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Welcome To My Nightmare
Alice Cooper

Atlantic 18130
Released: March 1975
Chart Peak: #5
Weeks Charted: 37
Certified Gold: 5/30/75

Alice CooperThe comeback of Alice Cooper, the singer, without Alice Cooper, the group, poses the obvious question -- was it him or them? The obvious answer has always been that it was Alice, whose star quality took him and his pals from being a maligned and second-rate heavy-metal act to a premier singles rock band of the Seventies. That ignores the equally obvious -- that the music improved more than the stage gimmicks or the singing.

Some would argue that the responsible party was Bob Ezrin, the group's producer. But, aside from the Cooper albums and the records he made with Mitch Ryder and Detroit (whence half the sessionmen here), Ezrin has been a disappointment. Lou Reed's Berlin garnered much more acclaim but Ezrin's production was thin. And this album is a TV soundtrack that sounds like one. The horn parts are so corny you might imagine that you're listening to the heavy-metal Ann-Margret.

Aside from Warner Bros.' Greatest Hits package released last fall, this is Alice's first album in 18 months. During the layoff Alice tried to develop an identity separate from the group's -- on Hollywood Squares, the Smothers Brothers show and elsewhere. If it works, he and Svengali Shep Gordon will look like geniuses. If it doesn't they'll look like the Monkees with low Nielsens.

Alice Cooper - Welcome To My Nightmare
Original album advertising art.
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The fact is that most name rock groups can easily weather being out of the public eye for a year and a half. But Cooper is, by definition, different. Neither Alice nor the group was ever content with simply being a rock band. Their fantasy was first to become a fad and then a fad that lasted.

The real question now is whether Alice needs that rock band. Based on the evidence here, the answer is probably yes. The music is admirably performed, and it is more deliberate and complicated than the basic rock of "School's Out" and "I'm Eighteen." But without the wildness and drive of the sound the Cooper troupe had, the gimmicks on which Alice the performer must rely are flat and obvious. Guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, who push this crew, are good but they never get into overdrive as Mike Bruce and whoever was filling in for Glen Buxton (often Hunter and Wagner) always did. Nor are the songs they write as captivating as Bruce's.

Welcome to My Nightmare sounds like a record put together by people who don't know each other very well and were brought together for the occasion. The basic ideas which made the hits are here but their shallowness is transparent now. Sources have begun to become too evident. The Jim Morrison vocal on the title track, for instance, is embarrassingly obvious. Similarly, the phasing and group singing effects on "Devil's Food" recall other tracks on other albums where the gimmicks were used to better advantage. The pulsing rhythm section of "Department of Youth" is only a pale echo of the same device as displayed on "Under My Wheels" or "School's Out."

Ironically, this may be the result of a sharp increase in competence. Hunter and Wagner are fine guitarists, drummer Johnny Badanjek has been an unknown genius since his earliest work with the Detroit Wheels (listen to the first ten seconds of "Devil with a Blue Dress On") and the refugees from Toronto-based Mandala who make up the rest of the session group have no glaring shortcomings. The sound here is the opposite of Berlin's -- it's dense. All that's lacking is inspiration, but that is missing completely. Even the much vaunted ballad "Only Women Bleed," which is indeed pretty, is not as involving or moving as the similar ballad, "Teenage Lament '74," on Muscle of Love.

Still, Cooper has always had a way around the charges of mundane music. He is making statements. That is what he seems to be doing on this album as well. But the statement is by now so trite, even (or especially) in his own context, that it is hardly worth making. The basic theme, murder and its consequences, is right out of "Ballad of Dwight Fry." There is nothing as insightful about violence here as that song, any more than there is anything about the vaguely occult "Devil's Food" and "The Black Widow" that's as arresting as the early "Black Ju Ju."

Cooper's sense of humor has deserted him. "Steven" parodies with piano the spacy effects of The Exorcist's "Tubular Bells" theme and that's the funniest moment. The rest is forced, from "Department of Youth," which tries to recapitulate the theme of "School's Out," to "Escape," which tries to do the same for "I'm Eighteen."

Alice has always wanted to go Hollywood, and TV Hollywood at that. Welcome to My Nightmare is simply a synthesis of every wildly wicked, tepidly controversial trick in the Cooper handbook. But in escaping from the mask of rock singer which he claimed he found so confining, Cooper has just found just another false face (as he says so bluntly in "Escape": "Paint on my cruel or happy face/Hide me behind it").

