Paranormal | Artist: Alice Cooper | Producer: Bob Ezrin, Tommy Henriksen, Tommy Denander | Label: earMUSIC | Year: 2017
With me being an Alice Cooper fan for such a long time now, it comes as quite an honour to finally write a contemporary review for one of his new albums. It’s been six years since the band’s previous effort (Welcome 2 My Nightmare) and with CelJaded being no more than an idea in 2011, I was starting to fear that the opportunity to review one was going to pass me by.
Now I’ll freely admit that musical reviews are not my forte – this is primarily a video game blog after all – but even in a general sense, Paranormal is an interesting piece to talk about.
As the frontman’s twenty-seventh studio album, Paranormal has a nostalgic crush on Alice’s long history. It’s an album that combines well-known “Cooperesque” themes and references with an impressive entourage of guest musicians hailing from U2, Deep Purple, and many more famous bands.
The album takes its name from the title track Paranormal which is also perhaps the most distinct track on offer here. As Cooper divulges in a track-by-track interview, the lyrics concern the plight of a ghost trying to make contact with its widowed lover. It has an epic sound to it at times whilst also being somewhat dark and slightly unsettling; that quintessential Alice quality that makes a great first impression. That impression continues into Dead Flies; a curmudgeonly rant dripping with Cooper’s unique blend of venom, and a track called Fireball that furiously recounts the singer’s dream of the impending apocalypse.
Paranoic Personality was an easy pick for the album’s big single and indeed, this track became a favourite of mine the moment I first heard it. Cooper brings out his classic ‘slimy’ voice as he accuses the world and everyone in it of “feeding” his beloved paranoia and the results are a lot of fun. One of the many beauties of Cooper lies in his willingness to explore weird and wonderful themes like this and it’s a quality that I wanted to see more of during this album.
After the strong opening the album plays it safe for a while with Fallen in Love and Dynamite Road being your typically nutty affair with the former track featuring Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top fame. Sadly, Private Public Breakdown is an inferior repeat of the same theme seen in Paranoic Personality, and for all of its energy, Holy Water’s baptism angle doesn’t pay off as well either.
The Sound of A is a curious one. It’s apparently one of Alice Cooper’s earliest works; a rediscovered song that he didn’t remember writing (!) now finally given life in all of its psychedelic glory. It’s a sound that continues the album’s nostalgic slant (expect to hear at least two mentions of Billion Dollar Babies throughout) and so too does the return of Alice Cooper’s original line-up. Neal Smith, Dennis Dunaway, and Michael Bruce lend their talents to the extra tracks, Genuine American Girl and You and All of Your Friends, as well as several bonus live numbers from the band’s time in Columbus, Ohio.
Paranormal does a good job of distilling the typically harsh Cooperesque sound into something more palatable for modern listeners, but it does seem to be at the expense of depth. The core of the album can be listened to in well under forty five minutes, which is perfectly fine, but sometimes even the best songs here – Paranoic Personality especially – feel like they end just as they start getting good.
Certain songs suffer from being too close to what we’ve already heard from the singer before. Genuine American Girl and its humourous gender-bending message was done a lot better in Dirty Diamonds’ wonderful The Saga of Jesse Jane for instance, and you need only listen to Cooper’s Dragontown to see how much better the character of Satan could have been featured in Dynamite Road.
Still, it’s amazing how youthful and clear Cooper’s voice still sounds after fifty years in the business. The variety and energy that he brings to his live performances is certainly present here and much like 2003’s The Eyes of Alice Cooper, it’s nice to see Alice deliver his straightforward style of hard rock without overthinking it.
It may be uncharitable to call Paranormal an inessential release, but I get the feeling that only long-time Alice Cooper fans will love this album. Its apparent success worldwide suggests otherwise, which is certainly great to hear, though I hope we don’t have to wait another six years to hear back from Alice again!