In some capacity, be it as the original band or the eponymous solo artist, Alice Cooper has been releasing records for nearly fifty years now. He/they are legitimate rock ‘n’ roll royalty, and with good reason. From early band classics like Killer, Billion Dollar Babies, and Love It To Death to later solo greats like Welcome To My Nightmare and Goes To Hell, Cooper has released some of the greatest theatrical rock of all time.
But of course, those albums were all made a long time ago, and in all fairness, the Coop has weathered some ups and downs in the time since. The 80s were an uneven time of experimentation, although there’s some goodness there, both in the weird embrace of New Wave and then, for a more dunderheaded style, in the man’s return to rockier climes in the latter half of the decade. The 90s saw a swing towards hair metal and then more modernized metal, and the 2000s found Cooper returning to his hard-rocking roots, coming full circle, older and wiser and yet still very much Alice Cooper.
Release date: July 28, 2017.
Label: earMUSIC.One of Paranormal’s talking points is that it’s both Alice Cooper The Solo Artist and Alice Cooper The Band, although that reunion really happened on 2011’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare, when Cooper reunited with his old bandmates Dennis Dunaway, Michael Bruce, and Neal Smith for three tracks. Those 2011 recordings are the first that the Alice Cooper Band had recorded together since 1973’s Muscle Of Love, and they were the best of Welcome 2’s tunes. Equally as important to the longtime Cooper fan was the re-pairing of Cooper and producer Bob Ezrin, who helmed many of the band and the man’s finest moments.
Paranormal furthers both reunions. Once again, Ezrin’s behind the desk (and co-writing most of the tunes), and the production is shiny, glossy, modern. Also, Paranormal sports yet another three tracks played by the original band, now augmented by early solo Alice guitarist Steve Hunter in place of the late Glen Buxton. Also, bassist Dunaway co-wrote and performs on two additional of Paranormal‘s songs, one of which – “The Sound Of A” – is a hold-over from the band’s late-60s psychedelic era, and one of the album’s most interesting numbers.
Even with the bonus disc billing of the return of the “Original Alice Cooper Band,” or as much of that band as remains, the majority of Paranormal is more business as usual for modern-day Alice. Largely written by Alice, Ezrin, and guitarists Tommy Denander and Tommy Henriksen, Paranormal is a big and slick, hard-rocking Cooper record. More importantly, it’s one that betters Welcome 2 by a solid margin, mostly because the material is just simply better.
The moody title track kicks off the proceedings, featuring a guest appearance and a co-writing credit by Deep Purple’s Roger Glover, and along with “The Sound Of A,” it bookends the album perfectly. This is the oddball Alice that I truly love, where he (and they) have always excelled, the theatrical weirdo presented through great melodic rock. Cooper has been great about balancing these pieces against his more straightforward riff rock, be it of the early garage or later arena variety, but it’s these darker, stranger turns that really elevates the game. “Paranormal” may not quite be as great (or as odd) as the earliest Alice psychedelic rockers, but it’s a good start, for sure, and it balances nicely against the hairy hard rock to come.
But of course, dammit, Alice Cooper has to rock, too – and the driving “Dead Flies” is a prime example of how to do just that. (It’s also another winner of an Alice Cooper song about dead things.) The goofy bluesy “Fallen In Love” gets a guest appearance from the always welcome Billy Gibbons, and overcomes some silly lyrical references to Cooper history through sheer wink-wink rock groove. The first of Dunaway’s contributions, the apocalyptic “Fireball” is another damned solid rocker, while the train-beat-driven racing-the-devil tale of “Dynamite Road” hints at rockabilly. The first reunion track is the album-proper’s penultimate one, the grooving drive of “Rats,” which is easily among the best on hand. The other two Original Alice Cooper Band tracks are relegated to the bonus disc, alongside a non-original Alice Cooper Band live set from 2016 – of the new ones, “Genuine American Girl” is a tongue-in-cheek doo-wop-inflected rocker that isn’t as good as the ominous “You And All Of Your Friends,” and though both are good, neither is as good as “Rats.”
All in all, Paranormal is a good album, one that grows on you a bit as it sinks in, even if all its secrets are revealed pretty quickly. No, it’s not as good as Cooper’s greatest, of course, but that’s an almost unattainable bar. Cooper has his share of uneven albums, but most of Paranormal is a success, which is a success in itself. The only outright dud is the poppy “Private Public Breakdown,” although “Paranoiac Personality” isn’t particularly charming either.
If you’ve kept up this long, then you’ll be pleased to know that, even at almost 70, Cooper still has the fire, and even though there are a few lesser tunes, overall, Paranormal sees Alice as good as he’s been in ages.