It was probably not only necessary but inevitable that Cooper or someone like him would come along to remind us, at a time when rock was in danger of being taken too seriously, that it's only rock & roll and that rock & roll is only part of showbiz. But in dispensing with rock, Cooper has left us with only showbiz. I don't know if only showbiz is as marketable as only rock & roll. Perhaps it is. But it's not as much fun.

- Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone, 4/24/75.

Bonus Reviews!

Alice Cooper has been what Chet Flippo called a "celebrated brat" long enough; now Alice wants to be a notch or so beyond that, an entity known as an American Institution. He has been working the institutionalization-by-association angle, hopping into camera range to hug George Burns, hobnob with Ethel Kennedy, play golf with Bob Hope, and so forth. This flurry of image adjustments has undermined his old pose as a creepy transvestite and the old act that went with it, but Alice is still doing the act. Maybe it's the only act he knows, or maybe he hopes it will be institutionalized, too. I wouldn't be surprised if it is He may have shucked the drag bit (though not the mascara) and some of his old band members (here the help includes Vincent Price in some B-horror-quickie self-parody that is almost as embarrassingly ill-humored as a Bob Hope monologue), but he's trading on the same old pretended gore and the same old fraternity-house boasting (check out "Department of Youth") about his own degeneracy. When you think about the crowd he wants to run with, you can see how they probably all deserve each other's company, and that it isn't going to hurt the average much to admit Alice and the stuff that got him this far -- simulated baby beheadings and Santa Claus punch-outs, and, in the present case, words about making love to a dead woman he keeps in the fridge -- to the so-called shrine they inhabit. In fact, the transparency of Alice's hustle puts the whole subject of notoriety in better perspective, as does the sound of this latest batch of garbage Alice has turned out. There isn't an idea in it anywhere, musical or otherwise, that isn't third-rate... except for a couple that are fifth-rate. It's just another assembly and exploitation of some tired old trappings of rock-and-roll with practically none of the fun an actual musician can find in the idiom. The band, technically, isn't too bad; Alice's band technically never has been, but even if it were great in that sense, its commitment to The Gimmick would keep it from playing real music. But I do take some satisfaction in seeing Alice Cooper turning out to be America's latest thing in conservative businessmen.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 6/75.

Solo set from Alice Cooper is by far the best musical project he has yet undertaken. LP is soundtrack to upcoming TV special, and is vastly different in parts from his group efforts, but similar enough to retain old fans. Fine use of horns and strong arrangements throughout, as well as the powerful metallic sound (Dick Wagner on guitar) and razor sharp vocals Alice is associated with. More universally appealing than previous LPs, with the vocals simply better than on recent LPs, the arrangements more interesting and sophisticated and the package more commercial. There's a John Lennon type song here that is beautifully arranged and sung, some material reminiscent of "School's Out," and a variety of other things. Alice has always been recognized as a masterful rocker, but we see here there is far more to him than that. He proves himself able to handle many kinds of music, though the rock is still dominant. A truly superb effort. Best cuts: "Devil's Food," "Some Folks," "Only Women Bleed" (the Lennon styled cut), "Department Of Youth" (like "School's Out"), "Cold Ethyl," "Steven" (a truly frightening piece of rock theater), and "Escape."

- Billboard, 1975.

Oh boy, dear old Alice has found another excuse to sing about all those lovely delights he's visited upon us in the past: creepy crawlies, masochism, regression, devil women, and so on. There's even another national punk anthem! Golly gee, what'll he think of next? He's also rounded up a terrific backup band for the occasion, including guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, who gave such good support to Louie Louie on Rock 'n Roll Animal. Just because the Cooper lad's initial solo cinematic vinyl visitation about assorted nightmares is more than a wee bit predictable, as well as slightly off on the edges -- the plaintive "Only Women Bleed" is not only out of character, it also stinks -- don't dismiss the LP entirely. There's some fine 'n nasty A.C.-roll here, along with his usual nifty wink o' the eye humor. Nope, this is not bad for an over-the-hill teeny bopper. Then again, it's not too hot either.

- Andy McKale, Circus, 6/75.

The solo debut actually ain't so bad -- no worse than all the others. "Department of Youth" is his catchiest teen power song to date, "Cold Ethyl" his catchiest necrophilia song to date, and "Only Women Bleed" the most explicitly feminist song to hit the top forty since "I Am Woman." Alice's nose for what the kids want to hear is as discriminating as it is impervious to moral suasion, so perhaps this means that the more obvious feminist truisms have become conventional wisdom among at least half our adolescents. Encouraging. B-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Cooper's solo-artist debut contains "Only Women Bleed." It's the best of his solo efforts. * * * *

- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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