When you invoke the name of Alice Cooper, you're gonna get a reaction. The rock fan nods in knowing reverence, John Q. Uptight cringes. With a 35-year reign of challenge, instigation, and gender-bending theatrical horror, Cooper is truly a pop culture icon.
The music on Cooper's new record, The Eyes Of Alice Cooper, is the standard sarcastic, self-effacing hard rock he's known for, mixed with the sinister macabre for which he's loved. Where Cooper might have gotten caught up in the times, technology-wise, with his last few platters, The Eyes is back to basics, bare-boned, bleak, and unforgettable. It wails straight out of the Detroit garage. It is classic Alice Cooper.
Cooper and his group cranked out the album in two weeks, playing almost everything live in the studio. No frills. No fluff. No polish.
"It's hard to play simple," he says via phone from, I'm guessing, Wonderland. "And sometimes it's hard to find a band that doesn't overplay. You get guys that go in there and the drummer's filling every hole, the guitar player wants to play the lead through everything. And in order to make a really good, solid garage rock album, you have to back off everything. You have to tell the drummer, 'OK, no fills, just play the beat straight through.'"
However, sometimes Cooper concedes. "Every once in a while we'll do a song where it's like, 'Go ahead, go for it. Just go Keith Moon on me.'"
Cooper's new band has obviously been raised on Cooper. They were in diapers when he was in straitjackets; They were losing their virginity while he was losing his head. With their proficiency and obvious reverence to the classic sound, they threaten to out-Cooper Cooper.
"These guys are all aficionados of that Detroit Sound. They're all very educated in that sound. So are The Vines, so are The Strokes, and The White Stripes." And they're bringing Cooper back to the old sound, like "a dog chasing its tail," he says.
"All of a sudden the new-school bands are playing old-school music," he says. "And the old-school bands like us are picking up on that and going back to our original sound."
No apologies. The Coop thinks folks are just fed up.
"I think it's a reaction to slick rock --- I'm not going to call it rock 'n' roll, it's not rock 'n' roll at all --- slick music. I think there are kids out there that are sitting around going 'Hey, what happened to rock 'n' roll? How come we can't have that music anymore?'"
When the Alice Cooper Group first hit the scene in the late '60s, with the help of Frank Zappa, people freaked.
"Everybody was so terrified that their kids were gonna end up like me," he says. Even Ann Landers got her panties in a bunch, dedicating a whole column admonishing Cooper for his ode to necrophilia, Cold Ethyl.
"We were just street guys playing. We learned from The Yardbirds. We just threw in a little West Side Story, a little Edgar Allan Poe." And the people who were shocked probably didn't get it anyway.
As far as providing a shock in rock now, Cooper laughs, "That ante has been upped a hundredfold." This from the man who once promised to "drive a stake through the heart of the Love generation."
"Rock kids today are still hungry for a real rock band," he says referring to The Ramones, The Stooges, and even himself.
So The Eyes Of Alice Cooper is here to feed that jones. The theatrical satire and mayhem are there as well, but the Coop feels they've lost a little of their sting.
"How do you shock an audience with a guillotine and a snake when you just saw an entire war on television... live," he asks. "Suddenly that little piece of theater, it's not really that shocking is it?"
Cooper the man (Vince Furnier), separates himself from Alice Cooper the character.
"I'm Dr. Jekyll and he's Mr. Hyde," he says. "And for 35 years, he's been my favorite rock star."
Alice Cooper plays on Friday, October 31, at the Bear's Den, in the Seneca Niagara Casino, 310 Fourth Street, Niagara Falls, at 10 p.m. Tix: $35. 716-299-1100
Punk-metal icon Wendy O. Williams will be inducted into the Rochester Music Hall of Fame on Sunday. Plasmatics guitarist Wes Beech and Rod Swenson, the band's creator and Williams' life partner, talk about the legacy of the singer.