Driving Rock ’n’ roll
From the city of cars and Alice Cooper’s birthplace, the ‘godfather of shock rock’ conjures up his twenty-first solo offering: Detroit Stories (26 February 2021; Earmusic).
Cooper returns to his musical beginnings as well by re-uniting with producer Bob Ezrin, MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, Detroit Wheels drummer Johnny ‘Bee’ Badanjek, bassist Paul Randolph and original Alice Cooper members Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith, plus Grand Funk Railroad’s Mark Farner and U2’s Larry Mullen, on an album that finds him in great voice and full of fun. Described as a “modern-day homage to the toughest and craziest rock and roll scene there ever was,” Detroit Stories finds the 73 year old rocker quite obviously in a reflective and sentimental mood: “Detroit was heavy rock central then,” he says, “you’d play the Eastown and it would be Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, The Stooges and The Who, for $4! The next weekend at the Grande it was MC5, Brownsville Station and Fleetwood Mac… or the Small Faces. You couldn’t be a soft-rock band or you’d get your ass kicked!”
A lot of the lyrics might be described as being in that borderline area between knowingly humorous and utterly absurd. Drunk and in Love for example sees Cooper singing “I saw you, baby, and I pissed my pants, Now I’m shaking while I’m trying to stand, Come into my cardboard box and out of the storm, You can mend my socks while I keep you warm”; while on I Hate You he intones: “I hate you and your stupid face, what’s it like out there in space?”
So when, after all this irreverence and mock horror, I began listening to Hanging On by a Thread (Don’t Give Up), near the album’s close, I initially thought it was just more fun. Starting with Cooper speaking the words: “Yeah, I know you're struggling right now, We all are, in different ways, It's like a new world that we don't even know, It's hard to sleep, even harder to dream, But look, you've got 7 billion brothers and sisters all in the same boat, So don't panic…” and ending with the telephone number of a suicide helpline, I seriously wondered whether it was just more jesting. But then I read it had been written to ‘help fans through COVID-19’ and was ‘serious in its intensity and aim’. And it was at that point I decided that this single, released on 15 May 2020, with its driving rock rhythm, is actually wonderfully original; and probably the standout track on the album. It also features some nifty guitar work on a Gibson ES-335 at just before the six minute mark, which is coolly featured on our accompanying video.
Social Debris, released as a single on 4 February, is another highlight, which Cooper describes as “a gift to Detroit, to my fans, and to myself.” He adds: “The track was written by the original Alice Cooper band… We didn’t fit in with the folk scene, we didn’t fit in with the metal scene, we really didn’t fit in with anything that was going on at that time. We just always felt like we were outsiders. We felt like we were social debris, we were in our own little world…” The video features a birds-eye view of run down buildings in Detroit with Cooper’s face plastered across them, as he sings: “Their eyes are everywhere, I see them spying there… At my face, at my hair.”
The album kicks off however with a cover of the Velvet Underground’s Rock ‘n’ Roll that finds the omnipresent Joe Bonamassa rocking it in support of Cooper’s anthemic chorus.
Our Love Will Change the World, on the other hand, is an upbeat cover of the American psychedelic outfit Outrageous Cherry, which mockingly states: “You may not like [the world] now… but you’ll get used to it.” As Cooper himself says: “I think ‘Our Love Will Change The World’ is one of the oddest songs I’ve ever done and it was one that came to us by somebody else, another Detroit writer. And it was so strange, because it was happy and what it was saying was anything but happy – it was simply a great juxtaposition. And I got it immediately and said “okay, this is going to be great”. The music saying one thing and the lyrics saying something else, I love that song. It is totally different from anything else on the album."
A cover of Bob Seger’s East Side Story sounds something like Van Morrison’s Gloria colliding with UK garage, but nevertheless provides a fitting close to the album.
While Detroit Stories sometimes misfires Cooper has produced one of his finest albums in years by combining solid rock numbers with lyrics full of faux-horror and humour. By joining forces with Ezrin - and around 20 other artists along the way - he sounds like he has also had a lot of fun, and after the year we have just had, that is something that is sorely needed.