Mascara and Monsters

I’m going to ask you to put aside all of your preconceived notions and prejudices aside for a moment when I humbly sumbit that…

…the original Alice Cooper group was one of the tightest, raunchiest and brilliantly inventive garage bands of the early seventies. Well, for 4 albums anyway, and even his first solo album (Welcome To My Nightmare) and his foray into the ‘new wave’ (Flush The Fashion) are deserving of a critical re-evaluation. Take away the schlock shtick and it will reveal the ORIGINAL Alice Cooper Group to be one hell of a pop group, and one of the most influential of all time, to boot.

Lumped in (and rightfully so, in most respects) with other Detroit acts of the time such as the Stooges and MC5, The Alice Cooper Band were more tuneful than Iggy and his ilk, and always a little more aware of their pop side. When you hear people talk about Alice Cooper it’s never in the same hushed and reverent tones they use to discuss those other two bands and their discography; with Alice, any discussion regarding his place in the R&R hierarchy is usually accompanied by snickers of disdain, talk about golf and hanging out with republicans. And that’s a shame, because if you’ve got an open mind toward good old fashioned rock and roll Mr. Cooper has a lot on display that’s worth your time. Later albums have poisoned the well (pun intended), but his past eforts remain a real treat.

Ignore the first two albums, exercises in self indulgence and pseudo psychedelia if I ever heard it; no, the fun begins with ,71’s ‘Love It To Death’ and ends with ‘75’s solo effort, ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’. You can’t ignore, however, the new wave genre exercise that was 1980’s ‘Flush The Fashion. More on that one in a minute.

According to the liner notes from the excellent Cooper compilation Mascara and Monsters, the author rightfully states that “Any act worth it’s weight in rock and roll theatrics, and in-your-face punk attitude owes more than just a passing nod of respect in the direction of this malignantly macabre culprit. Need proof? Just ask KISS, David Bowie, The New York Dolls, Nine Inch Nails, Iggy and the Stooges, Lou Reed, Parliament-Funkadelic, The Tubes, T-Rex, Elton John, Guns and Roses, Adam Ant, Prince, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Cheap Trick, Devo, The Rolling Stones (!), The Cramps, Rob Zombie” and many more. Even Bob Dylan, who’s been known to dip into the eyeliner from time to time, said in a Rolling Stone cover story: “I think Alice Cooper is an overlooked songwriter.”

It doesn’t really matter where you start, if you’re interested in delving into Cooper’s discography, but don’t go past ’75 ‘cause you’ll be wasting your cash and time with some pretty malignant stuff.

Now, onto ‘Flush The Fashion’:

In early 1979 venerable shock-rocker Alice Cooper enlisted the help of (Cars/Queen/Devo/The Stranglers/Bowie/Cheap Trick, etc) producer Roy Thomas Baker for Flush The Fashion. The album was designed to revive Cooper’s fledgling career, and it didn’t. It’s a slick, professional album, and definitely of it’s time. It isn’t the piece of crap many claim it is, but it is far from the band’s early ‘70’s heyday (see above).

Cooper had been struggling to create a decent follow up to Welcome To My Nightmare since 1975. All the albums leading up to Flush the Fashion sounded like retreads of his past glories and he desperately wanted to sound relevant again, thus the collaboration with Baker.

Roy Thomas Baker was a VERY hot commodity around this time and Cooper was on the downward spiral, so why Baker decided to partner with Cooper is anyone’s guess. I’m really glad they did, though. Flush The Fashion is one of Alice Cooper’s weirdest and strangely entertaining releases, his best since Nightmare for sure, but it absolutely sounds like nothing that preceded it.

The longest song clocks in at 4:06 (‘Pain’), but most of them stay close to the 3 minute mark. It’s a ‘new wave’ album, but it is also definitely an Alice Cooper album. If the music is new wave, the lyrics are typical of his past discography. Song titles like ‘Leather Boots’, ‘Grim Facts’ and ‘Dance Yourself To Death’ are all within the boundaries of Cooper Town.

The songs, for the most part, are all tense, short bursts of energy. Choppy guitar and synthesizers rule while the albums sole hit ‘Clones (We’re All)’ would have fit nicely on a Gary Newman record. As a matter of fact, most of these songs would have fit nicely on a Gary Numan album! ‘Clones’ was even covered by faux-prog rockers the Smashing Pumpkins and remains one of Cooper’s best known songs to this day.

It’s slight, throwaway pop, but it’s really good throwaway pop.

This album, however, is Cooper’s last good album. I could care less about anything he’s released post 1980.

And so should you.