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Review: Alice Cooper – ‘Paranormal’

Alice CooperThe seeds for the much-anticipated reunion of the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper Band were first sown back in 2011, the year that Alice Cooper was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Joining Cooper onstage were Neal Smith, Dennis Dunaway, and Michael Bruce, not only to accept the award with Alice Cooper himself, but to run through a few numbers as the Alice Cooper Band. The much missed guitarist Glen Buxton was name checked by all, and another Cooper alumni, Steve Hunter, took his place for the live set. A few months after the induction, Cooper released ‘Welcome 2 My Nightmare’. A scan through the credits revealed that Smith, Dunaway, and Bruce all played parts in the gestation of tracks like ‘A Runaway Train’, ‘I’ll Bite Your Face Off’, and ‘When Hell Comes Home’, surely a full album together would follow? ‘Paranormal’ isn’t a full album with the original guys, but it’s another step in that direction. Perhaps the forthcoming live UK dates, where the original band will perform a short set together, will be the last cog in the wheel, and 2018 will see grown men over a certain age crying tears of joy.

‘Paranormal’ is the first studio release from Cooper in the six years that have passed since ‘Welcome 2 My Nightmare’, with live albums and his outing with the Hollywood Vampires making up his musical input. It’s his best since 1994’s ‘The Last Temptation’, which might sound like a flippant remark, but considering how strong both ‘Welcome 2 My Nightmare’ and its predecessor ‘Along Came A Spider’ are, it’s a sign of how potent ‘Paranormal’ is. It’s a healthy dash of classic old school Alice Cooper mixed with a modern day sinister sneer. The title track opens the album, and is the perfect marriage of both old and new. It begins with a dramatic, theatrical intro that surely must open the forthcoming live dates? The drums build and build, then drop off into a simple moment of guitar picking. Cooper goes with the quiet, sinister vocals that are his trademark… and then the song bursts into life. After an atmospheric few moments, the song takes a sharp turn as the guitar solo comes in. It signals for Cooper to take a breather and let his well known love of a good guitarist take over. Tommy Henriksen is one of three amazing guitarists currently in Cooper’s touring band. He also handles the lion’s share of the action on the album, and more than makes his mark.

Someone else making his mark is Larry Mullen Jr, who takes time out from U2 to handle the vast majority of drum work on ‘Paranormal’. His work is nothing short of staggering, especially on the blink-and-miss-it speed of  ‘Dead Flies’ and the Deep Purple-esque ‘Fireball’. Official “sixth member” of the Alice Cooper Band, producer Bob Ezrin, lays down some fat, beefy organ work on ‘Fireball’, and helps propel the song along at a fair old pace. Billy Gibbons drops in to lend his inimitable guitar licks to ‘Fallen In Love’, a rip-roaring romp, as you would expect of anything with Gibbons’ name attached to it. ‘Dynamite Road’ is bubblegum glam with a ‘Ballroom Blitz’ drum beat running through it, and dare I say it, but Mullens actually sounds like he’s having a blast here. Pay attention, and you will spot the nod towards ‘Devil’s Food’ from ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’. Cooper has always had a great tongue-in-cheek approach to lyrics, and ‘Private Public Breakdown’ features the beauty of… “the secret service… I make them nervous”, a throwback to the time when Cooper was public enemy number one. ‘Rats’ is like ‘Dead Flies’… the same sense of urgency. Short, sharp and snot-nosed. ‘Rats’ also features a welcome reminder of how powerful a drummer Neal Smith is. He, and other OG’s, Michael Bruce and Dennis Dunaway, all turn up in advance of the two “reunion” tracks on Disc Two. Dunaway also pops up in various other places, including the trippy ‘Sound Of A’ that finishes off Disc One. If you are familiar with his work, even in recent times with Blue Coupe, then you will know that Dunaway has always been one of the most underrated bassists throughout rock history. 

Disc Two features ‘Genuine American Girl’ and ‘You and All of Your Friends’, the much-anticipated reunion of the Alice Cooper Band. Two tracks that, for any self-respecting Cooper fan, are worthy of any price. ‘Genuine American Girl’ is a good old fashioned three chord romp with a modern twist, as it’s told from the perspective of a transgender in today’s world. “You think it’s vanity, or some insanity, but this is no man’s land and I live here every day”, followed by the classic Cooper twist of, “I’m only 30 out of 50 shades of gray”. ‘You And All Your Friends’ is a fantastic call-to-arms that Cooper was famous for in the 70’s… ‘Schools Out’, ‘Elected’… don’t bore us, get to the chorus type of thing. Steve Hunter appears on both tracks, and his solo on the second is nothing short of hair-raising. It’s fantastic to hear him again. It would be criminal if both tracks were overlooked on the forthcoming UK tour. If all this wasn’t enough, you also get 6 live tracks featuring the current touring line up of the band romping through ‘No More Nice Guy’, ‘Under My Wheels’, etc.

‘Paranormal’ is available July 28th on various formats, pre-order here 

Review: Dave Stott

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