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SickthingsUK: Reviews: Dirty Diamonds

Alice Cooper - Dirty Diamonds
(Spitfire/New West)

It seems a long time since the "Eyes Of Alice Cooper" was released and while it gained generally good reviews it's no secret that while it had an immediacy, for me it seemed to lack any real staying power. Were there any real AC classics on there? Not really.

So when Alice started claiming that "Dirty Diamonds" would be a continuation of the style seen on "Eyes..." I wasn't filled with hope. More three minute garage rock with the occasional diversion seemed to be the order of the day and as Alice seemed to do albums in pairs recently (Trash/HS, BP/DT) that is rather what I expected. Then rumours began surfacing, often via Ryan Roxie, that this was to be a more diverse collection. That sounded more promising.

So now "Dirty Diamonds" has finally arrived. Featuring last years touring band (Ryan, Damon, Chuck and Tommy) with additional support from Teddy Zig Zag and co-producer Rick Boston, DD is a rather different beast to "Eyes..." For a start it's more eclectic. There are maybe three or four tracks this time with a common sound but all the rest have little relationship to each other and none really sound like they would have fitted on the previous album. Then there is the production which is far more slick and clear then the slightly muggy "Eyes..." album. And then there`s the playing.. which I`ll get to during the track for track rundown.
But you ask "is it any good?".. Oh boy is it!!

Woman Of Mass Distraction
Opening with a AC/DC reminiscent riff that just builds and builds WOMD is a straight down the line rocker. And boy does it grow on you! First time I heard it when Alice previewed it on the Nights show I was a little uncertain, but now hearing it in all its glory here it just gets in to your head. The Rolling Stones references in the way he sings "..Shattered" and "some girls (the Stones album Shattered is on) are cool, and Alice`s voice sounds fantastic. It's the Alice voice we know and love, all rasping sneer. And the chorus just eats into you. This should sound fantastic live! 9/10

You Make Me Wanna
This is the first of three or four heavily Stones influenced tracks but to be honest the Stones could only dream of sounding this good! The opening riff on its own just makes you wanna get up and dance. And time to mention the band. The guitarists syles just seem to fit this kinda stuff so well. Chuck really shines all through this record and Tommy is rock sold. Crank it up LOUD and let it take you away to a sleezy bar. Again, this HAS to be in the live set. The middle section when the music slows and then builds up before the guitars cut out is just to die for. 10/10

Perfect
A second Stones-alike song and again better then anything that band have released in decades. The "Honky tonk Woman" shuffle with Alice swaggering, singing about a girl that isn`t quite as perfect as she thinks. Another catchy chorus and some great lines "When she hits the dance floor she`s a hop hop hippo clown". Not quite as great as the previous two songs but still better 99% of what`s out there. 8/10

Dirty Diamonds
The big one. Alice described this one as "an epic" although at just four minutes that might be pushing it a little. However as it starts you get a haunting flute melody before the band pile in full throttle with the dirtiest riff alice has maybe ever recorded. Alice snarls the lyrics in style and the chorus is catching as hell while guitars make siren sounds over the top. Come the middle section and we`re into James bond territory as you can picture a car chase around the mountains of Monte Carlo before Alice spits out the songs words and we head to the finish. "run for your life, you can`t hide, don`t you hear them coming, you're gonna die". Fantastic 9/10

Pretty Ballerina
Another track previewed in the radio show. This is a cover of an old `67 Left Banke hit and Alice hasn`t really changed it that much, however the perfect melody and production makes this simply float along. Nice orchestration (synths?) and flute again make this stand out as very different for Alice, it has an almost late 60s feel with a '00 production. Lovely stuff. Possibly the most unexpected Alice song since the days of Zipper or Special Forces. 8/10

Sunset Babies (All Have Rabies)
The third sub-Stones rocker. Another up tempo track that bounces along as Alice sneers out a lyric about the Paris Hiltons of this world, and their little dogs!! Rumor has it Hilton will meet her demise during the show this year [now confirmed] so expect to see this in the live show. A great, if bizarre sing along chorus as well should go down well. 8/10

