Back in 1975, Alice Cooper took on the role of Steven, a little boy who was scared of going to sleep, for fear of facing his nightmares. Steven was a dark, twisted soul who Alice Cooper brought to life in ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’, which was arguably one of the best concept albums of its era.
Now, nearly 40 years later, Cooper has once again teamed up with his original band members and producer Bob Ezrin to bring Steven back to life in ‘Welcome 2 My Nightmare’. While we find ourselves once again placed in a familiar story, Cooper takes us places we never before thought we’d see him go…
’I Am Made Of You’
That’s right, after a brief musical intro reminiscent of ‘Steven’ (from the ’75 album), this song kicks off with Alice on autotune. No, you didn’t pop the wrong CD into your drive. Upon first listen to this album, with the advance knowledge that Ke$ha collaborated on one of the songs, it’s a bit difficult to take this seriously (Autotune? From the same guy who decapitates himself on stage?). But once you overlook all that and you catch some of the lines (”I was drowning/I was dying/Now I’m free”), you’ll realise this is actually a really beautiful song.
We’ve all been there, itching for a Red Bull to keep ourselves from falling asleep. Again, Cooper experiments with his vocals (from the comical way he shrieks “caffeine!, like a recovering junkie, to the distorted trail of “gimme gimme”’s at the end.). Plus, there’s cowbell. Even Alice Cooper can make the cowbell sound cool.
’The Nightmare Returns’
In a short minute-and-a-quarter tune, Cooper establishes that he doesn’t want to go to sleep, or else he’ll see “ugly faces, awful places” in his slumber. Again, we hear that same haunting piano sequence from ‘Steven’, bringing us closer to the nightmare.
’A Runaway Train’
Fancy a trip on the Nightmare Express? Here we venture straight into the nightmare on a speeding train, embodied by a chorus-less country-infused song (with country rock man Vince Gill on lead guitar). It swirls into a heavy guitar solo at the end, as the train violently crashes. At last, the nightmare has arrived.
’Last Man On Earth’
On ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’, Alice Cooper gave us that snappy jazz number ‘’Some Folks’. And now in 2011, we get the horn-heavy, Tom Waits-inspired ‘Last Man On Earth’. The train has crashed, and Alice is the sole survivor. “Am I a beggar, or a king?” he belts out in a demonically raspy way.
In what sounds like old school Alice meets Gary Glitter meets The Beatles in Hell, tour guide du jour Rob Zombie (stepping in for the late Vincent Price who guided us through the last nightmare) leads us through this bizarre congregation. Cooper has said that this album is all about his modern fears – so in place of killer toys, poisonous spiders and monsters in the closet, a grown-up Steven finds a pack of telemarketers, mariachi bands, lawyers, pimps, and mimes.
’I’ll Bite Your Face Off’
And here we have the lead single from the album (which was first unveiled during his summer ’11 festival sets). In this homage to early Rolling Stones (think ‘Brown Sugar’), we find a new nightmare guide in a deadly woman who threatens to bite Alice’s face off if he crosses her. Classic Alice sound mixed with classic Alice dark humour gives us a perfect piece of shock rock legend that’s already proven a hit with the fans.
’Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever’
Disco and rapping. Two things we never, ever, in ten million years thought we’d hear come out of the Alice Cooper camp. Then again, it’s all about shooting up a room full of zombies who won’t die. But get this – the zombies are a metaphor for disco (so don’t worry – Alice Cooper hasn’t gone all disco-lovin’ on us). All’s good, though - by the end of the song, rock triumphs with a wildly heavy guitar solo from John 5 (Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie). Not so sure we can excuse Alice for the pseudo-rapping, though…
’Ghouls Gone Wild’
Moving on from the discoteque, it’s a zombie beach party – only made even more bizarre by the inclusion of Mark Volman (The Turtles – ya know, the guy behind this song). Part of Alice Cooper’s charm is his twisted sense of humour, but this one’s a bit too much on the weird side. This feels like we’re moving a tad too far from the nightmare in a song that could very well sound like a parody written by Weird Al.
’Something To Remember Me By’
Ahh, this is more like it. It’s the ‘Only Women Bleed’ of the return to the nightmare – the gorgeous ballad amongst a slew of demented rock ‘n’ roll. Even Alice Cooper called this “the prettiest song we have ever released”. It was actually written back in 1976, around the time he released ‘I Never Cry’, but he could never get the range of his vocals right. If for nothing else, his decision to return to the nightmare was an ideal way to finally unleash this stunning love song (which is sung to the remnants of a girl’s corpse – after all, we needed a ‘Cold Ethyl’ in this new nightmare).
’When Hell Comes Home’
This is easily one of the best moments on the album. For the first and only time on this record, we find a glimmer of something so evil and sinister that even we’re longing to wake up from the nightmare. This grungy 70s-sounding track tells the story of an abusive, alcoholic father who drives his child to kill him. You can feel the tension building up inside the child’s mind as he decides to seek revenge – this will probably go down as one of Alice Cooper’s darkest moments.
’What Baby Wants’
I’ll put this out there – I’m not really a fan of Ke$ha. I don’t particularly care for her music, her voice or her look, so when I first heard she was collaborating with Alice Cooper on this record, I pretty much lost all hope for the credibility of it. I couldn’t help but think, “Has Alice Cooper actually gone mad?”. But lo and behold, it’s actually quite good. With the popstar playing the devil who threatens “I’m gonna drain your veins and bathe in your blood”, we finally see Ke$ha stepping out of her euro-trash electropop pigeonhole and into something a bit more sinister.
’I Gotta Get Outta Here’
In the last album, Steven left his nightmare via ‘Escape’ – only last time, he actually escaped the nightmare. This time, it’s not so clear. In a cheeky close to this nightmare saga, Alice Cooper leaves us wondering if he’s actually dead (thanks to the she-devil Ke$ha).
Here he takes the best bits from the two albums and melds them into one final musical recap of the entire nightmare experience. It’s really the best possible way to close the saga.
Overall, this album is leaning a bit towards the cheesy side of a nightmare, when compared to the original 1975 release. While it’s great to see Alice Cooper still experimenting with new types of collaborations, effects and content this far along into his musical career, he’s at his best when he stays closer to his element. That being said, there are some amazing moments on ‘Welcome 2 My Nightmare’, and he makes the experiments work. Maybe stay away from the autotune next time, though.