Review Summary: Alice Cooper's first foray into commercial hard rock may not be as good as its successors, but it definitely has its moments.
In the world of rock’n’roll, a few figures assume a prominence above all others. Angus Young. Lemmy. Ozzy Osbourne. Jimmy Page. Richie Blackmore. David Coverdale. These are names any rock fan will promptly recognize and place, and he should – after all, these people had a huge contribution not only to rock, but to the world of music at large, advancing or perfecting some of the genres which make up its core.
Another such name is Vincent Damon Fournier, AKA Alice Cooper. Starting off as an offshoot of the early glam/shock rock scene, Fournier soon graduated from heir to Bowie to full-fledged Shock King, releasing a slew of influential albums and songs in the 70’s. However, his drinking addiction caught up to him at the end of that decade, making for a series of “experimental”, much less inspired records. And while experimentation is, at times, to be welcomed and lauded, even within the basic rock genre, the overall drabness of these albums threatened to cut Alice’s promising career short. So the python-toting frontman did the only sensible thing, and attempted a return to his simpler hard rock roots. Additionally, he went for the two-fer by trying to insert himself into another budding genre of the period: radio-driven hair rock.
The eventual result of this process was a series of records which introduced Alice to a whole new generation of avid fans, revitalizing his career for another three decades of shocking live shows and solid rock tunes. And while the best-known spawns of this era are Trash
and its successor, Hey Stoopid
, the album which started it all was 1986’s Constrictor
sees Cooper embark in a very, very
mainstream brand of 80’s hard rock, the type that features glossy production and has abundant keyboard passages peppering its ballsy guitar riffs. However, don’t be misled into thinking that the king of shock rock has stooped down to the level of subordinates such as Poison or Warrant; Alice is much more intelligent than that, and assumes his intention to rule right off the bat, by filling his record with catchy choruses and well-constructed songs. And while this first effort may not be as stellar as its successors, it definitely has its moments.
On this album, Alice is once again accompanied by a capable and trustworthy team. His main accomplice is jack-of-all-trades Kane Roberts, who is credited with every instrument, as well as backing vocals. Back before I knew better, I used to be in awe of Kane Roberts, wondering how someone could play so many instruments and do it all so well. But even from a more mature point of view, the man’s still a pretty mean guitarist, infusing these songs with wicked riffs and tecchy solos. Alice’s other accomplices include drummer David Rosenberg, keyboardist Paul Delph and bassist Kip Winger – yes, that
Kip Winger, back before he became famous fronting his own eponymous group. And while the rhythm section doesn’t have any overtly stellar moments on this album, they do play it straight and reliably, with Rosenberg in particular benefiting from a huge Leppardesque drum sound.
But, like I always say, what good are decent musicians without decent songs? Fortunately, Fournier doesn’t skimp on this particular, either, giving us an album where not everything is top-notch, but very little is below-par. In fact, about half the songs on this album can be construed as standouts in the context of the album, and a couple even earn that status within the context of Alice’s 80’s career as a whole. Most of these examples can be found early in the album, with the first three songs in particular all delivering fun choruses and big riffs to jam along to. Of the three, Give It Up
probably takes precedence, but Teenage Frankenstein
and the irresistible Thrill My Gorilla
follow close behind, making up a trio of winners which really drag the listener into the album in a positive way.
Unfortunately, the awesomeness of those early songs causes everything that comes after to sound slightly inferior in comparison. After the third track, the album stops its rocketing ascent and settles for being “just” a listenable hard rock record. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but still one wonders what might have been had Constrictor
decided to keep climbing the ladder.
Even so, make no mistake – there is still plenty to like in the later stages of the album. Whether it’s an attractive attempt at something different (moody stomper Simple Disobedience
) or a fun metal-tinged rocker (The World Needs Guts
), quality is generally kept on high throughout. But while there are no flat-out weak songs on here (apart from maybe Life And Death Of The Party
), not all of them are all that good either. As mentioned, Life And Death Of The Party
is pretty average, and Trick Bag
gets by solely on its huge chorus, with very little else about the song having any kind of value. As for The Great American Success Story
, it’s a nice song while you’re listening to it, but when you think back to the album’s tracklist, you’re likely to not even remember it exists. Overall, a much less interesting, but nonetheless perfectly listenable, set of songs.
Fortunately, the album recovers in time for a grand finale, with the delightfully cheesy He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask)
, a song written on purpose for the Friday The 13th Part VI
soundtrack, and which makes good use of the series’ tropes, particularly the trademark ”ch-ch-ch-ah-ah-ah”
sounds. With its corny-yet-catchy keyboards and nice riffing, it closes out an album which, while not state-of-the-art, is perfectly adequate, and boasts intelligent lyrics to boot. In fact, storytelling has always been a specialty of Mr. Fournier, and here he doesn’t disappoint. Whether he’s delivering obvious sexual double –entendres on Thrill My Gorilla
or making a surprising case for furthering your education on The Great American Success Story
, Alice’s lyrics never fail to capture the listener’s attention, matching the articulate, literate nature of the man himself, and serving as the perfect cherry to top this appetizing hard rock cake.
In conclusion, then, Constrictor
is another worthy addition to the Alice canon. While not as good as Trash
or Hey Stoopid
, and maybe a little too cheesy for its own good, it definitely beats out what came before, as well as its immediate successor, the dull Raise Your Fist And Yell
. Unlike Trash
, it’s not a mandatory acquisition, but if you’re into hard rock or Alice Cooper, you could do worse than check it out.
Give It Up
Thrill My Gorilla
The World Needs Guts
He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask)