I like Alice Cooper a lot. Like every other similarly-minded rocker I loved the early LPs when the name referred to the band, I got a little less interested during his Hollywood and booze years and a bit more interested again from 1984’s Constrictor onwards, teenage gore hound that I was I particularly loved the gory murder stuff on Raise Your Fist And Yell (candidate for one of the worst LP covers I can think of, off hand). So there I was with some change in my pocket on a hot day in Carmarthen , 31 July 1989 to be precise (I know, I know, I’m not proud of myself) and I spotted a new 12″ of his, Poison. After much mocking from my two mates I bought it, trusting Alice to make them eat their words. He did, he came through for me.
First off let’s get the Desmond Child thing out in the open. For anyone too young to remember, too normal to bother forensically scrutinising record sleeves, or just far too hip to notice, Desmond Child bestrode the world like a slightly paunchy commercially incontinent titan in spandex. He effortlessly tossed off quintuple platinum hits for Kiss, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Cher etc etc. and it wasn’t a cause for much rejoicing in the cooler rock circles. He was a hip name for bands, especially thrashers, to drop in their shit lists. I can see it both ways, as always when one person dominates to such an extent it produces a certain homogenity unsurprising given that he was writing and producing seemingly everything for a while, on the other hand ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’, ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’, ‘Dude (Looks Like a Lady)’, ‘I Hate Myself For Loving You’; look I like Black Flag as much as the next man, but those tracks are just brilliant, big catchy commercial rock tunes* that make me happy when I hear them. You can’t moan about how effective they are because that’s their point, that is their whole point – just as you can’t moan about how effective a weapon tank is whilst being run over by one, resistance is futile.
But anyway Poison was, to my ears, a great track, which robbed the intro wholesale from ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ before becoming a bit menacing and a bit ballady. The B-sides being ‘Trash’ a surprisingly tough, sleazy glam rocker featuring Aerosmith’s rhythm section and Bon Jovi backing vocals and a competent run through of the awesome-in-its-original-form, ‘The Ballad of Dwight Fry’. Poison went on to sell gazillions and to justify my taste in my friends’ eyes.
My copy of Trash was given to me by my girlfriend who gave me it when I gave her an autographed copy of the same LP to her for Christmas ’89 – ever a romantic! Okay we knew what we were getting here, a bunch of big commercial rockers, trading subtlety and originality for wallop and choruses. When it works, like on the brilliant ‘Bed of Nails’ it’s ace, it even retains a bit of Alice’s old menace,
Our love is a bed of nails
Love hurts good on a bed of nails
I’ll lay you down and when all else fails
I’ll drive you like a hammer on a bed of nails
Health and safety note: 1537 does not advocate driving people like hammers on beds of nails, so don’t try this at home, or certainly not trying it at home and then suing me.
I found Trash surprisingly listenable when I played it again just now, in fact I added a few to my Ipod again for when I’m in a big rock mood. Okay there’s some clunkers here too, I can live without ever hearing ‘Only my Heart Talkin”, or ‘This Maniac’s In Love With You’ again, but overall it does a job.
I saw him on the tour for this LP at a date in Birmingham which they filmed for release and he was really good, lots of swordplay, gallows, bloodletting and dancers – just a good, fun family night out. It was funny seeing him because even at that age I could tell that Alice Cooper was nothing more, or less than a really good, professional entertainer in the Hollywood tradition. A friend of mine’s wife, called Alice, is a proper photographer and she shot Alice Cooper for a magazine in London about three years ago (with a snake, naturally!), she told me that he and his manager were both lovely, courteous old-school professional types – pretty far-removed from what she usually encounters on these shoots. When she introduced herself as Alice, he shook her hand and said ‘I’m Alice too, but you can call me Coop’; I like that.
*I also have a thing for ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’, but if you tell anyone … (mimes fearsome throat-cutting gesture) … we understand each other?