Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Alice Cooper – Pretties For You

As anyone who knows me is aware, I am one of the biggest Alice Cooper band fans in the world! Their trio of 70’s mega-hit albums (Love It To Death, Killer and School’s Out) are some of my all-time favorite r’n’r and some of the biggest influences on me and my music.

But before they started working with Bob Ezrin, the group was protégés of Frank Zappa and appeared on his Bizarre/Straight label. These cats were famous in the LA scene (where they had moved from Phoenix – they later also located in Detroit for a while) for clearing out halls within their first song or two. Their stage show was already much-talked-about but their music was so wacky that even Zappa couldn’t pin it down!

This, their first album, opens with a gothic church organ dirge, “Titanic Overture” that swells into “10 Minutes Before the Worm”, which starts with weird sound affects before building to a crescendo and then into an off-tempo, disjointed ditty. They certainly had already proven just how strange they were!
So, when they start “Sing Low, Sweet Cherrio” with a steady beat and an acoustic guitar, you think that they’ve gotten over it. Well, at least until they end the first verse with another burst of noise! But, this does have a memorable melody and an overall catchy tempo with some nice instrumental pieces from all of the members. Of course, they have to throw in some strange bits, but this is more of a straight – and great – rock number. It even has a good harp solo by Alice. (Previous to this album, they were a basic white-boy r’n’b band – a good one at that!).

“Today Mueller” is ultra-odd, mixing children rhymes (“red rover”) with unusual time changes to create another bit of indescribable wackiness. This feel is referenced in songs from their next record, such as “Still No Air” or “Below Your Means”.

My favorite tune off of this record is the extremely rockin’ “Living”! Heavy guitars, a fantastic, super-speed fuzz riff, great vocals and a catchiness that cannot be denied. A superb r’n’r tune that should have been a hit, but was probably too crazed – at times it sounds like it is about to fall apart, but that is only part of its greatness! Really – this is as wild as something off of Kick Out the Jams or Funhouse – insane Detroit rock! Damn near perfect! Whew! I can’t imagine why none of the current batch of punk’n’roll bands (that I know of) haven’t covered this.

More mind-boggling heaviness overwhelms “Fields of Regret”, with plenty of terrific guitar playing (Glen Buxton was a psycho lead player at this point and Michael Bruce did super counterpoint). This is a little more disjointed but not to the extreme and has enough wild playing to also be a highlight of the best of Detroit rock. Guitars and harmonicas duel with each other over the course of its almost 6 minutes – sometimes moving into percussion-driven dissonance, sometimes powerhouse rock – I wouldn’t be surprised that this was influenced by the free-jazz experiments of some of the Detroit rockers.

I have no idea what the title “No Longer Umpire” means, but it is another under-two-minute cacophonous piece of music. It seems like their most extreme, experimental pieces were their shortest.

But, “Levity Ball” still does it damnedest to be confusingly different. In these early pieces, Alice (the person) relied a lot more on his harmonica (I’m assuming because he didn’t do as many visual antics on stage), which adds a dimension to the sound and the guitars create some soundscapes worthy of the MC5’s “Starship”. They really play with dynamics on this, as well.

More frantic is “B.B. on Mars”, though no less bizarre. Super-short with group vocals and feedback-ing guitars, this is almost just an intro to the terrific “Reflected”. This song later evolved into their hit from Billion Dollar Babies, “Elected”, a hilarious, election year song. This is a lot more twisted, with guitars intertwined throughout the melody and a little more clamorous and rhythmic.

“Apple Bush” tries to be a little more “normal”, but they can’t do anything “straight” at this time. Almost a waltz-time in some places, it still has some sing-along pieces, as well. As with most of this album, it’s hard to describe without knowing what these cats sounded like at the time.

I think they were watching The Night Gallery when they came up with “Earwigs to Eternity”, another bit of deliberate insanity. The record closes with “Changing Arranging”. This is another bit of dissonant zaniness with numerous time changes and tons of feedback. Pretty great, but certainly not a hummable tune!

For those who appreciate insanity set to hard rock and aren’t afraid of experimentation, this is for you! If you like your music safe and simple, pass this by!