Zombie Dance
Now we hit overdrive. Zombie Dance was also previewed on the Nights show but here it sounds a hundred times better. More then the obligatory Alice/horror song this has real style. Is that Alice himself on harmonica? And who is that amazing backing singer in the middle!! In fact the middle instrumental section is simply electric. Right up there with the best Alice has ever recorded. Alice's imagery is perfect, and you can almost hear the bones crunching as the music flows along. This is Alice Cooper at the height of his powers. 10/10

The Saga Of Jesse Jane
The one many seem to have been waiting for, and it was worth the wait. Alice sings the tale of the cross dressing Trucker in his sisters wedding dress, in a Johnny Cash voice, who walks into a bar, gets caught in a gun fight and ends up in jail. Lyrically this is hysterically funny. Only Alice could really get away with a lyric like this in a rock context. The music IS country, but still excellent with lovely guitar fills from Ryan and Damon. The production is clear as a bell and this would be amazing if Alice is brave enough to include it in the live show. Imagine Alice in a wedding dress and Stetson!! Too funny. A modern day classic with a punch line that should leave you in pain on the floor every time! Brilliant. 10/10

Six Hours
A slow burner, this has a certain similarity to the Gary Moore/Phil Lynott song 'Parisiene walkways'. It has the same sort of exotic central european feel. The first half is very nice, but its the second part that really blows you away. The solo section is almost reminiscent of Dave Gilmour in the Floyd with Ryan just FLYING! I`m really running out of superlatives now but it is just amazing good!! From the guitars to bass to drums. Full of passion. Doubt it will be done live as there are so many songs in competition this time but still a minor classic. 10/10

Steal That Car
This is the "eat your own words" part of the review. The lyrics still suck, but the song really grows on you. The infectious main riff really motors along and perhaps now the song only really suffers in comparison to the tracks its up against on this album. It's a cool pop-rock sing-a-long which will probably make this show but other then that its not the best on offer by far, but it would probably be right up there on "eyes.."! 7/10

Run Down The Devil
This is probably the "Brutal Planet" like track Ryan referred to in his blog. A grinding metal riff opens out into a really nice melodic pre-chorus before returning for the chorus proper. Nice double meaning on the title (Run down with car, or to run down someone verbally). This could pretty much have been on 'Dragontown' I think and is probably the most metal track on offer. 8/10

Your Own Worst Enemy
My least favourite track on the album, although I know at least one sickkie who loves it. This is a kinda Green Day pop/punk song with a opening riff rather reminiscent of The Who in their early days. Nothing wrong with it as such but the company it's in rather makes it pale a little. 7/10

The Sharpest Pain (Bonus)
Stand (Bonus track)
"The Sharpest Pain" isn`t on this promo so I can`t comment on that, but "Stand" was released earlier this year on the "Unity" album for the Athens Olympics. This version is slightly different with more guitars but still with Rapper Xhibit (MTV`s Pimp My Ride) on board. Another one that as actually grown on me over the months although still maybe a little out of place here. Slightly surprising that rap wasn`t removed for this version but its bearable in context so I`ll live with it. The lyrics still aren`t great though. 6/10

So there we are. Alice Cooper in 2005 and generally at the very height of his powers, releasing what could arguably be his best album since "The Last Temptation". It has a variety missing on "Eyes" and "Brutal Planet" especially and that allows Alice more scope to experiment with things. The results speak for themselves. The band shines through out and while I don`t have the songwriting credits here I`m guessing Ryan takes a big part in that. I will add one note though, play it LOUD for maximum effect. It just seems to work so much better that way!!

Roll on the Dirty Diamonds Revue!!

Alternative Reviews: Alienspice

Diamonds Never Lie
Being an Alice Cooper fan is no easy row to hoe. You spend half your time defending him to people who don't like him because they think he's satanic and kills chickens(nope), and the other half defending him to people who don't like him because he's a Christian and plays golf (true).

