Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Alice Cooper—
Killer


Released 1971 on Warner Brothers
The Seth Man, December 2002ce
At the opposite end of 1971 from “Love It To Death” stalked Alice Cooper’s fourth album, “Killer” as an aptly titled exhibition of no-frills, highly-ratcheted and the very tightest knit mesh of a rock’n’roll straightjacket. Through five songs and three epics, the Coopers came on nothing but strong with their band chemistry at an all-time high totally reckless, arrogant and caterwailin’ ‘bout nuthin’ and everything in particular and with a one-two-three: the album lays you out punch after punch without missing a beat or a single gory detail as they boiled the whole sucker down to eight terse and tense titles as though all the dark, seeping oils which had been pressed underground in their souls for so long had now been pushed upward from the core, mantle and through the crust of planet rock’n’roll to reveal diamonds of rock hard, unbreakable intensity just as multi-faceted. “Killer" is probably Alice Cooper’s boldest stroke ever and is in your face for most of its running time...And when it isn’t, it’s inside your head running around and misconnecting all your neural plugs and hotwiring everything just to detonate your whole mind with crushing riffs and cursed imagery like a hogshead of mischievous monkeys let loose to create gleeful chaos in your brain.

Alice’s vocals are at their roughest and razor-gargled best on “Killer,” too: They scrawl all over “Under My Wheels” like the retardedly etched lettering on the cover and open up the proceedings with all the teenaged head rush of a highly anticipated Friday night concert just after racing directly home from school. And it sees Alice rollin’ hastily outta bed out from under a mountain of empty Budweiser cans, applying his smeared, runny mascara all around his glazballs with a clawed, talon’d hand then running his fingers through his ratty, knotted black mane, quickly hooking Katchina the snake ‘round his neck, throws back the warm backwash from the last beer of the afternoon and he’s off -- And so are The Coopers, in full force for the duration of this airtight, upright and skintight rock’n’roll album. Steve Paul scenester/ex-McCoys guitarist Rick Derringer supplies rip-roaring guitar here and it sets up the rest of the album for off-the-cuff, sleazy racket-making perfectly. “Be My Lover” follows and the rhythm guitar from “Sweet Jane” is set within the confines of a barroom chat-up ala “Honky Tonk Women.” Although based on an in-flight meeting guitarist Michael Bruce had with the little old lady seated next to him, you gotta give the Coopers credit for being able to concoct something far more rock’n’roll into it; and it IS total Rock’n’Roll, by the way. It curls out with the hissing of cymbals until -- ZIP -- it cuts off right before the hypnotising guitar intro of the epic mindfuck that was, is and always be: “Halo Of Flies.” What is going on here? It begs so many questions, provides no answers and is a crazy mélange of spy flick imagery, violence and sneaky double entendres as Moog accents weave in and out and all around. The Coopers first wrote one of the four-odd segments that comprise this headful epic whilst tripping out in the middle of the Arizona desert on mushrooms back in 1966, so no wonder it’s a rollercoaster ride to sweet oblivion if there ever was one; informed as it is by arid wasteland visions colourfully revealed in a disjointed, labyrinthine maze. Alice’s restrained vocals borrow a loose woman from Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells A Story” (“And it was...a middle Asian lady”) during the quiet build of Dennis Dunaway’s “Spare Chaynge”-type bass percolations and Neal Smith’s anticipatory cymbal work:

“She really came as no surprise
But I still did destroy her
And I will smash...
Halo of...
FLI-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-S-S-S-S-S.”

The grimly fiendish manner in which Alice spits out this last word into an extended ten second roar is unlike anything I’ve ever heard emit from a human voice. It is Alice’s best vocal of all time with a red-faced delivery that pops all neck veins at once. Tellingly, the last lyric in the song is “you never will understand” and by this point if you’re still trying to comprehend the lyrics you’re trying too hard because the point of Alice Cooper’s best albums are just to suspend disbelief and go along quietly and no one will get hurt (Except Alice, but he’s the professional here.) Which isn’t to suggest outright passivity in order to appreciate Alice Cooper records, but if you sit there unconvinced and arms crossed asking “What’s that line ‘I got a watch that turns into a lifeboat’ mean?” then you will truly miss the point altogether.

“Desperado” sees Alice don the mantle of Jim Morrison within the confines of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western backed by the string section from “The Soft Parade” (specifically, “Wishful Sinful” although the exact fadeout from “Runnin’ Blue” is used at the end for good measure.) And since Jim had just died months before in July, disinterring The Doors made sense as a poetic tribute. “Desperado” is a brilliant track and it brings side one to a perfect close with remembrance disguised as bravado.

Side two’s pacing begins hectically with the crazed “Love It To Death” outtake, “You Drive Me Nervous.” Beginning with the same phased snare drums that Neal Smith employed on “Refrigerator Heaven,” double, roughhewn guitars of the utmost attack that push forward in nail-biting fretting-ness to underscore the same frustration Alice voiced in “I’m Eighteen” only reinforced by a low, authoritative refrain straight offa “Summertime Blues” when a parental unit laments: “Honey, where did we fail?” It’s as tightly wound as the long-haired, teen runaway in the song, and just as at wit’s end. “Yeah Yeah Yeah” follows, rocking out over the introductory riff to Cream’s “Toad” played by twin SG guitars free of the fear of any ponderous drum solo to follow. “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” man: Are the lyrics senseless? Do they matter?! Do I care?!! Yeah, yeah, yeah!! Dunaway’s zooming basslines, Smith drops in on a dime every time and Buxton burns down on a stuck riff much like he did previously at the end of “Ballad Of Dwight Fry” only here it’s even more of an ear-ringing, circular op-art pattern AND threatens to go on for even longer, if you can believe it. “Yeah Yeah Yeah”...it’s crazy, man. And the harp solo by Alice is a perfect wheeze-out, also.

The remainder of the album casts itself into a single journey crossfaded into parts unknown, much like the gothic run-in of “Second Coming”/”Ballad Of Dwight Fry” from their previous LP, “Love It To Death” (and like those two aforementioned tracks, were not banded separately on album.) Here, the notorious “Dead Babies” and title track, “Killer” comprise the dark, two-part epic that live resulted in a) Alice chopping apart baby dolls and b) the ritual hanging of Alice himself. The doomy bass line of Dennis Dunaway runs counterpoint to the dank, Leslie-amplified guitar of Michael Bruce as Alice gently intones the sad tale of a lost little one. That is, until the title is bawled out so loud, you go rushing for the volume to turn it down lest your parents hear that scrawny manic with the crazy spider-eyes screaming “DEAD BABIES!!!” over and over from the confines of your bedroom...and with bouncy, McCartney phrasing, no less. With tribal tom-tom drums and near-backwards soaring guitar lines, “Killer” emerges from a courtroom argument that ends the “Dead Babies” descending guitar sick-out like a tattered zombie slumping through a late night mist. The buzzsawing guitar bursts continue until the emergence of a twin guitar Quicksilver-type exposition so beloved of the group. It slows down into the sudden calm of rapid drum rolls and funereal guitar slashing as cries and screams tear away in the background, then cryptic and near-confessional whispering. The tom-toms repeat their rolling as last rites on the organ and mumbled Latin phrases can be heard until one last riff before the hangman pulls the latch pulls and --

B-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z...

The electronic flies are now buzzing around your eyes and through your skull.