Photo by Elliot HolcekerALICE COOPER
The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper (Warner Archives/Rhino)
When “I'm Eighteen” hit the airwaves at the end of 1970, I was 19, but I could relate. Like the song said, I didn't know what I wanted, except maybe to drive well-adjusted humans from my presence, a purpose for which the music of Alice Cooper was ideally suited. I first heard the rocking horror of Love It to Death, Alice's breakthrough album, at my one-year high school reunion, where I ended up in a bathtub full of beer cans and ice — a precise metaphor for the next 20 years of my life.
For a few seasons, Alice was on my shoulder like a guardian demon. His violence-packed Killer blasted away the “Heart of Gold” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” crap that was lilting from every dorm window at my Spokane college in 1971. Killer came out the very month that an LSD-crazed local, fresh from taking a sledgehammer to the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, used a rifle to slay a janitor in my campus church, then got himself gunned down by cops on its steps as I walked to lunch two blocks away. The next album was School's Out — a title I interpreted by procuring liquor for underage collegians. Billion Dollar Babies arrived just in time for me, as campaign manager for a friend, to blare its nihilistic “Elected” as our theme for the student-body-president race. Donning Alice-inspired Uncle Sam garb, I enlisted flag-waving dancing girls who shot me with red-loaded water pistols as I screamed promises of free beer to the masses. We lost. I graduated magna cum laude and became a dishwasher. In 1974 I moved to Hollywood, a burg packed with establishments similar to the “Institute of Nude Wrestling” pictured on Alice's sleaze-themed Muscle of Love, which had just been issued.
Listen to: Alice Cooper
Real Audio Format
Under My Wheels
You Drive Me Nervous
Then Alice and I began to drift apart. Mainly this was because Alice had drifted from his band. The noisy, musically eclectic geeks he'd grown up with were replaced by slick twiddleheads such as Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, the very dudes already responsible for luring Lou Reed into corporate-rock slavery. Almost as bad, Alice began singing romantic ballads — though I had to admit “I Never Cry” was about as pretty and poignant as pop music gets.
Till now I had stopped listening to Alice almost entirely, and the evidence on the second half of the whimsically packaged four-CD box Life and Crimes suggests I didn't miss much: session-whore rock, blimpish social commentary, attempts to impersonate Brecht and Elvis and Winger, more and more infuriatingly competent ballads. Thanks to Cooper's versatile rasp and unflagging professionalism, the selections are rarely awful, and there are a few amusing moments of binge-rock (“Serious,” 1978), soundtrack creep (“Prince of Darkness,” 1987) and magnificent songcraft (“Poison,” 1989). But, fuck, this was the monster of my youth, and here he is, nakedly revealed as a sober time-server in the cause of prepackaged rebellion. Toothless. When he used to be more than a show. I thought.
But then, I was a kid. And if all this doesn't sound much like a review, I guess it isn't. It's just an attempt to show how subjective the reactions to a reissue box can be. Alice Cooper has managed to grab a succession of largely non-overlapping audiences over 30-some years — an undeniable achievement. Problem is, most of the potential buyers of Life and Crimes will be completely indifferent to big chunks of it, or they'll hate what I love and vice versa. Four individual Cooper CDs of their choice will be a way better buy.
One more thing, since the times demand it: No, Alice Cooper didn't make me antisocial; he was just there to act out the alienation I already felt, and to scoff at the hypocrisy I already hated. Like Marilyn Manson, really. Only one thing scares me about 18-year-olds now. They seem to know what they want.
East Points Greatest Hit (Organized Noize/A&M)
Straight outta Hotlanta in a busted-ass Oldsmobile, a hardscrabble rube wants to take us on a tour of the “dirty South.” Thank the Lord, 'cause after endless servings of Yo! MTV Rapsstyle braggadocio, constant hyping of the pimp lifestyle, the fizzled-out East Coast/West Cost beef and hip-hop artists no longer distinguishable from clothing lines, it's refreshing to savor the simple pleasures of a Cool Breeze.
Flexing his Southern pride at every opportunity but never at the expense of other scenes, Cool Breeze (a.k.a. Frederick Calhoun) catalogs every street corner in his East Point hood with the precision of a tenured ghetto folklorist (special props to Waffle House). But this clearly isn't enough to win him the rap world's esteem, which for now seems just beyond his reach — the specter of major Atlanta playas like Goodie Mob and OutKast are the local standard he can't help but measure himself against. But that's apples and oranges, or hamhocks and grits, 'cause Breeze is a rhymesmith with a treasure chest of unique-as-fuck beats and styles.
“Butta” shows how this country gentleman can be as triple-X as the next parental-advisory sticker-bearer, upping the sleaze quotient when he oozes, “Now we done a lotta talkin' and enough has been said/Girl, get up on this toast and let's see how you spread!” — the neighborhood nubiles being the one vice Freddy allows himself. “Watch for the Hook” is the obvious lead single and sports a sample that'll be in your head for days, but, more interestingly, “Good, Good” bounces along on a honeyed speech-tic sweet as a Georgia peach atop meandering G-funk synth and trickling piano. Predictably, C.B. claims in the title track that he raps the best, but, to his credit, he's puts himself on the line with the rhetorical chorus “Who got their heart on tapes and CDs?” — it's an endearingly vulnerable twist on hip-hop's standard-issue empty boast.
