I love classic Alice Cooper albums. There's a lot of rock and roll joy to be found in such LPs as School's Out, Love It to Death, Billion Dollar Babies, Welcome to My Nightmare, Muscle of Love, and plenty other Coop records from his golden years. But whatever the hell it is Alice is doing nowadays, I couldn't care less about. The sounds of his latest, Dragontown, are so entrenched in trying to sound like abysmal modern day rock groups like Korn, Metallica, and Nine Inch Nails, that even when Alice does manage to inject some wicked humor into his songs, once can only imagine where it all went.
Fine for Alice to want to stay current, but damn if he hasn't done better than this. A sort-of companion piece to his last album, Brutal Planet, Dragontown suffers from wallowing in the kind of concept album mush that only diehard fans could possibly care for. From the offset, the album is almost too embarrassing to listen to. The first track, "Triggerman", finds Alice delivering lines like "I'm deaf and dumb / I'm pure non-entity / Don't even look for me / I watch when you sleep". This is the kind of mindless drivel that washouts like Marilyn Manson dish out when they think they've come up with something good. Cooper can certainly do better than this, and has on many occasions.
But it's that sense of needing to connect with the new generation of 18-year-olds that pervades every moment of Dragontown. Weak cuts like the synth-injected "Deeper" have to battle it out with the silly faux Reznor pop industrial trappings of "Sex, Death and Money". Of all people to try and emulate, why Trent Reznor? The Coop's got everything over the king of worn-out angst. But still, he seems happy to let the computer-generated squiggles and beats set the pace. Yet it's tough to swallow lyrics like " Sex, death and money / It's the gospel here in Dragontown / Sex, death and money, honey / Grease the wheels and make them fly" in any form or fashion without cringing to some degree.
In "Fantasy Man", Cooper leads his band through a tired-sounding '90s metal power chord base coupled with an '80s hair band sing-along chorus. The worst of Alice then and now, in one terrible song. And while Cooper's current champions point towards "Disgraceland" as "classic Alice", finding him skewering the persona of Elvis Presley ("I wanna tell a story / Happened long ago / About a redneck boy down from Tupelo"; "He finished his short life sweaty, bloated and stoned / He ruled his domain and he died on the throne"), the song is nothing more than an obvious cheap shot that many other people have already kicked to death. Again, one wonders why Cooper went down these paths. Perhaps he just had nothing too interesting to say and went ahead and made an album in spite of that.
At the end of Dragontown, Alice concludes in "The Sentinel" that "I'm tired and I'm wired here to blow / There's somethin' disturbin' goin' on in my turban". And no matter how bad and corny that rhyme is, Cooper has at least brought some truth to this project. He does indeed sound tired, so weary and second rate are his musical ideas and lyrics this outing. Perhaps he genuinely feels right about this work, but something else makes it feel like he's just trying too hard. Trying too hard to balance out the love from his old fans while still trying to grab a whole set of new ones. And while that's understandable, it would have been better had he gone about it without using such a dated sounding band and musical ideas. Hopefully Cooper still has some life left in him, but if these recent concept albums are any indication, the diehard cell is about to run out.