Circus

Circus - 1976

Circus
(1976)

Originally Published: 1976

Is Alice Going to Hell? Two Views

Alice Cooper Goes to Hell
(Warner Bros.)

Author: Robert Duncan

It's genius. Sheer genius. I mean, what do you do for a follow-up to an album about a nightmare? of course! You do Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, another album about a nightmare. It's so simple. One of those ideas that is only visible to the truly enlightened: When in doubt, repeat.

For you facts fans - and if you dispute my calling these facts, listen to the LP yourself - here's how it breaks down: "Go to Hell" is a good song that wears out after about five listens and whose lyrics serve to remind you that Alice Cooper used to be somewhat outrageous (he was never a Little Richard) and that he thinks he used to be outrageous on the level of, say, a Little Richard. I have nothing against second generation, but Alice, as unusual as he was at the outset of his career, never had the musical or performance chops that Richard, rock's first and foremost drag queen, had. Richard didn't need his drag to put it all across; Alice had nothing but. (And I mean drag in a broader sense, as in theatrics.) So when Alice refers to himself as "a living obscenity," it kinds of makes me want to puke.

"Guilty" is the best song here. It sounds a lot like "Be My Lover" but, in light of the 1976 Alice Cooper, does not have the credibility of that song. And it also sounds like the Who, which is what many of Alice's best songs ("Under My Wheels") sound like because, despite his countless advisors, co-songwriters, producers, and sidemen, Alice Cooper is incapable of coming up with an inventive riff. In fact, considering that here and on the last record he teamed with rock's hottest guitar duo, Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, I have a feeling that Alice is not only not an asset but actually detrimental to the quest for the Good Riff; I think he hold everybody else back.

If Alice wants to parody Demon Disco, what better way to do it than to take up three minute with it? "You Gotta Dance" is not only disco (bad) but bad disco (bad bad) and parody (bad bad bad) straining at the same time to maintain the silly narrative thread of the album's invisible plot. (You are lead to believe there is a plot here but cannot discern it from cover, notes or lyrics - you have to read Alice Cooper interviews in rock magazines to find out what's going on. Good idea, huh?)

"I Never Cry" is the follow-up to "Only Women Bleed" and is supposed to prove, I imagine, that the latter was no fluke, that Alice Cooper is indeed sensitive and suitable to the adult/Easy Listening/Vegas market. It may be the most insincere recording ever made as Alice desperately restrains his rat whine to croon embarrassing, flimsy lyrics which insist, in what Alice may think is a clever turn of phrase. "My heart's a virgin, it's never been tried." I wish somebody would fuck this guy in the heart.

The rest of the LP is perfectly nondescript. Scratch that. It's insulting in its condescension, in its belief (most transparent on "I Never Cry") that audiences can be so easily manipulated. Perhaps commercial success can be achieved by formula - I mean, look at my boys, Kiss - but formula can't maintain that success for long. Somewhere along the line, you have to mean it.

The only thing this album does for me is show me that I can still get pissed off about rock & roll. Which means I still care. Which Ii was beginning to wonder about. Nossir, I'm no getting older, rock & roll is getting shittier. Go away, Alice Cooper, and let me listen to my new Rod Stewart album in peace.

Alice Cooper Goes to Hell
(Warner Bros.)

Author: Ken Tucker

Well, sure, this is a mediocre record, but it accomplishes a number of things: (1) Alice Cooper almost certainly cannot make another concept album; the form is wrung dry. Hooray. (2) The artist's depraved, crazy-man image is finally defused. He has embraced legit show biz, and it accepts the hug. (3) Alice makes a good case with this album for our never counting him out creatively; even with his decrepit vehicle, he is relentlessly earnest and intelligently self-deprecating. He still shows enough muscle (on "Guilty" and "Wish You Were Here") to make on hopeful about the evolution of the Cooper persona.

Alice Cooper Goes to Hell. Hell is a big dance floor, commandeered by Satan-as-a-black-disc-jockey, who repeatedly proclaims, "I'm the Coolest." This is Cooper and producer Bob Ezrin's biggest mistake - they never read Milton. For maximum interest and drama, the Devil should be the hero; goody-goody-baddy Alice manifests himself as a wimp, and this is rendered musically by making him a crooner: "I Never Cry," "Wake Me Gently," "I'm always Chasing Rainbows," the unlistenable "Didn't We Meet."

The package is elaborately orchestrated and arranged, as one might expect from Ezrin's presence. After his recent disaster with Kiss, however, Ezrin comes off fairly well here, mostly because of Cooper. Alice, unlike the Ritz Brothers at a Halloween party, is self-conscious and moral, and therefore able to use Ezrin's ornate theatricality (strings and sound effects and terminal overdubbing) with perspective and comparative taste. Comparative.

Oh, well. I still maintain that Alice Cooper will emerge from this period with some interesting work. His new band, the Hollywood Vampires, sounds good and malleable. Alice works very hard, and deftly, with smarts honed from a lifetime of jaundiced television watching - he'll divine what we want. We'll probably never get away from him the glorious, innocent power of "School's Out" and "I'm Eighteen" again, but we might get something with glorious, mature power.