Being an influential musician that has been in the game for over 40 years and is still active has gotta suck. Sure, the infinite accolades and money are nice, and nobody can stop you from producing new music because you’re a legend. But, the fires of brilliance can only burn so hot for so long.
It’s gotta hurt to know that your new material will most likely collect dust after one or two plays while your classic albums get spun on the regular. Odds are that new material will have only one worthy single you can play live for one tour, then you’ll replace it with another old standard. Next thing you know, you’ve played your number one hit from 1972 so many times that you’ve forgotten the words and need a teleprompter to perform it. You’re no longer a supremely inspired, sex-starved Adonis with your blood aflame with intoxicants as you bound across the globe. Instead, you’re a golfing, investing, stale day laborer that “rocks” because you know how, not because you can’t help it.
There’s always exceptions to the rules, of course. If any Van Halen fan tells you that 2012’s A Different Kind Of Truth doesn’t stand up to most of their definitive records, tell them hearing “Jump” on the radio 10,000 times doesn’t make them a Van Halen fan.
Another aging rocker that has some pretty amazing staying power is Alice Cooper. He’s pushing 70 and has been touring solid for the last few years supporting Mötley Crüe on their never ending farewell tour, and headlining a tour of his own shortly after. If you had the pleasure of witnessing him on that stretch, you would’ve seen that Mr. Vincent Damon Furnier can still command a stage with chilling skill, and he sounds great doing it.
But, the stage and the studio are two different animals. Could Alice Cooper still deliver the goods on a new record? Well, his first studio effort in six years, Paranormal, is here to provide the answer…and it’s yes.
The first thing that jumps out is the crystal clear production. Even though it was produced by Bob Ezrin, the man whose fingers controlled the board on more than half of Alice Cooper’s early discography, don’t expect to hear that warm Love It To Death or Billion Dollar Babies sound. It’s almost cartoonish how clean it is. Production wise, it sounds more like Alice’s sleek ‘80s and ‘90s output, but don’t start furrowing your brow yet. It has a lot more to it than the ballad soaked, aptly named Trash.
Alice is still the ghoulish master of ceremonies. “Holy Water” spotlights Alice’s dark, vaudevillian storytelling with lyrics like, “I got a top hat/and a walking cane/I gotta black cat/on a golden chain/I got a white shirt/with a bloody stain/I’m going to the river of love.” The shuffling and cruising rock of “Dynamite Road” is complimented by some outlandish lyrics about racing with the devil, and some lyrics that are believable, considering Alice’s recent touring schedule, “My life is cruisin’ with my band, man/in my tricked out Cadillac/We’re always lookin’ death right in the eye/and never ever lookin’ back.”
Musically, Paranormal is in good shape too. “Dead Flies” has major, four on the floor, stomping blues licks driving it that would curl the beards of ZZ Top. “Fallen In Love” does too, but that’s because Billy Gibbons plays on it. Bassist Roger Glover of Deep Purple fame also makes an appearance on the opening title track, and U2’s Larry Mullen Jr. of all people handles the skins for almost the entire record. Alice Cooper pulled together some professionals to make Paranormal happen, and it shows.
The last two tracks of Paranormal are where it gets really strange. Probably because those two tracks feature original Alice Cooper Band members guitarist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith. “Genuine American Girl” has a sock-hop, doo-wop feel and gives a first person view of a transgender man who’s proud of his femininity (“My momma says the world’s an oyster/and I’m the pearl.”) The final track, “You And All Your Friends,” feels like an anthemic call to all the other aged rockers out there that might think they need to hang up their fringe jackets and roach clips because they’ve reached their twilight years. “And when the sun goes down tomorrow/we will no longer be your slaves/and it will be the end of sorrow/‘cause we’ll be dancing on your graves.”
Put together in one tidy and creepy package, Paranormal does the near-impossible: offering something of worth for fans of his ‘70s output, those folks that clued in once Alice popped up in Wayne’s World and those newly minted fans who were welcomed to his nightmare on his recent run of tour dates. There’s almost no other rockers of Alice’s vintage that could pull of such a feat. Sharpen up the guillotine, folks; he ain’t done yet.