Thursday, August 04, 2005

Diamonds Never Lie

Being an Alice Cooper fan is no easy row to hoe. You spend half your time defending him to people who don't like him because they think he's satanic and kills chickens(nope), and the other half defending him to people who don't like him because he's a Christian and plays golf (true).
But as tough as my job is as a's nothing compared to what the man himself must go through. He's got to answer to both these varieties of agnostics, and then at the end of the day he has to try to please a fan base having come to him from all the different phases of his 30+ year career. The Alice Cooper Group fans don't like anything he's done since 1975. The kids who saw "Poison" on MTV and ran out to buy Trash just don't get "Black Juju." The industrial metalheads who came into the fold with Brutal Planet will never believe it's the same Alice who sang "You and Me" to Miss Piggy on The Muppet Show. And even I don't get the bizarre subset of "sickthings" who name Zipper Catches Skin as their favorite album.
Yet here we all are, listening nightly to his radio show (no Pittsburgh affiliate yet, but it streams online at a few different stations), shelling out gobs of cash for multiple shows on the tour (and even "platinum packages" featuring a chance to meet our idol and get a photo, with a corresponding "platinum" pricetag), and waiting with bated breath for his latest creation, hoping he'll finally go back to whatever sound it is we like best.
What's a poor godfather of shock rock to do?
Dirty Diamonds, that's what. An album that manages to touch on just about every musical style in the Coop's vast back catalogue, and even adds a duet with rapper Xzibit on for good measure(the bonus track "Stand", originally recorded for the 2004 Olympic Unity album) It's a somewhat bumpy ride, careening from the balls-to-the-wall classic rock of "Woman of Mass Distraction", to the theatrical title track, complete with James Bond style fanfare, to the crunchy industrial weight of "Run Down the Devil", on through to "Zombie Dance" which should keep those "Black Juju" fans grinning. Along the way Alice and his band touch on a sort of Beatle-esque glam ("Perfect"), Jet- like garage rock ("You Make Me Wanna"), classic 70's Cooper ("Sunset Babies"), and even some Green Day style modern punk ("Steal That Car" and "Your Own Worst Enemy") for those baffling Zipper Catches Skin fans.
True to form, the standout tracks for me are the ballads, starting with "The Saga of Jesse Jane".
This ode to a crossdressing truck driver sung in a very convincing Johnny Cash voice might appear to be nothing more than a novelty track, but the gorgeous melody and catchy guitar hook lift it out of novelty into something more sublime. You might laugh, but you'll be humming too.
"Pretty Ballerina", a cover of the 60's hit by The Left Banke (of "Walk Away Renee" fame) is a very faithful rendition, with a slightly creepy edge that only Alice can deliver. Far and away my favorite track on the album is "Six Hours", a bluesy ballad co-written with Alice's "left-hand man", guitarist Ryan Roxie. Another unbelievable opening hook, a tender vocal oddly reminiscent of John Lennon's best early 70's work, and the kind of lyrics that keep the ladies coming back for more. The song soars into a classic blues guitar solo, and then abruptly ends...perhaps too abruptly. Overall, the harshest criticism I can give to any song on this album, and maybe even the album as a whole, is a sense that a lot of the musical ideas here could have used a few more minutes to fully develop. "Dirty Diamonds" could have rivaled classics like "Killer" and "Halo of Flies", but at just a touch over four minutes long, the song doesn't have time to build up into the epic it's begging to be. Similarly, "Zombie Dance" has the potential to be as spine-chillingly atmospheric as "Black Juju", but it's over before you even get the candles lit. I would have gladly sacrificed "Steal That Car" for just one more refrain of "Six Hours"...but there are plenty of hardcore fans who dislike that song as passionately as I love it.
Perhaps Rick Nelson was can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself. Alice seems proud of this album, and it seems that thanks to his new label New West Records doing some creative and grassroots publicity, it could be his biggest seller in years. It's a perfect "starter" Alice it for your "agnostic" friends, and you can direct them to the most appropriate "phase" of his long and varied career based on which Dirty Diamonds song they like the best. And if you're an agnostic yourself, without a "sickthing" to guide it and email me your favorite song. I'll steer you in the right direction (even if it is Zipper Catches Skin.)