I can't tell you how long I've been waiting for this moment, even with all the blazing buzz we've been sharing with you this past year over the sequel to Alice Cooper's classic solo debut Welcome to My Nightmare – in which the shock rock pioneer becomes our ghoulish guide through a world of childhood monsters, teen triumphs and adult horrors over the course of one amazing record. This life-spanning journey of terror continues in Welcome 2 My Nightmare, which makes its worldwide debut tomorrow. I recently had a chance to explore this macabre musical menagerie, and I'm totally geared up to share it with you. Read on for a detailed review, along with some hints of new Halloween happenings in Alice's wonderland...
First a little backstory, if you haven't been keeping up: when Cooper set out to record his first album apart from his original band, he joined forces with legendary music producer Bob Ezrin (who has worked with Pink Floyd, KISS, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Nine Inch Nails and dozens more) to create a concept album that would explore the artist's own dreams, nightmares and personal demons through a young alter-ego named "Steven." The lyrics drew on gothic horror films (accented by a spoken-word contribution from Vincent Price) and literature (including the classic children's book There's a Nightmare in My Closet), as viewed through the twisted lens of Alice's own experiences and fantasies.
The end result was a concept that seemed born for the stage, reaching its peak in a spectacular live show that featured gigantic monster props, dance numbers, and Alice's now famous series of onstage "deaths" – which over the years have expanded from the original show's decapitations and hangings to death by giant syringe, zombie attacks and impalement by ninjas, to name only a few. The show broke even newer ground when it was transformed into a prime-time TV special, one of the very first of its kind. Alice has come to terms with a lot of his own monsters since his hard-living days, but the thirty-six-year road from 1975 to today has still been a rough one, and little Steven still has lots of scary stories to tell... especially when the original nightmare returns to haunt him once again.
When Cooper and Ezrin decided to revisit Steven's dreamworld, they wanted to retain the essence of the original, which was solidly grounded in '70s rock & pop – and I must say that was a very wise decision. Alice even recruited the surviving members of his original band (guitarist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith) and virtuoso guitarist Richard Wagner (from the first Nightmare) to participate on several of the songs, and their informal, jam-session style brings back the flavor of that era as if the decades between had never passed. But this record doesn't feel entirely like a retro effort, because Cooper, Ezrin and company also stir ingredients of modern rock & metal, pop and even country into the brew, assisted by guest performers like Rob Zombie, Ke$ha and Vince Gill.
The first taste of those modern elements is one of many shocks to come: the jaw-dropping pop rock ballad "I Am Made of You" is probably the first time The Coop has been given the auto-tune treatment. But here's the truly amazing thing, and something I've never written about this heavily-abused piece of audio equipment: used here purely as a vocal effect, it's actually pretty damn awesome. The theatrical power of that number is promptly kicked aside for the hilarious raunch-rock track "Caffeine," a Red Bull-fueled ode to the dangers of tweaking on legal stimulants (like one of Freddy Kreuger's potential victims, our hero is terrified of falling asleep), complete with some nervous electronic touches, whirling guitar leads and a quirky chorus.
Our boy hero steps onto the stage to sing "The Nightmare Returns," a piano-driven lullaby (reminiscent of John Carpenter's theme for The Fog) that serves as the real introduction to the surreal events of the evening. The sound of flames accompanies opens "A Runaway Train," which continues the dream narrative in a stomping southern rock anthem as our hero finds himself an innocent member of a chain-gang bound for hell. The gritty feeling continues in the upbeat barroom tune "Last Man on Earth," with Alice's gruff vocal backed by banjo, fiddle and accordion a letter-perfect tribute to the boozy ballads of Tom Waits.
Taking on his tour-guide persona once again for "The Congregation" – a humorous peek at some various unique levels of hell – Alice brings back the '70s feeling in royal style, complete with doubled vocals and a rambling rock rhythm reminiscent of The Who. The wry humor becomes more overtly aggressive in "I'll Bite Your Face Off," the album's first single, the tale of a man who stumbles into the web of a seductive siren – perhaps the new incarnation of "The Black Widow" from the original Nightmare. A clear tribute to early-era Rolling Stones, this track is one of the best examples of the jam-session playing style that clicks so well between Cooper and his former bandmates.
The tone lightens up considerably with "Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever," which is exactly what it sounds like: an over-the-top parody of electro-goth and horror punk, complete with ooga-booga choral chants of "Oh no, here we go" as our narrator sets out to gun down the entire population of the dance floor. It's too silly to be much more than a novelty song, but it's still fun Halloween material. It's followed by "Ghouls Gone Wild," a '60s flavored beach-party rock cut with the heat of the summer sun replaced by the searing flames of hellfire and brimstone.
A mellow, melancholy mood arrives with the haunting '70s ballad "Something to Remember Me By," one of the few songs free from the twisted lyrical themes dominating the album; I kept expecting the narrator to reveal some horrifying symbol of his love, but the song ends on a peaceful note, essentially making this the updated version of the single "Only Women Bleed." But that's only a brief moment of calm before the storm of fear returns: "When Hell Comes Home," a chilling tale of abuse and revenge driven by ultra-low guitar riffs and pounding piano with a ghostly tremolo effect, adds up to one of the darkest, scariest tracks in the Coop catalog. The dance-rock entry "What Baby Wants" features a suitably sleazy guest vocal from Ke$ha, portraying a demon with "a pretty mouth... with razors instead of teeth." It's an odd mixture of styles that don't quite mesh together, but it does help to strengthen the idea that Ke$ha and fellow pop icon Lady Gaga are taking up the torch of Alice's outrageous theatrical legacy.
The distant toll of morning bells begins our hero's closing anthem "I Gotta Get Outta Here," which lyrically sums up his ghoulishly entertaining journey, referencing each song in turn, declaring "I don't wanna know how this nightmare ends!" The song has an ironically triumphant feel, with a certain Tom Petty tone and a hilariously overblown closing sequence ("Uh, I'm singing here! Hello!"), making it a perfect counterpart to the tracks "Escape" and "Department of Youth" from the first album, and it's just as memorable.
But Alice ain't through with you yet: "The Underture" is a massively cinematic, orchestra-backed medley of all the musical themes from the original album, which serves to remind me one more time how well this sequel captures all the stylish flair and freaky fun of its predecessor. Overall, it's a worthy follow-up to one of the greatest horror-themed albums of all time, and I'm betting my fellow Alice fans will be thrilled to death.
The fun doesn't have to stop here either: if you dig these tunes as much as I do, you just might get a chance to see them performed live as part of Alice's upcoming "Halloween Night of Fear" tour. The event itself is limited to just six shows in the U.K., but according to Worldscreen.com, the entire October 29th show will also be recorded in 3D for a two-hour worldwide rebroadcast on October 30th. Be sure to stay tuned – we're gonna find out where and when you can catch it. And if you're in the LA area, you can also enter Alice's twisted world at Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights, where his new Nightmare maze will be opening on September 23rd.
Now I'll let Alice play us out in his usual sinister style with the official video for "I'll Bite Your Face Off"...