PART IV: THE FLUSHED FASHIONS OF SPECIAL FORCES, MONSTER DOGS, & CONSTRICTOR YELLS, or FORMER LEE SOBER
1980 was a very strange year – – – decade, even – – – for rock-n-roll, with punk and its variants, and NWOBHM, ruling the underground; meanwhile, dull prog rock ruled the airwaves and Disco’s withering sonic decay was being quickly commercially replaced by the odd sounds of “New Wave” *(ie: a watered down and radio-friendly form of “punk” has most often been my definition of what “New Wave” was, before it transmogrified into Indie/Alternative – – – and we all know a good bit of the ‘80’s was indeed built on the neon of New Wave).
With Alice having sought treatment, Warner Bros. rethought his contract, and extended it to include four more albums, due to the unexpected popularity of the world’s first power ballad, “How You Gonna See Me Now?” three years prior, a chart-topping single off the disappointing FROM THE INSIDE album. But with the music world having become an almost entirely new landscape for the already faded-legend, another character make-over would be a necessity for him to retain any kind of stardom at all, as he’d been virtually invisible for three years, but for his strange film & television appearances. Finding a new backing band *(which from this point on through the next three recordings would be an almost fully revolving door of producers and musicians, none being able to handle the crippling severity of his hidden addiction to cocaine, and back to alcohol, leading to impending use of crack upon its arrival, and near death). Alice claims he remembers very little, if next to nothing, from this time period
In 1980, Alice had begun working with QUEEN producer Roy Thomas Baker for ALICE COOPER ‘80 FLUSH THE FASHION *(the albums proper name). Alice wouldn’t wear his traditional snake-eye make-up again until 1986. His new character was like some kind of strange and deranged New Wave Frankenstein’s Monster *(yes, I’m aware I used that reference in I think Part I of this series, but it’s true, ALICE COOPER as a whole has always been a patchwork quilt of evermore strange sounds and ideas, and the weirder elements of what was “hip” at the time, usually riddled with horror/strange & satire – – – often it has worked, sometimes not so much so), his subject matter often dystopian completely absurd. Nonetheless, FLUSH THE FASHION was dropped on ALICE COOPER’S unsuspecting fan base on April 28, 1980.
FLUSH THE FASHION’s front cover mimicked that of SCHOOLS OUT in the sense that it’s merely scrawled graffiti, as though on a men’s room wall, 1980 style. On the back appears a shorter haired, almost militaristic, dystopian-Futurist dictator figure, skinny as a rail and donned in black. The songs were written differently – – – constant double entendre is made alluding to his freebase habit, and the overall themes really for this and it’s follow up, 1982’s SPECIAL FORCES *(my favorite ALICE COOPER album, after a literal lifelong fascination with all that’s been ALICE, that has been my longtime & longstanding personal conclusion), were that of a dystopian and ever maddening future and personal derangement of mind and body. “Clones (We’re All)” was a number one hit *(as well as a cover song – – – guess who by?), briefly. “Pain” *(as well as “Road Rats” from LACE & WHISKEY) was featured prominently as the main song in the 1980 cult classic ROADIE *(starring MEATLOAF in the lead role, and featuring an assortment of at-the-time quasi-underground celebrities, it’s an entertaining film that features ALICE singing directly to the female lead, much to main character MEATLOAF’S chagrin – – – a whole slew of great “punksploitation” films exist, this is merely a small one in that catalog, and one of the first, arguably). But his new addiction is slyly slipped somewhere into the total disarrangement of the lyrics to this mechanized futurist-style new wave. Still, it’s a solid and strange little record.
But Alice was in terrible shape, as the glittery flakes of fishscale Cocaine became the disjointed focus and inability of function, it all eventually running him down with hardcore boulders of “poor man’s” Crack, a raging addiction of which he’d really been trying to keep under wraps. But one look at him from the small front cover picture-within-a-picture *(where his mind was at, perhaps?) of SPECIAL FORCES, released September of 1981, just screams it.
