Steve Carell and Alice Cooper react to being each other’s doppelgängers
On a recent episode of The Tonight Show, Steve Carell said he can “see” the resemblance between himself and The Godfather of Shock Rock.
Because of how much he is celebrated for his live spectacle and showmanship, it can be easy to forget that shock-rock ringmaster Alice Cooper has released 27 studio albums. The prolific horror-rocker and forefather of modern heavy metal has been around since 1969, and has steadily dropped albums the entire time. Over that time, Alice has worn many snake-wrapped hats – crossdressing frontman, spooky master of ceremonies, experimental sleazemeister, hair metal gadabout, and dark god of the stage – and as such, no two albums ever sound quite the same. But every one has the madcap theatricality and sneering outsider worship of Alice at its core.
With today marking the 45th anniversary of the release of Alice's first solo album, we decided to rank the ringmaster's full-length albums. Come into our parlor…
Oof. Special Forces sees Alice pushing the techno-rock vibes of 1980's Flush The Fashion, and as such feels like he's trying too hard to sound cool than being true to his MO. Though it shows off some musicianship that would later prove important to Alice – the drumming is especially frantic and on point – the album is more confused than anything else. It’s unsurprising that none of these songs have been played live since 1982.
Who doesn’t love a sequel to an artist’s most famous album? The answer is quite a few people, and though Alice Cooper is the man, he is no exception to this rule. Welcome 2 My Nightmare packs some solid callbacks to its predecessor, but it also opens with some questionable autotune, and its contemporary rock sound pales in comparison to the weirdo showtunes of the original Nightmare. Not all horror movies need a franchise.
While there are hints of Alice’s later work on Easy Action – the phrase 'Refrigerator Heaven' is featured prominently in Cold Ethyl off of Welcome To My Nightmare – it’s still Alice making some simple classic rock. The bits of garage proto-punk present are compelling, but don’t yet give fans the full horsepower they’d come to desire. That, plus, its lack of Pretties For Your’s sheer weirdness, gives it a less prominent spot on this ranking.
If you’d never heard of Flush The Fashion, well, there might be a reason. The album sees Alice trying for a more East Coast New Wave-ish sound, aping certain aspects of bands like Cheap Trick and Devo seemingly in an attempt to stay relevant. The end product isn’t terrible, but it’s certainly off-brand for Cooper. It’s surprising this hasn’t emerged as an ironic hipster favorite, but that might simply be because Alice’s better moments are so much better than this.
At least with Zipper Catches Skin, Alice returns to a more riffy sound after his dalliances into pure New Wave and electro-rock. That said, the record is still all aimless and all over the place, with its single featuring the Waitresses’ Patty Donahue and its opening song about Zorro. Of course, that might have been the crack talking – in the 2014 documentary Super Duper Alice Cooper, guitarist Dick Wagner said that Alice was smoking crack-cocaine at the time of recording. None of the songs on the album, it should be noted, have ever been played live.
Dirty Diamonds lands in a weird point in Alice’s career, arriving after the industrialized darkness of Brutal Planet, but before the brash confidence of Paranormal. As such, the record feels a little noncommittal and simple, leaning hard on the character of Alice as a Hollywood ne’er do well rather than the supernatural nightmare showman most of us know and love. The record has one or two bright moments – Run Down The Devil is nice and grimy – but never quite sinks its teeth in.
According to interviews, Alice Cooper has no recollection of creating or recording DaDa due to his substance abuse at the time, and the proof of that is in the perfume-flavored pudding. As a whole, DaDa is a deeply confused album, more of an experiment in art rock than anything substantial. That said, there’s an eerie, elaborate quality to the album’s explorations of madness that make it superior to Alice’s other two “blackout” albums. Fans of The Residents should give this one a listen.
Unless you’re a career completionist, Along Came A Spider sounds like how you imagine Alice Cooper – a mid-paced big-riffed concept album about a serial killer named Spider, with guest spots by Slash on a couple of tracks. Maybe that’s why it did so well for the Coop, proving to be his highest-charting release since 1991’s Hey Stoopid. For listeners looking for edgy, bizarre material, Along Came A Spider might not sit right, but for fans of modern-day radio metal, this one’s a delicious latter-day morsel.
Sounding like the Beatles if they’d become better friends with Charlie Manson, Alice Cooper The Band's debut album is classic rock at its core. Still, the record's stranger and more dissonant moments hint at the group’s eventual descent into madness, and the nontraditional song structure will give progressive music fans something interesting to soak in. Mostly exciting to hear Alice trying to sound like John Lennon.
Though its cover, title, and awesome opening song suggest a much more metallic direction for Alice, …Goes To Hell never descends entirely into the underworld. Sure, the title-track rules, but the record also sees him experimenting with disco (You Gotta Dance) and going a little hard on the Grease-style theatrics (Give The Kid A Break). Not quite what it says on the label, though still worth the listen.
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As with many other albums throughout his career, 1994’s The Last Temptation saw Alice trying to update his sound to match changing public tastes. That explains why the release is such a weird mixture of ’70s throwback rock and Paul Westerberg-esque alternative, as well as why Neil Gaiman of Sandman and American Gods fame was hired to pen a comic miniseries to accompany its release. All that said, You’re My Temptation is as bombastic a stripper metal anthem as there ever was, reminding the world that Alice will never fit in, even when the mainstream swears it's looking for something different.
After the success of Brutal Planet’s aggressive, modernized heavy metal, Alice took a turn towards the melodic and polished with Dragontown, losing some of the kinetic punch but retaining the distortion and attitude. The end-product is passable, and a few of the tracks even stand out, but as a whole it's a follow-up rather than a new era. That said, it was also this album that launched Alice’s seemingly-nonstop tour schedule with many of modern metal’s biggest names, so at least the record gave him some necessary momentum.
Muscle Of Love saw Alice experimenting with more elaborate musical theater styles and trying to be one of the listenable, long-form rock artists of the time. At times, this succeeds, bringing some solid gutter-level attitude; but during others, it’s a little drawn-out and self-involved, and doesn’t fully deliver on the dirtiness of its title. A fine record, just not one of the best.
With Lace And Whiskey, Alice seemed to distance himself from the horror theatrics that he was becoming associated, going harder on the drunken back alley rock angle. As such, the record is a mixed bag; though plenty of the songs thereon give listeners that dark, edgy Detroit hard rock, others miss the mark. Still, a worthwhile addition for the rock historian, and a necessary inclusion for those who consider them a diehard fan.
There was a ton of fanfare around From The Inside; the record has a pretty epic gatefold cover, and Marvel released a tie-in comic book alongside it. Overall, it’s an able album with a unified breed of grand, Meat Loaf-ish hard rock that fans of ’70s shamelessness will dig. But it never quite pops the way School’s Out and Welcome To My Nightmare Do, and illustrates how far those albums took Alice during this era where he performed solid but less-than-stellar material.
While it would never crack the Top 10, The Eyes Of Alice Cooper shows the singer finding the middle ground he occupies to this day. While heavy as hell, the album has none of its two predecessors’ nu-metal influence. Not only that, but tracks like Novocaine and This House Is Haunted provide that perfect mixture of Halloween spookiness and youthful dissociation that has always made Alice the figurehead of street-level masters of the macabre.
After 1986’s Constrictor reintroduced him to the swiftly-expanding metal scene, Alice went full Dio, releasing an album that’s full of NWOBHM and arena-rock influences. Raise Your First And Yell is an awesome record, but one that feels more like a sum of its outside influences than a perfect distillation of the singer. None the less, the gang vocals are killer, and Prince Of Darkness and Roses On White Lace remain two of Alice’s most powerful and lasting deep cuts.
Rarely does a musician’s most recent release rank so high in such a storied discography, but 2017's Paranormal earns its slot without question. The album shows the Motor City Madman merging all of the things his fans love – bombastic guitars, vague hints at the supernatural, driving garage rock, themes of insanity, and a gender-bending party anthem – into a solid slab of listenable rock. Though a definite product of latter-day Alice, this record features at least two or three tracks that would deserve a spot on any best-of compilation.
There’ll never be a song more synonymous with Alice Cooper than School’s Out. The track not only gave young listeners a rallying cry for the last day of classes, it introduced adult pearl-clutchers to the idea that maybe Alice and co. were just having childish, mischievous fun. Even without the track’s intergenerational smash hit, the record exudes the hilarious vision of insanity that would later become a bone-deep part of Alice’s career and live experience.
On Constrictor, Alice Cooper introduced to the world to the version of his sound with which fans would associate him for the rest of his career. With their overdriven, low-to-the-ground party metal vibe, tracks like Teenage Frankenstein, Thrill My Gorilla, and He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask) established Alice as heavy metal’s overenthusiastic lifer. The latter song was also featured prominently in the Friday The 13th franchise, once more associating the shock rocker with contemporary horror cinema. Given the lackluster albums that came before it, this record was an absolute game-changer.
Love It To Death was truly where Alice Cooper's disgusting weirdo side began to emerge. While much of the record is still the band ironing out their take on traditional classic rock, two tracks – the sleazy and nihilistic I’m Eighteen and the unhinged, cinematic The Ballad of Dwight Fry – helped define Alice for the rest of his life, and still remain important additions in his live show. The guillotine hadn’t quite dropped yet, but the blade was certainly being hoisted.
At the height of his hair-metal sound, Alice reached peak commercial recognition with the mega-hit Poison off of 1989’s Trash. But while that song is a rager that everyone knows, it’s just the beginning – tracks like Spark In The Dark, House Of Fire, Bed Of Nails, and Hell Is Living Without You are the kind of massive, fist-pumping metal tracks that remind you why the ’80s was worth all the cheesy bullshit. A genre-defining moment, the album remains a favorite of fans from all Cooper eras, and is a testament to how Alice's shifting sound regularly strikes gold.
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That Alice Cooper embraced nu-metal’s industrial-tinged stomp in the late ’90s will undoubtedly make some old-school fans roll their eyes. But Brutal Planet proves that the era’s grit mixed with Alice’s Grand Guignol presentation could be incredibly entertaining, and invited a whole new generation of listener to learn about his work. The album’s title-track remains a staple of his live performances – it's often the opener – while Wicked Young Man, Pick Up The Bones, and the nightmarish sleeper hit that is closer Cold Machines are all vital listening for any death-obsessed child of the ’90s.
Right the fuck on. Killer officially saw Alice Cooper graduating from typical-if-sleazy rock band to aggressive, threatening force of snickering darkness. Opener Under My Wheels may still have a brass section, but its introductory grind and constant momentum give it burly muscle, while cuts like Be My Lover, Halo Of Flies, and Dead Babies only cemented the band as rock’s entertainment-obsessed outsiders and the scourge of parents worldwide. The birth of a sensation.
What carried 1991’s Hey Stoopid into the hearts and minds of listeners everywhere was its massive single Feed My Frankenstein, which featured excellently in 1992’s Wayne’s World. But like its predecessor Trash, Hey Stoopid is packed with deeper cuts that don’t get the lip service they deserve – Snakebite and Dangerous Tonight are fucking killer, while Hurricane Years and Little By Little are as hard-hitting as hair metal gets. Even the ballads like Love’s A Loaded Gun and Might As Well Be On Mars have solid hooks to them. It’s undeniable, however, that Frankenstein is an absolute gem, inviting fans to the Halloween party they wish they could attend every night of the year. We’re not worthy.
The gold standard of Alice Cooper albums, Welcome To My Nightmare is the singer’s first solo release after leaving the band who originally held the name. That narrowing of influence and single-minded focus is perhaps what makes it such a mindblowing record and the cornerstone of what Alice Cooper is in the greasepaint-circled eyes of the world. Featuring voodoo dance tracks (the title track), stomping metal anthems (The Black Widow), maniac vaudeville numbers (Some Folks), and epic macabre showtunes (Stephen), the album is tour through the mind of a mad showman who takes his pay in shrieks and cackles. Roll up, roll up!
Bizarre, morbid, heavy, festive, mysterious, and most of all fun – Billion Dollar Babies is the ultimate expression of all things Alice Cooper. As with all of the Coop's best albums, the record is a mixture of big listenable singles (the title track and the ’70s cruising anthem No More Mr. Nice Guy), bizarre classic rock jamborees (Hello Hooray, Elected, Generation Landslide), and weird, menacing bottom-feeders (the terrifying serial killer soundtrack of Sick Things and the enormous necrophilia ballad that is I Love The Dead), all of which merge into a defining moment for heavy music's most engaging carnival barker. The album's influence also echoed throughout rock history – Talking Heads' David Byrne has said that Billion Dollar Babies inspired him to write the band's hit track Psycho Killer. As a complete collection of songs, this one is an awe-inspiring celebration of rock'n'roll theater and will have listeners for generations to come loving every second, every moment, every scream.
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