Friday 26 February 2021

Alice Cooper - Detroit Stories (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 26 Feb 2021
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Alice is back again with his 21st studio album and it'll be a surprise for many listeners, though less so to those of us who heard The Breadcrumbs EP in 2019. Perhaps more appropriately, we should call it his 28th and add back in those seven recorded when Alice Cooper was a band rather than a frontman, as it's a throwback in many ways to those early years of School's Out and Billion Dollar Babies. That's only in part because quite a lot of that band is here.

Two songs here were recorded with Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith, who left the band in 1974 though have been back for odd songs like these on Welcome 2 My Nightmare and Paranormal. Perhaps more importantly, Smith co-wrote one of them and Dunaway two. Bob Ezrin, Alice's producer back in those days, produces again here. He also co-wrote the majority of the songs and performs on a bunch of them, whether through percussion, keyboards or backing vocals.

Other major contributors include regular guitarist Tommy Henriksen, Wayne Kramer of the MC5, jazz man Paul Randolph and Johnny Badanjek of Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, the common factor in all those names except Henriksen being that they hail from Detroit. This isn't a concept album but it's themed around that city, where Alice was born back in, holy crap, 1948, even if we don't notice much of the time. That means that it follows on nicely from The Breadcrumbs EP, which mostly featured covers of songs from Detroit bands. Two of them are here—the MC5's Sister Anne and East Side Story by Bob Seger—along with two Alice originals, Detroit City and Go Man Go.

Now, Breadcrumbs was a garage rock EP but this is more of a hard rock album like the old days, maybe as a nod to the fiftieth anniversary of Love It to Death and Killer, Alice's breakthrough 1971 albums. I should note here that they were pivotal not just to hard rock but to other genres too. Johnny Rotten has called Killer the greatest rock album of all time. This isn't but it is a thoroughly enjoyable ride to a lot more places than I've heard Alice go on one album in a long while. Admittedly, I don't remember anything about Paranormal, but this plays a lot better to me than Welcome 2 My Nightmare.

To get us in that seventies mindset, it kicks off with a seventies song, Lou Reed's Rock & Roll, which is a new cover, though given that the lyrics mention a Detroit station rather than a New York one, this is really a cover of Mitch Ryder's cover of the Velvet Underground song. The next couple of songs feel as if they ought to be covers but they're not. Go Man Go is still the energy shot of punk rebelliousness I remember from Breadcrumbs, while Our Love Will Change the World sounds like a Beatles single with psychedelia edges. Social Debris, on the other hand, sounds exactly like Alice Cooper.

The sheer variety here means that this is a treat for Alice fans, especially those who have followed him through what sometimes seems like every genre under the sun. Drunk and in Love is a prowling brooder that feels longer than it is but in a good way and Wonderful World does some of that too. Independence Dave is a blitzkrieg that finds its groove quickly and milks it. Detroit City, namechecking a plethora of musical legends from that city, sounded great on The Eyes of Alice Cooper and still does, but it may be $1000 High Heel Shoes that ends up my favourite here. It's a sassy number with horns and sax and a prominent shooby doo backing vocal from what seems to be much of the modern incarnation of Sister Sledge.

I can imagine many reviews talking about the return to an older style and the loose Detroit theme we continually forget about, but I wonder how many will talk about how self-aware this album is. There's a pair of songs here that epitomise Alice's personae. I Hate You is a stomping anthem with lyrics that rage about how awful Alice is on stage: "A guillotine! Oh, big surprise!" And, just to flip that around, Hanging on by a Thread (Don't Give Up) is a catchy little song with narrated verses that offers hope to troubled listeners to the degree that it includes the number of the Suicide Prevention Hotline at the end of the actual song.

That Alice is both of those people may be the primary reason why he continues to be relevant even at 73 years young. That he's made a lot of great music over the years (and, let's be honest, some dreck as well) may be secondary but there's a lot more of it on this album, which is the most enjoyable that he has conjured up in years.

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