Sound Shock: A Closer Look at Alice Cooper’s PARANORMAL

An appreciation of the iconic rocker’s underrated 2017 album

“I’m condemned
to the long endless night 
and I live in the absence of light…”

Thus begins ALICE COOPER’s 2017 double album release PARANORMAL.

In full disclosure I’ll say that I grew up a big Cooper fan. Eagerly devouring his 70’s and early 80’s releases but kind of lost track and, perhaps, interest after 1983’s DADA while still having a big soft spot for the Coop. So it was with no small trepidation that I approached this release, even being produced and co-mixed with frequent collaborator Bob Ezrin.  I’d seen too many of my childhood heroes become parodies or even worse, pantomimes of themselves. So you won’t have to read this till the end to find out whether or not this reviewer enjoyed PARANORMAL; I frikkin’ LOVED it !

The album’s flow works beautifully-the lead song, PARANORMAL is introduced with a soft guitar jangle befor ebeing punctured with crunching metal chords, flowing into a thumping drum/bass rhythm and swelling guitars before again falling back to a repeat the softer bridge from the opening.

It just sounds like the perfect opening salvo to a night of ALICE!

Next up is DEAD FLIES. This one is more drum thumping/guitar doodling bar band material, in a good way.  Evoking beer soaked, biker bars.  This is cooper’s anti religion song comparing mindless, impressionable followers with dead flies: ” They’re gonna need your money to relieve you if your stressin’ they’ll take your wealth and fame in exchange for their blessin”, And they’ll kill you with their gospel full of psychobabble vomit, When they make you drink the cool-aid and you ride up on that comet”.

Next up is what has to be described as a pedal-to-the-metal, apocalyptic, metal guitar tune.  FIREBALL is all drums and power chords. PARANOIAC opens with a bass that is a nod to Cooper’s BLACK WIDOW before veering rhythmically 3/4 off-kilter.  A perfect aural accompaniment to his  conspiracy laden lyrics. Never has Cooper sounded so.. Cooper. All gravelly voiced acid rage and swagger with PSYCHO violins and screeching guitars. FALLEN IN LOVE is a southern flavored, biker bar,  rock song about the ridiculous effects of… love and lust: ” I used to be a stud now I’m a powder puff”. Midway through a great southern rock solo rips out, all blistering sharp sweeping guitar.

The most hard driving song of the album and probably my favorite.  DYNAMITE ROAD follows.  It rips along in such a jackhammer way you just want to drive a big hunk of American steel going 150 MPH down a dark road. Preferably being chased by old Scratch himself.  The drum/bass/guitar combo serving the b movie lyrics, ever crunching forward to the best last line on the album. How do you follow that? With PRIVATE PUBLIC BREAKDOWN. A more sultry, swaying, metal tune disguising some great first person lyrics of Alice’s characters’ mental breakdown. A just plain fun tune. The cabaret infused HOLYWATER is next. A tune that would not have out of place in Alice’s MUSCLE OF LOVE album,  brass horns and all. The arrangement giving the song a sweeping, tent revival feel.  Again a swipe at religion with an absolutely great guitar solo in an album full of great guitar solos.
RATS is all back to a heavy thumping rock ‘call and answer’ anthem. Thumping drums and swirling guitars.

Disc one ends with THE SOUND OF A has another cool nod to WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE, opening as it does with a rolling cymbal and into a slow guitar picking/strumming piece that evokes a seventies’ era spooky Alice tune, complete with organ and sparingly used fuzz guitar as the piece progresses.

A perfect ending to the disc.

The second CD has two new songs written and performed by the original ALICE COOPER BAND and the first is pure, classic, gender-bending Alice.
GENUINE AMERICAN GIRL has the most wildly, hilarious lyrics on the album.  Set to a metal/fifties pop flavored backing, there’s nothing better (to me) than Alice singing stuff like:

“I look in the mirror and what do I see
An immodest little goddess looking back at me
And the boys all whistle when I walk on by
So I toss my hair and wink my eye”


The last of the new songs is YOU AND ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS, a solid pop-rock dystopian piece that would sound perfectly at home as the end credit tune of a particularly cool 80’s post-apocalyptic Film. Screeching guitars and drums going in thundering rolls…

The second CD finishes off with six live songs recorded in Columbus Ohio in 2016.
NO MORE MISTER NICE GUY, UNDER MY WHEELS, BILLION DOLLAR BABIES FEED MY FRANKENSTEIN ONLY WOMEN BLEED and SCHOOL’S OUT.  Each one performed by an amazingly tight band – the mixing is crisp and clear and Cooper sounds terrific.  Cooper’s vocals have always leaned towards the gruff, gravely sort and here he sounds just as fresh and vital as his classic best.  It’s too bad that the tunes don’t run into each other and instead each song has a silence dividing each track as it breaks up the energy of the performance.
Still, having heard these I wish I had been present.

Anyone on the fence as to whether or not to pick up PARANORMAL because of any second thoughts that they guy can’t rock anymore fear not.  I know i’m a little late to this disc but my love affair has begun.  I’m so impressed  – the depth of his influences, his lyrical fearlessness and the musicianship of his players are all here.

If you haven’t done so already, go out and buy it already!

Look for more Alice Cooper in the pages on an upcoming issue of DELIRIUM magazine!