Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Alice Cooper—
Love It To Death


Released 1971 on Straight/Warner Brothers
The Seth Man, November 2002ce
Under the regimented direction of “Toronto Bob” Ezrin and producer Jack Richardson, “Love It To Death” saw a far more efficient and tightened up display of rock’n’roll from Alice Cooper than their previous two albums for Zappa’s Straight label. Between their move from Los Angeles into a communal farm outside of Detroit and Ezrin’s ironing out of their former anarchic freakings-out choreographed into psychodramatic set pieces informed in equal parts by MC5 powerdrivin’, post-Doorsian dread and all The Stones’ hit singles from ’68 up to the then present day of ’71 (“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” to “Brown Sugar”) to make “Love it To Death” one rabid rock’n'roll animal of a record.

But for all this efficiency, The Coopers’ sense of freewheelin’ drive and teen angst in the pants, heart and mind were not far behind. In fact, the main thematic link that runs throughout “Love It To Death” is confusion issued forth from a place in between everywhere and everything. Caught in a spotlight on the cover, on the songs within they’re caught between manhood and adolescence; manhood and womanhood, reality and fantasy, life and death, juvenile delinquent and Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant in a revolving outcast of characters all linked by way of wayward social behaviour or ghoulishness as this truckload of polar opposites came crashing into each other over and over with liberating senselessness and chock-full of gritty, supersnazz guitar riffs into a zombie thrash of incorrigible flash, arrogance set within diamond-hard arrangements.

It was on “Love It To Death” that ‘Alice Cooper’ really came into its own as an interchangeable signifier for both band and vocalist, and this constant shifting of identities was used for all it was worth. Like when Alice asks in “Is It My Body”: “Do you have the time to find out/Who I really am?” there’s not even the faintest glimmer of an answer approaching on the horizon because Alice’s guises are many and his ruses are wily and if you got any sense at all it’s better to forego all questions and just let ‘em do their thing because the innuendos fly fast and furious and they’d been doing this since even before glam rock exploded in the wake of the death of The Beatles so who the fuck really knew anything anyhow what with all the raging confusion swirling around them and the entire American psyche/mental landscape during those years of the Nixon administration?

Alice Cooper -- the chewed up and spat out scrawny voodoo doll with raggedy hair draped in pansexual rags -- did. And he fiendishly reflected back at society what they’d thought was once safely swept under the rug: the collective consciousness of all those confused kids’ even more fucked up parents, and how their denials, hypocrisies and overall uptightness zapped their own kids into painted corners of question marks and frustration. He was the big brother/boogie man who’d shake it up with all the rattling skeletons he ripped out of American culture’s closets and hold ‘em up high to the bright lights of the rock’n’roll stage: sex, sin, executions, overall gender confusion and just being plain anxious about everything -- no hang-up would be spared -- with an accompanying backdrop of horrorshow rock’n’roll played as sleazy as possible while shaking the whole mess up like a case of Budweiser and dousing everybody with its celebratory spray. And Cooper’s harsh and beautifully roughed up voice spat out with a vengeance over the barrage of his four racket-making buddies-in-crime-of-a-band: Glen Buxton, the over-accessorised guitarist whose playing was just as tightened as his tough guy steamshovel jaw; Neal Smith’s distinctively no-frills drumming; Dennis Dunaway’s basslines equally as precise and idiosyncratic (never was an extra move up and down his spangly bass wasted or placed inaccurately) and Michael Bruce; whose talents ranged from fuzz rhythm SG guitar, organ fills to writing and arranging tracks that mess up your mind while keeping things anchored down with no-nonsense rhythm guitar lines.

The opening “Caught In A Dream” hits the ground running, set against a “Brown Sugar” churning rhythm completely greasy and downright durty as Alice assumes the first of his many limbo-stranded personas, clueing you in with the line: “I’m right in between/so what?/I just play along with you, hoo-hoo-hoo!” But the tempo slides down with the downered teenage lament ’71 that is “I’m Eighteen.” Alice roars out with vocal chords parched from alcohol and the gnawing pit of unease in his stomach and ennui in his head, “I go runnin’ through outer space” cuz there’s no place to go and nuthin’ to do over a battery of damaged guitar vapour trails. The tempo turns up for “Long Way To Go” which cuts loose with a borrowed “Looking At You” MC5 riff from “Back In The USA” as it rocks flat out. All cuts out right after the middle bridge to reveal a stunning Buxton solo, although it’s thrown to the back of the room behind a tight drum/guitar rhythm eyeball scratch-out. Ezrin lends a ridiculously buoyant organ and jaunty piano line to the proceedings as Dunaway pumps out exquisitely uncontained basslines and Neal Smith drums up a storm and a half. The epic “Black Juju” ends the album side with lyrical conundrums and psychic explorations that take Jim Morrison’s midnight drive up the rivers of darkness to further levels of vibing impenetrability, and evidence that if they hadn’t been as musically tight as The Stones covering “Set The Controls For The Heart Of the Sun” on “Sticky Fingers” while pretending to be The Doors (which is exactly what it sounds like), they’d never have pulled it off and would’ve fallen flat on their respective faces. “Bodies...need...rest,” intones Alice against the grandfather clock rhythm accompanying his hypnotic swinging of a chain pocket watch as he nestles in a graveyard waiting for the worms to sting his bleached white bones back into resurrection.

Side two continues into the downward spiral of all things with the opening bump’n’grind sleaze of “Is It My Body,” followed by “Hallowed Be My Name” which paves the highway to hell while featuring a hard-hitting series of flights from Buxton on white Gibson SG and a spy movie theme coda complete with percussion and Billy Strange-r 007-esque guitar. ”Second Coming” is the last chance for redemption before the entry into the puzzle farm as military snare and huge descending guitars cut out in the outro to leave the piano line to run right into “The Ballad of Dwight Fry” -- compressing both tunes into a twisted, two-ply epic (in furtherance of this, both tracks were not banded separately on the album.) A loony bin rumination framed by an acoustic guitar ripped off from Bowie’s “Supermen” (and subsequently re-ripped off back by Bowie for “Starman”) the shining moments are by Glen Buxton and a little girl’s voice asking, “Mommy, where’s Daddy? He’s been gone so long...” This last element is recited over glockenspiels laid on so heavy, it’s funny in its overdose of sentimentality as the pathos gets piled on thick as hell. But it’s MEANT to be funny, cuz Alice is telling his heartbreak tale of stealing his own kiddies’ toys while being wrapped tighter than the straight jacket he’s currently cosseted within, and when he sees his future blow up right up in his face, Ezrin adds an unsubtle but effective “KABOOM!” sound effect as though to intentionally undermine its seriousness. The ending right before the crossfade into the next track sees probably one of Buxton’s best moments in a guitar note held in unbearably beautiful sustain for almost forever. It falls away into the primitive drum pattern that opens “Sun Arise,” a cover of the Rolf Harris song that is another brilliant juxtaposition: it’s the only non-original on the album and seemingly out of place as a closing song until you look closer and realise that after all the hammy, Hammer horror motifs, The Coopers throw in a curveball weird as hell with a song so straight as they join hands in a gleeful sing-a-long praising the warming touches of the sun to banish all nightmares back to their secret haunts...

Until the next album, that is.