It was his last tour for many years, and he went round the world, in spite of his addiction and declining health, one final time, for quite some time. But the wear can be seen in the footage of the era, from the even more bizarre ALICE COOPER A PARIS tv special in France, to bootlegged concert performances, to his appearance on the Tom Snyder Show, his new and monstrously ugly, ego inflated/identity affected Military Drag of Drug-Dementia guise – – – to which Alice claims he remembers next to nothing of, was truly his sickest. He rarely speaks of this period, only ever says of it “I wrote them, I recorded them, I toured them, and I don’t remember much of any of that.” SPECIAL FORCES is a special record to me. One of his most ghoulish, one of his strangest, most egotistical, fun, Halloween Spirited *(as it’s so disassociated from reality and continues with the odd themes from the previous record), and one of his most underrated, sounding like nothing else *(like many records throughout the varied entirety of his catalog.) Ego, dementia, identity and general horror are the themes behind SPECIAL FORCES. For all intents and purposes, this is Alice’s punk record.
Two more albums followed, the first being ZIPPER CATCHES SKIN, released August 25th, 1982. It was produced by Alice and his then bassist Erik Scott. Easily one of his worst albums, period. There is no theme, no ambience, just a collection of really dumb novelty-type songs. “That Was The Day My Dead Pet Returned To Save My Life,” need I say more? Dick Wagner, who tried to come back for the project, stated in an interview at the time that in the recording booth, Alice had a little screen set up, and would blow hits while singing, as other band members occasionally joined him between takes. Wagner refers to it as the “off to the races speedy album,” and left halfway through the recording, saying it was “a drug-induced nightmare.” Alice, at the time, said in an interview, that “[This album] will totally kill. Really Hardcore. The stuff I do has always been a lot like that, in fact I invented a couple of songs that were remakes, just for the purpose of attacking cliches. There are no cliches on this album and I did that for a specific reason. Rock-n-Roll right now is jammed with cliches.” *(Hmm.) The song “Class of 1984” was used as the title-track to the film of the same name, but went nowhere. Nothing from this album has ever been performed live *(and with good reason). There was no tour.
September 28, 1983 saw the release of ALICE COOPER’S 15th album, DADA, featuring the full return of Dick Wagner and produced/multitasked by Bob Ezrin. The album had a single that again failed to even come close to any U.S. charts anywhere. The album is very loosely concepted, about a character named “Sonny,” who’s been locked in an attic all his life by his rich brother, “Former Lee Warmer.” Each song that plays out is a yet another fragment of his fractured personality, and in fact “Sonny” may actually be “Former Lee.” We never find out. The album has many gothic elements in its better moments, and feels like forced crapola in it’s lesser ones. Dick Wagner in fact stated that it was recorded in order to fill out Alice’s Warner Bros. contract. The cover is based on a Dali painting, Slave Market With The Disappearing Bust Of Voltaire *(Salvador & Alice had long been friends, ever since Dali used Alice as the model for the world’s first-ever holographic projection in the early 70’s). In 1996 Alice said “DADA is the scariest album I ever recorded, and I never had any idea what it was about.” There was no promotion. There was no tour.
Nor was there a label, or wife *(Sheryl divorced him January 30th, 1984). Alice stepped away from the music industry for a few years after that, in order to get his life back together. He did keep writing music, however, and two songs appeared, along with Alice as the lead, in the most appropriately titled Spanish horror film MONSTER DOG. *(The movie may be awful, not even cult-bad entertaining, however, the main song for the film, “Identity Crisis,” is in my opinion one of his best tunes, period.) He tried working with both Joe Perry of AEROSMITH, and Andy McCoy of HANOI ROCKS, but not much came of that. During this period, Alice sought true help for his addictions, and he and Sheryl eventually reconciled and remarried.
In 1985, Alice began working/writing with Rambo-looking freak-show of muscled monstrosity, whose machine-gun shaped guitar shot fire live, named Kane Roberts, found a new label who was willing to take a chance in MCA Records, and made his first appearance in music in years, doing a cameo vocal, and snake-eyed visual appearance, for TWISTED SISTERS’ banned-for-gore video, “Be Chrool To Your School.”
