Let's take this week out with an unexpected bang. I like the classic rock well enough, but I would not say its my default setting, so sometimes there are embarrassing pieces missing in my cultural pie. So when this, a new album from Alice Cooper, that Alice Cooper, was in a mailer from the venerable font of goodness New West, my first reaction was "SWEET!" and then that quickly dissipated, realizing that outside of his oft played paeans to high school being out and being eighteen, and the occasional History Of Rock special that shows clips of his classic sideshow concerts in the 70's, and him in the mascara on the golf course nowadays, I don't know jack shit about Alice Cooper. I considered discarding this for a minute, knowing that he does have a rabid following, and that my naivete would be insulting to their legacy of fandom, and then I realized that I don't care about that either and popped it in the player.
What you get with Dirty Diamonds is a B+ bluesy garage rock album by a guy that shaped the precious punk and metal we hold so dear. Without Alice and KISS, their might not have been a Stooges or MC5 (or they would not have spread past Detroit), which means there might not have been a Ramones or Sex Pistols which means no Gang Of Four, which means no Franz Ferdinand, which means civilization would be in a time-space tailspin and cats and dogs would be friends and we'd all be speaking German. You like that future, Schickel-gruber? I didn't think so. The many moods of He Who Wears The Makeup In This Family are given excellent treatments here, unlike how the mid 80's Iggy Pop stab at mainstream Blah Blah Blah failed. It opens with the brilliantly horrible title "Woman of Mass Distraction" which totally rocks, a mix of basic hard rock swagger, and roll and his voice, scratchy and theatrical delivering superb goofuses like "I never met my match until I met the lady/ She whooped me, she cooked me, she practically filleted me" are almost a shock - I almost forgot rock music could be funny.
And poignant. On the "Perfect" his Paul McCartney croon throws down some rare fat-positive love for the big gal that braves the hatred society has for her to hit the dance floor. I'm with Muddy Waters in my love for Big Legged Women, so kudos Alice. "You Make Me Wanna... is a woo-hoo riddled piece of rock brilliance that the current Kool Kids can't quite get to, and the title track fools you by starting with a Nelson Riddle mood before turning left into raw power territory, with a convoluted Miami Vice tale of criminals and the feds and whatever. Also bonus points for the touching country-ish ballad of a jailed cross-dressing trucker "The Saga of Jesse Jane." There was a weird blue-collar gay bar I used to frequent, where one could consort with guys still in their greasy work jumpsuits and a bad Lita Ford wig, just blowing off a little steam, and I wish it was still open, just so I could see the beautiful spectacle of these half-in/half-out societal skimmers slow-dance to this one. Just like on "Perfect" I'm not sure how much of this is for a larf, but it still manages to be funny and be sweet. I would've never guessed.
Some tracks are less successful, like the 80's hard rock power pop of "Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)" and "Run Down the Devil" where he takes that phrase and stretches it into a story of actually running the devil over with his car. But these are minor hiccups. In the middle of all this are the totally sweet "Pretty Ballerina" replete with music box twinkles and flutes. I keep waiting for the revelation that she is a dude, but nope, she's just his imagination. His hard rock chops are showing on "Steal That Car" which is one of the funnier crunchy power pop tunes in a long time. The George Harrison blues of "Six Hours" is also resplendent and would've made for a fine end to this thing, but the entertainer keeps the show rolling through the slow burn Disco-Stones-ish silliness of "Zombie Dance" which in its way works and ends in the pinnacle of clown ludicrousness - a rap-slash-power-ballad duet with Xzibit. "Stand" has the trappings of one of those bad rap songs that rolls through the credits. I'm not sure the motive for adding this track, originally on an album of songs for the Olympics, but whatever. Alice Cooper is fully looking to make you laugh as you bang your head, even if its an "Oh Jesus... shake-your head-in-dismay laugh. I'm not saying that this is inspiring me to lift some mascara from the Walgreens and to go purchase a boa constrictor, but this record made me laugh more than any other I heard this year, and I hear a lot of records. Good job.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com