No D&D content this time, just an appreciation of a couple of Alice Cooper albums.
Because my car has a tape deck, I have been able to listen to a bunch of old tapes that I made in high school and college. Recently it was a tape with two Alice Cooper albums on it: DaDa and Constrictor.
I found DaDa at a department store, some time in the mid-1980s, in the bargain bin. DaDa never sold well and I read recently that Cooper says he can’t even remember making it (or the preceding album, Zipper catches skin, which was also a flop), as he was in an alcoholic haze for several years in the late 70s/early-to-mid 80s. A few years later he went through rehab and sobered up and released Constrictor. Those were the only Alice Cooper albums I ever had on vinyl, although I’d eventually get his older stuff on cassette. (I gave away all my vinyl a few years ago because I didn’t have room for it, my turntable didn’t work well, and hadn’t listened to any of them in years. Once in a blue moon I regret not keeping a few albums for the covers; there were some great ones, and DaDa certainly ranks).
Constrictor was relatively successful. It came out when a lot of older acts were returning to the studio and touring and Cooper had a successful tour for that album (I think Megadeth opened for him!). The songs on Constrictor all fit in the ‘hair metal’ mold so popular in the 1980s, except that the sound is a little heavier and the lyrics are a little more cynical and tongue-in-cheek. There is almost a ballad (which is not quite a power ballad); otherwise but the album is very consistent: anthemic heavy metal, with one exception. The outlier is the main single from the album (“He’s back,” which was made for a Friday the 13th film soundtrack), which mostly substitutes keyboards for lead guitar. The beginning of the track sounds a little like it was imitating Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” but soon drifts off into the more familiar creepy/humorous territory you expect from Cooper. Listening to the whole album at one go, I thought was better than I remembered but not great. I never loved the album, but it is pretty decent as something to pass the time.
The other side of the tape is DaDa. The album cover is an homage to a Salvador Dali painting; Cooper and Dali knew each other so I guess it was probably something Dali approved of — I don’t remember there being any mention of Dali in the liner notes though. (One thing I do remember was that the back cover had all the credits & lyrics in a script typeface, but the credits also mentioned someone specific as the calligrapher of the lyrics. I can’t believe the lyrics were all written out by hand, as the font is so uniform…but there it is, in the credits. How quickly we forget what life was like before computers did everything.)
Anyway DaDa opens with a seriously creepy song that mixes a baby saying “dada” with a synthesizer playing minor chords and a drum effect that sounds like a gunshot or a heavy door slamming, and eventually some dialogue fades in. The album as a whole does not exactly have a unifying theme, but it is as much a concept album as Alice Cooper Goes to Hell and Killers — there are some oblique connections among individual pairs of songs and like many concept albums before and since, the last track fades into the beginning of the first track, suggesting an eternal recurrence. This makes a certain amount of sense. If the song “Dada” introduces a disturbed man with a problematic relationship with his son, the second song, “Enough’s enough,” gives the son’s side of the story, before the next song, “Former Lee Warmer,” tells of a monster being cared for and hidden by his sibling — echoing the line in “Enough’s enough” (“why’d you hide your brother?”) as well as the confusion about how many children the patient in “Dada” has. The subsequent songs mix humor and horror, and for the most part could be describing some of the struggles (with mental illness, violence, and perversion) of either the father or the son from the first songs. The song “I love America,” easily the funniest of the tracks (“I love that mountain with those four big heads…”, delivered with a redneck drawl which, however, by the end of the song seems less satire and more earnest), is like an intermission or interlude before the final two songs. “I love America” in fact contains an intermission of its own in the form of frenzied used car commercial. But the last two songs — “Fresh blood” and “Pass the gun around” — seem to complete the cycle of violence. The former chronicles the protagonist’s struggle to resist the urge to kill, while the latter is a disturbingly autobiographical song about slow suicide by alcoholism. It is unlikely that any song here but the last has any real autobiographical significance for Cooper, but immediately after finishing the album, Cooper headed into rehab.
The songs on DaDa are hard to categorize musically; not as heavy as the earlier work by the band Alice Cooper, nor the solo albums from Constrictor onwards, they are more like the mixed bag of progressive rock albums Cooper did during his pre-rehab solo years (Goes to Hell, Welcome to my nightmare, etc.), but with a bit more of a pop/rock sensibility and maybe New Wave. If he’d released the album twenty or thirty years later than he did, it would be called “indie rock,” I think.
Looking for images of the these albums, I found a pretty thorough writeup of Alice Cooper’s entire discography here.