Welcome 2 My Nightmare
posted on 10/2011 By:
Alice Cooper’s last album, 2008’s Along Came A Spider, was his highest-charting record since the 1991 release of Hey Stoopid. A concept album about a serial killer, Spider also marked Coop’s return to the theatrical after he’d re-embraced his earlier garage-tinted hard rock with The Eyes Of Alice Cooper and Dirty Diamonds. So in the interest of striking while the commercial iron was hot, this newest album was originally slated as a sequel to Spider’s storyline, but then along came a producer.
Now, to be fair, it wasn’t just any producer. It was the producer, a legend and the sonic architect of Cooper’s best records – Bob Ezrin produced Alice Cooper’s records from the time Alice Cooper was a band until the time Alice the man embraced New Wave in the early 1980s. (Ezrin also produced The Wall and Kiss’ Destroyer, in case you’re keeping track.) This producer apparently wasn’t interested in a sequel to Along Came A Spider and proposed instead a sequel to Cooper’s first post-band album, 1975’s Welcome To My Nightmare, the record that is routinely cited as Alice’s finest solo release. And then, to add fuel to the fire of my anticipation, Cooper invited the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper band to participate in three of the songs – the first time they’ve recorded together since 1973. (Cooper band lead guitarist Glen Buxton passed away in 1997.)
So, to be fair again, the idea of an experienced artist once again on an upswing re-uniting with the producer who facilitated that artist’s creative and commercial peak is a no-brainer. Add to that the band that made them both famous, and it’s a shoe-in for a major event. But reunions can also smell a bit of desperation, and revisiting your biggest success some thirty-five years later lends itself to a worrisome lack of new ideas and the potential that you’ll never live up to your own greatness. Because there’s also this pesky little fact: In music as in film, rarely do sequels equal the original, let alone improve upon it, especially when so much time elapses between the pieces.
So knowing all this, I went into Welcome 2 with mixed emotions, and I came out the same way. As much as I wanted this to be the success that a Cooper-Ezrin-Bruce-Dunaway-Smith combination should be, I can’t help but wonder what that sequel to Spider would’ve sounded like with Ezrin at the helm because most of Welcome 2 does exactly what Cooper always says he does: plays up to my greatest fears. Only this time, that’s not entirely a good thing.
Cooper himself compares the album-opening epic semi-ballad “I Am Made Of You” to “Hello Hooray,” the similarly paced tune that begins Billion Dollar Babies, and in some ways, it’s a very good comparison. Except that “Hello Hooray” doesn’t feature Cher / T-Pain-esque auto-tuned vocals, and even if it had, that would’ve been thirty years too early instead of five years too late. The Coop has flirted with pop before – his better-than-people-think early-80s records were more in line with The Cars than with hard rock, and his late-80s comeback came on a crest of Desmond Child-penned pop-metal tunes. But in Welcome 2’s most egregious stumbles, his pop tendencies, however tongue-in-cheek they may be, overcome his rock sensibilities. Between the auto-tune and the Ke$ha guest appearance in the dance-y “What Baby Wants” sits the flat-out embarrassing rapping in “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever.” In the album’s storyline, Cooper uses disco / dance-pop as a particular punishment in Hell (a perfectly valid concept that he initially explored on 1976’s Alice Cooper Goes To Hell), but he seems to forget that, even as he’s telling us about the punishment of listening to crap dance music, he’s making us listen to crap dance music, except with some heavier guitars. I get that it’s sarcasm, a joke, and Cooper has always had a great sense of humor, but a bad song is a bad song, even in jest.
But there is an upside, and it's a little over half of the album. While the failures are glaring, the successes are a bit subtler, if only because they’re more in line with what Cooper does when he’s at his best. “I’ll Bite Your Face Off,” one of the three tunes recorded with the Bruce-Dunaway-Smith section, is a straight-ahead garage-y hard rocker, and it’s easy to see why it was chosen as the first single. The moody “When Hell Comes Home” (which also features the original band) rides a truly creepy arrangement and details the protagonist’s life with an abusive alcoholic father, and it’s the finest track on hand. The twisted music-hall oompah of “Last Man On Earth” is almost Tom Waits-ish, and Cooper pulls it off admirably, while “Something To Remember Me By” is a ballad in the style of his late-70s successes “Only Women Bleed” and “I Never Cry.” (“Something” is a hold-out from that era – it wasn’t recorded when it was written because Cooper apparently couldn’t sing it. He fares well here, but it’s not his finest vocal moment.)
So as much of Welcome 2 works as doesn’t, but what doesn’t work is awful, and unfortunately it’s the most prominent and memorable part of the record. Cooper’s theatricality has long been his most defining feature, and the original Welcome To My Nightmare is his most theatrical moment – it’s a campy near-Broadway play filtered through Hammer horror, but it also works as a rock record, largely because it features some of Alice’s best tunes of the era. Welcome 2 simply can’t compete with that record’s quality, and in its scattershot embracing of everything from country to surf-rock, it succumbs to its own theatrics and falters.
Tethering your latest record to your greatest is always a gamble, and when it comes down to it, the team of Cooper-plus-band-plus-Ezrin can do much, much better than this, and if it needs one at all, Welcome To My Nightmare deserves a better sequel, too. To make a positive of it: Welcome 2’s best moments are those that re-unite the man with the band, and here’s hoping that, if nothing else comes of this, that the five of them (including Ezrin) can keep their working relationship good enough to explore that chemistry further. Just remember to leave the disco on the dance-floor next time.
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