Classic Rock Review

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Alice Cooper Killer (1971)


Continuing on a rather winning streak, the band is now getting more serious – and more complex.

There’s still enough powerful garage rock on here, to be sure, but there are also psycho freakouts like ‘Halo Of Flies’ and the title track, which are way more involving and way more well-developed than ‘Black Juju’. Not that I have anything in particular against ‘Juju’, but you gotta admit, it did produce a rather laughable effect. It was sort of just this one simple riff repeated over and over, you know? But ‘Halo Of Flies’, while hardly being any more understandable or meaningful, is far more attractive and diverse in the musical sense, with shakey, psychotic riffs, goofy vocals, and extended instrumental sections, some of which even recall the Nice’s ‘Rondo’. The track never really loses the attention of the listener (me).

The funny thing is, there’s still very little professional musicianship involved, it’s the kind of stuff Steve Howe could probably play while still sitting on his chamber pot, but somehow the band manages to keep it relatively simple and emotionally involving at the same time, plus it rocks and it ain’t all that pretentious. And it all culminates in a series of guitar climaxes and funny “tumbling” organ lines!

What’s even funnier to consider is they most probably did all these lengthy instrumental workouts mostly in order to give Furnier enough time to savour all his scenic debauchery – sort of a basic soundtrack to the shock-rock show. Mark my words, then: the shock-rock show will fade away (it already has, at least as far as ‘Halo Of Flies’ is concerned!), but the music will definitely stay, a soundtrack that outlives whatever it’s supposed to accompany. Which only further confirms the talents of the Cooper band.

Overall, Killer is the band’s most Doors-like sounding effort, with Alice himself often sounding like Morrison and a lot of riffs, atmospheres, tones and sound effects that seem to have been taken straight out of the minds (and sometimes, out of actual songs) of their predecessors. This is not at all a coincidence: apart from the fact that the Doors were this band’s main guru, Killer was being recorded in the wake of Morrison’s death, and at least one song – ‘Desperado’ – is said to be directly dedicated to Jim’s memory, even if all the actual references there (‘I wear lace and I wear black leather’, etc.) were probably always taken by the public as referring to Cooper himself.

Yet once again, the album is rather well-balanced: the challenging “dirty rockers” and the spooky tunes take more or less the same space. The spooky tunes take the cake here: the instrumental diversity and interesting melodic twirls put them among the band’s best ever material. ‘Halo Of Flies’ is great, like I said, and ‘Killer’ actually demonstrates signs of, er, ahem, good taste: I think the Latin funeral chanting in the middle is expendable (way too cheap for a morose trick), and the chaotic ending is just one big question mark (although I did jump right out of my chair when it first came on), but I like the contrast between the laid back ominous growl of the main part and the stern organ dirge which the song develops into later on.

And again, mark the greatness of simplicity: the three-note riff played by the lead guitar while the funky rhythm chugs in the background is so goddamn effective I marvel nobody ever used it anywhere before. Probably has. So goddamn simple, it couldn’t have not been used earlier. Maybe by somebody like the Chocolate Watchband.

Meanwhile, ‘Dead Babies’ earned the band its first serious accusation of necrophilia and “pedophobia” (is it a real word?), even if it’s just a simple, attractive, hook-filled gothic ditty about parents not caring for their children. Nothing but that. It wasn’t until a bit later, with stuff like ‘I Love The Dead’, that Alice started descending into real kitsch that he couldn’t explain right away as a “misinterpretation of his good motives”.

The garage rock part is not nearly as well-developed, I think, as on Love It To Death, but only because nothing out there is nearly as great as ‘I’m Eighteen’; yet it still deserves enough attention due to consistency. ‘Under My Wheels’ is a great power-chord-based intro to the album, with saxes adding the necessary glam touch (come to think of it, the song would have easily fit onto something like Aladdin Sane) – and another excellent teen anthem… notice how every Alice album of that period has one, dedicated to various essential rock’n’roll themes? Growing up on Love It To Death, driving around on Killer, and, er, education problems on School’s Out – right?

‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’ is great groovy pop with some more monster hooks, pretty indistinguishable from contemporary Sweet material, but whoever accused Sweet of never having penned a supercatchy ditty? Not me, that’s who. ‘You Drive Me Nervous’ is quite a good tune to drive somebody nervous indeed, with a wonderful choo-choo train riff and excellent use of feedback throughout (it gets a bit of flack for muddy production at times, but hey, this is a Detroit-based group, buddy, they’re supposed to be muddy). In fact, ‘Be My Lover’ is just about the only song on the entire album that hardly does anything for me, but even this might eventually change.

The only problem is that I fully agree with those who say Killer is not as obviously excellent as the previous album; it’s more consistent, actually, and shows significant growth even if it was released only months later, but it takes some time to grow on you. Once it does grow, though, you’d really be surprised that dear Alice Cooper once used to put out two prime quality records per year, when in more recent times it took him a decade or so to release a bunch of prime crap.

But then again, I’m running ahead here, ain’t I? Truth is, shock rock doesn’t really get any better than this; the “goth numbers” feel so damn appropriate in their places when they’re spread among exciting garage rock, and the lyrics are all clever and never trite or completely straightforward. Hell, even the album cover (with a nice-looking snake named Kachina on it!) feels far more interesting than all the childish spookiness Mr Furnier would decorate the sleeves with afterwards.

June 30, 2013 Posted by | Alice Cooper Killer | | 1 Comment