When I was little, I used to tell all the kids in school I was related to Alice Cooper. He was my creepy rock star cousin. Most of them had no idea who he was, let alone the fact it’s not even his real name. I didn’t care though, he was a crazy looking old man with goth makeup who played sleazy rock n roll so he was awesome! My last name is Cooper, I had to attach myself to it. Much like this review, it’s almost like a requirement! The same mentality can be said for Cooper’s new album Paranormal.
After five decades in the business, an artist should be an immortal legend or dead. Alice Cooper walks the fine line between both.
Aside from his few classic rock staples, Cooper isn’t much of a darling of critical acclaim. This has awarded him the luxury of being able to try various sub-genres and experiment with concepts without the weight of expectation. Multiple horror films, a song in a Friday The 13th sequel, and appearances in comedies like Wayne’s World and Dark Shadows, Cooper could show up just about anywhere and it would seem logical. Even with the freedom to do whatever his twisted heart desires. His latest album, Paranormal isn’t a concept album.
However, this doesn’t mean Paranormal lacks focus or direction. Outside the traditional themes of glam and goth, there are no arching story elements running throughout the songs. Instead, the plot twists all come in terms of unpredictability, production, and delivery.
With 70 creeping up on him, aren’t we expecting Cooper to rely on the crutch of nostalgia?
From the start, Paranormal‘s title track opens with the gloomy atmosphere that made Cooper so cool early in his career. The first plot twist is his vocal delivery. At his age, the vocals should sound closer to the undead but age has been kind to Cooper! His voice has become more defined and nuanced over the years and it fits perfectly with the tension. It’s hard to believe that it took 27 albums for me to realize Alice Cooper is actually a good singer.
On the production front, every single track is engineered, mixed, and mastered with precision. Where most aging rock stars fail to deliver on production (are you listening Glenn Danzig?) Cooper excels. Producer and long-time friend Bob Ezrin, know what works and what doesn’t. Throughout the brisk run-time, Ezrin keeps the focus on Cooper’s strengths. It’s no surprise Paranormal is more akin to Cooper’s pre-1975 albums in terms of cohesiveness. While Cooper is full-on capable of rock operas and concept albums, for all intents and purposes, he’s still a rock singer.
Paranormal celebrates the sleazy weirdness fans know and love without once coming off contrived or self-indulgent.
There are quite a few unexpected guest spots such as Deep Purple’s Roger Glover and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. Most surprising is the fact Larry Mullen Jr. plays drums on all but 2 tracks. In what universe does U2’s drummer playing on an Alice Cooper record even make sense? Speaking of guest spots, two songs feature the original Alice Cooper band members Neil Smith, Dennis Dunaway, and Michael Bruce.
Sadly, those two tracks are the only time Paranormal stumbles. The New York Dolls boogie of “Genuine American Girl” has it’s tongue firmly in cheek with lyrics like “I’m only 30 out of 50 Shades of Grey”. Humor always lightens the mood on Cooper records but this track might be a touch too corny for the rest of album. Especially with bangers like “Fireball” and “Paranoic Personality”. The other classic line-up track “You and All of Your Friends” fairs a little better but only because of it’s ‘hey we’re not dead yet!’ anthemics. It’s great to hear the original band members but those two tracks would be more at home on a greatest hits package or box set.
When the weakest tracks on an album are the ones that feature the classic line-up, it’s safe to say Alice Cooper has officially defied nostalgia.
There’s only so many places an artist can go over the course of fifty years. Even greats such as The Rolling Stones and Guns N Roses are out there on glorified nostalgia tours. While there’s nothing wrong with celebrating their many achievements, only a few artists of Cooper’s age continue to grow. David Bowie’s last record was amazing, and Iggy Pop’s possible finale was one of his strongest, making both of them prime examples of cultural significance and artistic growth.
I’m not entirely sure about an artist who recently opened for Motley Crue can sit among the likes of Bowie and Iggy, but putting out one of his finest records this late in his career truly says something about artistic integrity. Paranormal is simply a fantastic rock record only Cooper is capable of pulling off. If that proves anything, it’s Cousin Alice isn’t ready for retirement (or the grave) just yet.
Paranormal is available for download, digipack CD, and vinyl at AliceCooper.com