Wheels,” about driving over your ex, is still as psychotic as ever, while the slightly twisted and perverse “Billion Dollar Babies” sounds as fresh and current today as when he first released it in the ’70s.
The warped and creepily fun “Feed My Frankenstein” is a triumphant piece of fun before Cooper turns more serious and sentimental, dealing with the issue of domestic violence with “Only Women Bleed.” Considering the song is from 40+ years ago, he really does break the mold with this stunner. A song that is normally accompanied by his ballerina daughter on stage these days, it was previously a role undertaken by his own wife. Finally, he concludes with the song everyone knows, “School’s Out,” and how many have sung this on the last day of the school term, making it one that will go down in history.
Alice Cooper has given his fans a value for money, bumper album, 18 tracks in all. That said, it is him back to his best, with a wide variety of styles, he creates a genre of his own, mixing Blues, Rock, ’50s and show tunes into something that can only be him. Such diversity of characters in the subjects, musicianship that is world class, and more energy than a class of 3 year olds, he certainly defies his age group and has no intention of slowing down now he is a pensioner.
The only thing this is missing here is maybe a live recording of “Eighteen,” and then it would be perfect. For anyone just finding Alice Cooper, Paranormal will impress, and for his fans from long ago, this will make them reminisce about the good old days. Either way, it is pure gold and that is why CrypticRock gives Paranormal 5 out of 5 stars.