If Breeze has an identity crisis, it works to his advantage as he dizzily hopscotches through roles of philosopher, whoredog, pranksta and gangsta. Still, his most likable permutation comes across in “The Field,” where the milky-smooth throb of bass and lovely echoes of chanteuse Nivea frame yet another Cool entity: the penitent before God who values the wisdom that only grandmas have. Multifaceted as he is, this MC is at his best just being his good-natured, red-blooded, level-headed self. (Andrew Lentz)
Luxury Problem (Go Kart)
Since their late-'80s beginnings, when they brattily tossed aside the street-cred Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon offered them, the Lunachicks have managed to be the purest of punks by offending punk purists. They started their career playing with appropriate badness and passion, but dressed up like thrift-store glitter rockers. They borrowed heavily from theatrical metal and pop, reinventing the Rock God ethos punks revile. Now they play too well and have actually started modeling for Calvin Klein. Yet all this punk rule-breaking only points up how true they are to the original punk spirit.
On their new Luxury Problem, the Lunachicks continue to beat out punk-correct short, braying verses on songs like the unison shout-sung “Knuckle Sandwich,” but then stray nose-thumbingly into rock-operatic histrionics on the choruses. “Hope To Die,” for instance, actually threatens to become an old-style Aerosmith drama replete with Theo's pointedly over-emotive wailing, but pulls back just in time with lines like “I take off my bra and cross my heart and hope to die/With a 36C.” This couplet is a small feminist portrait, but, in Theo's suddenly bellowed reading, it's also a goofy joke, and the effect is one of schizophrenia rather than serious comedy.
Throughout Luxury Problem, the Lunachicks delight in their refusal to be defined by any existing touchstones, whether the serious Clash or the silly B-52s, and there is a wonderfully snotty willfulness about the way they'll drop in a harmony, say, just when it would most infuriate a punk scholar. By the time they close out the record with the classic-sounding 90-second punker “Down at the Pub,” it's impossible to be surprised when the belches and fake-Cockney shouts of “Sod off!” make it clear that they're using punk to make fun of punks. What could be more punk than that? (Dudley Saunders)
This Afternoon's Malady (Big Wheel Recreation)
This band of Berklee School of Music transplants, now living in San Diego, recently returned to the Eastside to record their second full-length for Big Wheel Recreation, following 1996's Junk. While these jazz-trained indie rockers like to kick out the heart-heavy jams with emo-style lyrics and fervent guitars, This Afternoon's Malady is a very languid landscape, with the occasional electronic doohickeys, harmonica and the tasty layered voices of Araby and Joe.
The cosmic epic “One Transmission” is a big fave at KXLU and also happens to be the most gorgeous song on the album. The title track, a surprisingly shiny-happy song for this serious bunch, is a “candy-coated sparkle haze” for the “fuzz-pop kids”: “When the bombs are dropping/I'll hold your hand/because you rock.” Simply smart is “Coping With Senility (lowlife owns a pen),” where everything is “Existential . . . Way too surreal” and it “All leads to zero.”
Malady has moments swirling with Icarus-soaring-into-the-sky profundity (“Solar”) and others firmly planted on Earth (“Fixed on the One”), and it all wraps up in the crackling, lo-fi depths with “Same to You.” Its 12 melodious songs are packed with substance and strength. (Rita Neyter)
HASH JAR TEMPO
Under Glass (Drunken Fish)
Few CDs have surprised me more than Well Oiled, the 1995 debut release from Hash Jar Tempo. New Zealand guitarist Roy Montgomery — always more interesting for his painterly sounds than for his compositions — and Bardo Pond, perhaps Philadelphia's most rigorously tuneless drone-rockers, made their reputation with creeping jams that unfold like trudges home through slushy snow: atmospheric, sure, but you wouldn't want to live there.
Thrown together, though, for a spring 1995 jam session, Montgomery and Pond plunged themselves and their listeners into a stunning deep-sea dive. The tempos throughout the resulting CD are glacial, the mood murky. But over and over, gorgeous guitar tones bloom in the mix, translucent and colorful as jellyfish. Bits of shattered melody float over the current of muffled drums and silty bass like plankton. Well Oiled lasts over an hour, feels like four, and leaves me blinking, breathless and still.
Sadly, the same magic was not recaptured last spring, when Under Glass was recorded. The problem is balance: too much silt, not enough jelly. The murky mood is there, the drifting drums and deep bass. But the guitars just sound grimy this time, the drones suffocating, the world lifeless. What makes Well Oiled so wonderful are the phantasms of color and thriving, unfamiliar musical life; Under Glass has next to none of this. And when it's over, the primary feeling I'm left with is an increasingly urgent need to decompress. (Glen Hirshberg)