published: 9 /
Alice Cooper talks to Nick Dent-Robinson about his new album ‘Detroit Stories,’ which, in homage to the infamous blue-collar city and his home town, includes new and classic covers, and features original band members.
Alice Cooper is best known for his stage show featuring live snakes, guillotines dripping with fake blood and much more! But, underneath the theatrical horror, Alice Cooper has always been a classic rock and roller - and a highly competent one, too.
Cooper cut his musical teeth in his home town of Detroit and he now returns to the Motor City with a highly accomplished new album bristling with purpose. ‘Detroit Stories’ is Cooper's salute to the place that gave him his first break at the end of the 1960s. As he tells me on the phone from Arizona, “It was in an old barn on the outskirts of Detroit that my original band first met and then teamed up with producer Bob Ezrin. Bob liked what we did and could see we had some ability, some natural flare. But he worked us very hard, drilling us for up to ten hours a day and he persuaded us to simplify our long, complicated, heavy metal-style songs and cut to the chase. He talked to us about the conflict between high-art and commercialism. We deliberately opted to go down the route that would sell our material on the basis that, by doing so, more people would actually hear our work. Our sessions with Bob were transformative and eventually led to big hits like ‘School's Out’ and ‘Elected’ which kick-started a career that, mercifully, is still going well, fifty years on!
“You know, I was influenced by many people in those early years and I had huge admiration for some of the major British stars of the guitar, like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Albert Lee and George Harrison. I still rate those people as the best guitarists in rock - ever!”
“However, my new album is my tribute to my home town, Detroit. That's where it really all began for me! Detroit was the true birthplace of angry hard rock, and local hotspot, The Eastown Theater, was the place where a blue-collar crowd would come to watch my group play on the same bill as fellow locals Ted Nugent and Iggy Pop. It was an amazing time!”
On ‘Detroit Stories’ Alice Cooper, now 73, teams up with Bob Ezrin in a Detroit studio once again. He cements his ties to the city by adding a supporting cast of Michigan musicians, including veteran MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer and jazz bassist Paul Randolph. The album is lively and entertaining throughout. Amid crunching riffs, there are detours into slinky funk, blues and punk. Producer Ezrin keeps the guitar work crisp and clean and the record is as much a pop album as a pure rock one.
Inevitably, showman Cooper adds a few hammy touches but (as always) he never takes himself or his material too seriously. The album opens with a Velvet Underground cover, ‘Rock and Roll’ which, despite its New York associations was originally covered by the Detroit Wheels in 1971, who at the time enjoyed greater initial commercial success with it in the USA than did the Velvet Underground. Fittingly, Alice Cooper's powerful, strutting version of this song includes a contribution from the Detroit wheels drummer Johnny “Bee” Beranek. There is also some nice honky-tonk piano from Bob Ezrin as well as backing vocals from Alice Cooper's wife Sheryl and his daughter Calico – who is also a highly accomplished rock guitarist.
There are two other covers on the album – Bob Seger's ‘East Side Story’ and MC5's ‘Sister Anne,’ but most of the tracks are new and original. ‘Go Man Go’ is a turbo-charged account of a hell-for-leather road trip and ‘Our Love Will Change the World’ is Cooper's satirical take on today's cancel culture.
Alice Cooper also reunites with the three surviving members of his original 1970s band on ‘Social Debris’ and ‘I Hate You’. The latter features Cooper plus guitarist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith trading playground insults before reflecting on “the empty space you left on stage” - a poignant reference to original lead guitarist Glen Buxton who died in 1997. The tempo slows on ‘$1000 High Heel Shoes,’ where Sister Sledge and The Motor City Horns add soulful sway whilst ‘Independence Dave’ adds a little rap to the album.
Alice Cooper's song writing once drew rare praise from Bob Dylan and he has always known the importance of a good and powerful tune. There are many of those on this album and ‘Detroit Stories’ is sure to please Alice Cooper fans everywhere.
When I asked him about future plans, Alice Cooper said, “Well, I certainly don't intend 'Detroit Stories' to be a final album! Listen, Mick Jagger is six-years older than me. He's still going strong. When I hear he is retiring, then I'll reckon I have at least six more years to go. But there's no sign of Mick retiring yet, is there? So, you can be sure Alice Cooper is still planning plenty of future activities! And, pandemic willing, I hope, I'll be back in England before too long. As I've mentioned to you before, that remains one of my favourite places to visit – for both work and play!”
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