Alice Cooper’s “Paranormal” is an ambitious album in that it seems to set out to please fans of both his classic and his more contemporary output. Perhaps wisely, the emphasis is on emulating or recapturing the vibe of his early career, and the album is quite successful in doing so. This album will not be the crowning achievement of his near five-decade recording career, and it is unlikely he ever will unseat such gems as “Billion Dollar Babies” (1973), “Welcome to my Nightmare” (1975) or “Trash” (1989) ; however, it is a solid and enjoyable offering that will stand the test of repeat listening, which is more than can be said for such forgettable albums as “DaDa” (1983) and “Zipper Catches Skin” (1982).
The most unremarkable part of the album is its lyrics. With a few exceptions, they are uninspired, capturing neither the scathing commentary of “Billion Dollar Babies’, the overt creepiness of ‘Welcome to my Nightmare”, or the dismal dystopia of the dark duology “Brutal Planet” (2000) and “Dragontown” (2001). Nevertheless, the sound itself is engaging enough to carry the album.
The opening and title track Paranormal is the most contemporary on the album, with very slick production. Between the understated but effective production and Cooper’s relatively clean vocal approach on this song, he even manages to sound younger than he has in two decades. The track has some ominous notes, and even ventures into a bit of progressive, sci-fi territory in the guitar solos. Overall, a layered track that serves as a strong entrée to the album.
Dead Flies moves towards a more classic Alice Cooper feel, with strong grunge overtones. However, the vocal stylings also carry a contemporary pop influence that was notable on more recent albums, “Along came a Spider” (2008) and “Welcome 2 My Nightmare” (2011).
Moving from grunge to punk flavouring, Cooper once again defies vocal expectations by introducing his very McCartney-esque clean approach. However, Fireball’s monotonous riffing makes it the weakest track on the album, and it doesn’t really go anywhere.
The next two tracks, Paranoiac Personality and Fallen in Love, both demonstrate a strong blues sensibility that would be at home on the California Jam stage alongside Rainbow, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath. This is particularly true of the former, which is evocative of summer nights in Miami in its groove. Given the album was produced by Nashville-based Bob Ezrin, who also handled production of Deep Purple’s 2017 release “InFinite”, it’s unsurprising the track is highly reminiscent of that band.
Fallen in Love, by contrast, showcases a faster, more rock-oriented blues style, with lyrics to match: “My baby’s love is hard, my baby’s love is rough, if I were anybody else I’d have had enough.”
Of course, no classic rock album would be complete without a song about a car, and this is delivered with Dynamite Road. The almost spoken vocal approach harks back to the Charlie Daniels Band’s The Devil Went Down to Georgia, which while interesting, adds little else to the album.
Private Public Breakdown is a dirty and grungy 80s-styled track that will surely please fans of Trash, while Holy Water includes elements of swing – though in a less extreme format than Marilyn Manson’s Doll-Dagga-Buzz-Buzz-Ziggety-Zag. What’s really interesting about Holy Water though is the vocal cadence, which seems inspired by Megadeth’s Sweating Bullets. Given Alice Cooper is in fact Dave Mustaine’s godfather, such an influence wouldn’t be out of the question.
Rats carries on the album with typical Alice Cooper pace and style, and introduces his brand of social commentary a bit more directly. However, the strongest track on the first disc of the double album is the closing The Sound of a. It’s weird, creepy, and harks back to Welcome to my Nightmare with its slow groove and vocal lament. Lines such as “The sound of a is all around, it will creep into your bones, when you’re alone,” are classic Cooper creep. Interestingly, though again somewhat unsurprising given Ezrin’s influence, there’s also a touch of Pink Floyd to it.
The second disc opens with two tracks by the reunited, original Alice Cooper Band – bassist Dennis Dunaway, drummer Neal Smith and guitarist Michael Bruce, alongside Cooper himself. The first of these two tracks, Genuine American Girl, really captures the vibe of the 60s – a decade Cooper’s band just squeezed into with 1969’s Pretties for You. Reminiscent of Cooper’s provocative early work, the lyrics play on expectations by casting Cooper himself as the “genuine American girl:” “You think it’s vanity, or some sort of insanity, but this is no-man’s land and I live here every day.” Parts of the track are fleshed out with a more contemporary guitar tone, making this both an intriguing and very strong offering.
You and all of your Friends very specifically captures the sonic feel of 1973’s Billion Dollar Babies, right down to the apocalyptic lyrics set over uplifting music. The lyrics are in fact somewhat youthfully political in a 70s way, decrying the destruction of the US with lines such as, “And when the sun goes down tomorrow, we will no longer be your slaves, and it will be the end of sorrow, cos we’ll be dancing on your graves.”
The disc is rounded out with recent live recordings of Alice Cooper classics, including No More Mr. Nice Guy, Under my Wheels, Billion Dollar Babies, Feed my Frankenstein, Only Women Bleed and School’s Out. Without exception these recordings are crunchy and energetic, effectively capturing the stadium vibe. Billion Dollar Babies is definitely the standout of the lot, with a far more powerful delivery than the original.
Overall, the two-CD Paranormal package delivers a lot of value, and shows that Cooper has definitely still got it. Few artists can produce such a solid album 48 years after their debut, and the live recordings show that Cooper is an artist still very much at peak performance. This bodes well for his October Australian tour. For my money, Cooper never disappoints live. Tickets on sale now!