September 28th of 1986 yielded the new, fully sober and ready to kill ALICE COOPER to an entirely new and different generation with the release of CONSTRICTOR. The album included the title track to FRIDAY THE 13th Pt. VI: JASON LIVES, the video for which became an Mtv favorite. In fact, on Halloween Night of 1986, Alice returned in full form, gorier than ever, for his “The Nightmare Returns” tour, the opening show of which Mtv ran live, without commercials, that very night. *(I remember this quite well as I was rushing home on my bike from trick or treating over in my friends neighborhood to watch this damn thing). It is considered by most COOPER die-hards to be the ultimate COOPER performance *(it really kinda is, wonderful nostalgia floats back to my sitting right in front of the tv, tape recorder on and next to the speaker, rummaging through my Halloween junk, still slathered in makeup and engrossed in this massive spectacle). He even worked JASON VORHEES into the act. CONSTRICTOR has a sound that at the time wasn’t quite “Hair Metal” *(mmm, yet), but it’s own form of incredibly dynamic hard rock/heavy metal, and no general concepts other than horror *(to which Alice attributes a good portion of his sobriety to), sex, and general anti-authoritarianism. His new band also featured a little known bassist by the name of Kip Winger, who would go on to find mucho success with his own hair metal act WINGER.
RAISE YOUR FIST AND YELL was released a year to the day later, September 28th, 1987. The song “Prince of Darkness” was the title track to JOHN CARPENTER’S film of the same name *(which Coop also starred in, as a possessed and murderous vagrant). Again, an homage was worked into that show via a bike-impaling. This world tour was his goriest yet, with some arenas offering 1st & 2nd row tarps. Certain segments were asked to be removed or not performed in Germany, and some U.K. areas *(Alice has always had problems in the UK, ever since he ran the immense billboard of himself naked, entwined in his snake, as a PR stunt, through Piccadilly Circus in 1972). And the second half of the album was a horror-packed spectacular, the song “Lock Me Up” featuring a spoken word cameo from ROBERT ENGLUND, and the intense two-parter finale “Gail” / “Roses On White Lace” *(the song featuring the return of ‘Mary Anne’), this was the Coop’s next best Halloween album, released when it was for that very reason. Alice himself liked this album so much, that in 2012 a sequel would be produced, ALONG CAME A SPIDER *(Mary Anne, Gail, and Steven would all be there). Cooper was even involved in Wrestlemania 3, as JAKE ‘THE SNAKE’ ROBERTS’ escort, and even got involved in the match. JOHN CARPENTER was even there in the audience whooping it up.
1989 saw the release of the compilation of his MCA material, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, finishing his limited contract with them. There’s not much other to say about a two album best of, featuring one live cut of a classic and no new material other than “why.”
The “why” was simple. Alice was looking to make a proper comeback on a massive scale. In 1989, he signed with Epic Records, and hand-picked producer Desmond Child, as well as an entirely new band, comprised of mostly at-the-time super-musicians. He recorded the SPIRIT cover “I Got A Line On You,” which became the title track for IRON EAGLE II. The video featured jets, Lou Gossett Jr., and Alice Cooper in NO makeup. A new incarnation was coming, and one completely unexpected. I always felt that video was the slow intro to this newest upcoming guise, for it was to be something quite different. ALICE COOPER was about to turn into another kind of trash altogether.
Up Next: PART V: STOOPID TRASH & THE LAST TEMPTATIONS OF A FED FRANKENSTEIN
Vincent Daemon, writer, editor, musician, photgrapher, film/music buff and historian, and rabblerouser, can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vincent.daemon.1 as well as his spontaneously updated blog of writing news and nonsense THE WRITINGS OF A DEPRAVED MIND http://vincentdaemon.blogspot.com/Some of his music can be painfully experienced at http://www.reverbnation.com/vincentdaemonsageofdesire3 His email is firstname.lastname@example.org