It would be nice to report that Alice Cooper’s comeback attempt is strong enough to show the Lady Gagas and Insane Clown Posses just how shock rock should be done. Sadly, it’s not even strong enough to frighten Justin Bieber.
The good news is that Alice Cooper has issued a new greatest-hits collection. The bad news is that he’s released it as a supposedly new album that’s a sequel to one of his most famous hits. Welcome 2 My Nightmare is allegedly a sequel to Alice’s landmark 1975 album Welcome to My Nightmare, except what it really becomes is a rehashing of Alice Cooper’s best musical moments replayed over, only without the freshness or energy. If you’ve heard any of Cooper’s best songs, you’ve heard all of this before, but better.
The idea, apparently, is that Alice wants to recapture the audience that made the original Welcome to My Nightmare in the same way that Meat Loaf resurrected his career with Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell. The fatal flaw in this strategy is that, ironically, Cooper is a much better artist than this. Anyone capable of writing a song as affecting as “Only Women Bleed”, not only the high point of the original Nightmare but also arguably the singer’s greatest moment ever, should know better than to stoop to the cheap chicanery evident throughout this disc. When Alice decides that the best way to bring himself over to the youngsters is by dueting with Ke$ha on “What Baby Wants”, there’s no way that’s not a cynical marketing ploy to draw in the kids whose parents (or, God forbid, grandparents) rocked out to the original Welcome back in ’75. Of course Cooper wants publicity (and he deserves it, after all these years of basically being culturally irrelevant) but Ke$ha adds nothing whatsoever of value to her song. She may as well have been Lady Gaga, who definitely would have made more artistic sense and added some genuinely interesting lyrics and singing.
It also would have helped if Cooper had written some genuinely great songs, or at least ones that didn’t trade so extensively on his past. The big news here is that he has reunited with producer Bob Ezrin, who helmed the original Welcome as well as the best of the original Alice Cooper band albums, 1973’s Billion Dollar Babies. Ezrin, as he always does on albums he produces, receives several songwriting credits here and it’s easy to hear his influence on a song like “The Last Man on Earth”, which echoes Gilbert and Sullivan in the same way that “Some Folks” from the original Welcome did. It also sounds suspiciously reminiscent of another Ezrin music-hall/hard rock hybrid, “The Trial”, from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, which just proves that the shock value of hard rockers aping cabaret wore off a long, long time ago.
Throughout Welcome 2 you’ll hear similar moments that sound like lesser imitations of earlier Alice Cooper songs: “Caffeine” is a limp rewrite of “Under My Wheels”, “The Congregation” may as well be retitled “Elected II: Electric Boogaloo”, and “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever” features Cooper singing over an electronic synth-pop track, which wasn’t even all that funny a joke when he first did it with “Clones (We’re All)” back in 1980. Alice even stoops to rehashing other artists -- “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” is described in the album’s press release as a song “very much in the spirit of the Rolling Stones”, which, loosely translated, means “a feeble rip-off of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’”.
Of course, one of the selling points that Cooper and Ezrin are using to hype the album is that it’s a return to the ‘70s. There is a difference, however, between songs that recapture the style of the era and ones that just regurgitate it. It’s not an accident that the album’s best song, “When Hell Comes Home”, reunites the singer with the three surviving members of the original Alice Cooper band: guitarist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and drummer Neal Smith (original guitarist Glen Buxton died in 1997). It’s the only song on the album that evokes the spooky feel of the band’s best work without merely repeating it. It also unfortunately demonstrates that Cooper still has the ability to make genuinely potent music, but increasingly, he doesn’t seem to be interested in putting in the effort to do so.
That sounds excessively harsh and in some ways it might be. Welcome 2 certainly isn’t unlistenable -- at least it’s not as dreadful as the schlock Cooper was peddling in the mid-‘80s like Constrictor and Raise Your Fist And Yell. Still, for an album that he has hyped up as relentlessly as he has for nearly a year, Welcome 2 is unacceptably mediocre. Considering the level of talent involved, it should have been better, or at least not as musically predictable (and as for the album’s putative storyline, forget it -- it’s even less coherent than the storyline for the original Welcome was). You’d be better served tracking down recordings of the original Alice Cooper band in its prime than spending time and money on this disc. Ultimately, the only nightmarish aspect about Welcome 2 My Nightmare is how dully predictable it is.