Wednesday 16 July 2014

Choice Cuts: Alice Cooper - Killer (1971)

The Band:

·         Alice Cooper | Vocals, Harmonica
·         Glen Buxton | Lead Guitar
·         Michael Bruce | Rhythm Guitar, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
·         Dennis Dunaway | Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
·         Neal Smith |  Drums, Backing Vocals
·         Bob Ezrin | Keyboards
·         Rick Derringer |  additional Guitar, "Under My Wheels"


Released in 1971, Alice Cooper’s Killer may not be the heaviest record in existence, nor is it your archetypal choice cut from The Sludgelord, but its importance for the bands and albums that followed cannot be overlooked. Jello Biafra & The Melvins have covered ‘Halo Of Flies’, while Johnny Rotten named it the greatest rock album of all time. For me, it saw the classic Alice Cooper line-up (Cooper, Buxton, Bruce, Dunaway and Smith) striking a uncanny balance between epic, progressive pieces, uneasy psychedelia and pop sensibilities. Not an easy feat.

The whole album is wrapped in a mysterious, moody aesthetic that the band has never fully replicated in the same manner beforehand or since. It just seems like the band were really focused as a collective, with ideas flowing and inspiration sparked.  Tracks like ‘Halo Of Flies’, according to Alice Cooper’s liner notes in compilation The Definitive Alice Cooper saw the band embracing King Crimson styled biopics. The dynamic and pace changes throughout the song, along with Cooper’s trademark sharp tongue (all the while kept firmly in his cheek) make it a truly remarkable song.   

Today, the album’s influences remains as prominent as ever. Speaking to Uncle Acid at their recent Manchester date, he waxed lyrical about the album and the importance it has had upon his band’s sound. “Killer’s probably my favourite Alice Cooper album,” he enthused (?). “It’s the last record that had that heavy psychedelic influence. That album is a huge influence on me, especially at the time of writing Volume 1; I was hugely into Alice Cooper at the time."  Alice Cooper was one of the first artists to truly shock and scare, a frightening persona, parents of the time couldn't understand. For the younger generation, he was so far from the norm, so unique that people saw him as a real life horror villain. His legacy is now lived out by hundreds of inspiring artists, most notably Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson (" He took a girl's name as his first and wears a hell of a lot of makeup. I wish I'd thought of doing that.") and the whole gothic, alternative scene that exploded around that period. 

But further afield, it's the other elements of his sound - not just the image and blood-drenched lyrical content - that have spurned on musicians. His evil psychedelics and stoner friendly aesthetics have paved the way for the likes of Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats and nearly every band that encompasses the horror and doom scenes at the moment.  “Love It To Death” was the first Alice Cooper album I got but I much prefer Killer," continues Uncle Acid. I think you can tell that the whole band were working on that whereas on his later albums the whole dynamic changed when he got a new line-up. Billion Dollar Babies and Welcome To My Nightmare are still great albums but he lost something a little bit after that.” 

Bob Ezrin, such a key player in the success of Alice Cooper’s career, gave the record a whole new texture and life with his production abilities. An album packed with nuances, ingenious panning and deftly utilized effects pedals; its overall sound is cavernous. Trippy and foreboding yet always snarling and in your face, Ezrin’s impact was pivotal. These are immensely layered songs, with sprinklings of instruments around main melodic themes and Neal Smith’s paranoid drumming.  Even the more accessible songs on the record (Under My Wheels, You Drive Me Nervous, Be My Lover) are left basking in a psychedelic haze a la The Moody Blues and Jefferson Airplane. But the result is unmistakably that of Alice Cooper. 

The closing track, “Killer” is spine-chilling. Dennis Dunaway’s uncomfortable bass line, feedback panned brilliantly and used as an instrument in its own right, it’s the soundtrack to a horror film that never was. The haunting drums that make up the finale, built upon by a creepy choir, Alice Cooper’s demented ramblings and Ezrin’s stunning keyboards have provided a foundation for so many bands to follow.  None though, you could argue, have ever quite matched it.  

Words by: Phil Weller

Album details:

Killer is the fourth studio album by Alice Cooper, released in 1971.  The album reached #21 on the Billboard album chart, and two singles made the Hot 100 chart. Since its release, there has been at least 58 versions of this record in various formats. 

“Killer” tracklisting:

1) "Under My Wheels (Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, Bob Ezrin) 2:51
2) "Be My Lover" (Bruce) 3:21
3) "Halo of Flie”" (Alice Cooper, Glen Buxton, Bruce, Dunaway, Neal Smith) 8:22
4) "Desperado" (Cooper, Bruce) 3:30
5) "You Drive Me Nervous" (Cooper, Bruce, Ezrin) 2:28
6) "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" (Cooper, Bruce) 3:39
7) "Dead Babies" (Cooper, Buxton, Bruce, Dunaway, Smith) 5:44
8) "Killer" (Bruce, Dunaway) 6:57