But as tough as my job is as a Cooperbooster....it's nothing compared to what the man himself must go through. He's got to answer to both these varieties of agnostics, and then at the end of the day he has to try to please a fan base having come to him from all the different phases of his 30+ year career. The Alice Cooper Group fans don't like anything he's done since 1975. The kids who saw "Poison" on MTV and ran out to buy Trash just don't get "Black Juju." The industrial metalheads who came into the fold with Brutal Planet will never believe it's the same Alice who sang "You and Me" to Miss Piggy on The Muppet Show. And even I don't get the bizarre subset of "sickthings" who name Zipper Catches Skin as their favorite album.
Yet here we all are, listening nightly to his radio show (no Pittsburgh affiliate yet, but it streams online at a few different stations), shelling out gobs of cash for multiple shows on the tour (and even "platinum packages" featuring a chance to meet our idol and get a photo, with a corresponding "platinum" pricetag), and waiting with bated breath for his latest creation, hoping he'll finally go back to whatever sound it is we like best.

What's a poor godfather of shock rock to do?

Dirty Diamonds, that's what. An album that manages to touch on just about every musical style in the Coop's vast back catalogue, and even adds a duet with rapper Xzibit on for good measure(the bonus track "Stand", originally recorded for the 2004 Olympic Unity album) It's a somewhat bumpy ride, careening from the balls-to-the-wall classic rock of "Woman of Mass Distraction", to the theatrical title track, complete with James Bond style fanfare, to the crunchy industrial weight of "Run Down the Devil", on through to "Zombie Dance" which should keep those "Black Juju" fans grinning. Along the way Alice and his band touch on a sort of Beatle-esque glam ("Perfect"), Jet- like garage rock ("You Make Me Wanna"), classic 70's Cooper ("Sunset Babies"), and even some Green Day style modern punk ("Steal That Car" and "Your Own Worst Enemy") for those baffling Zipper Catches Skin fans.

True to form, the standout tracks for me are the ballads, starting with "The Saga of Jesse Jane".
This ode to a crossdressing truck driver sung in a very convincing Johnny Cash voice might appear to be nothing more than a novelty track, but the gorgeous melody and catchy guitar hook lift it out of novelty into something more sublime. You might laugh, but you'll be humming too.

"Pretty Ballerina", a cover of the 60's hit by The Left Banke (of "Walk Away Renee" fame) is a very faithful rendition, with a slightly creepy edge that only Alice can deliver. Far and away my favorite track on the album is "Six Hours", a bluesy ballad co-written with Alice's "left-hand man", guitarist Ryan Roxie. Another unbelievable opening hook, a tender vocal oddly reminiscent of John Lennon's best early 70's work, and the kind of lyrics that keep the ladies coming back for more. The song soars into a classic blues guitar solo, and then abruptly ends...perhaps too abruptly. Overall, the harshest criticism I can give to any song on this album, and maybe even the album as a whole, is a sense that a lot of the musical ideas here could have used a few more minutes to fully develop. "Dirty Diamonds" could have rivaled classics like "Killer" and "Halo of Flies", but at just a touch over four minutes long, the song doesn't have time to build up into the epic it's begging to be. Similarly, "Zombie Dance" has the potential to be as spine-chillingly atmospheric as "Black Juju", but it's over before you even get the candles lit. I would have gladly sacrificed "Steal That Car" for just one more refrain of "Six Hours"...but there are plenty of hardcore fans who dislike that song as passionately as I love it.

Perhaps Rick Nelson was right...you can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself. Alice seems proud of this album, and it seems that thanks to his new label New West Records doing some creative and grassroots publicity, it could be his biggest seller in years. It's a perfect "starter" Alice album...buy it for your "agnostic" friends, and you can direct them to the most appropriate "phase" of his long and varied career based on which Dirty Diamonds song they like the best. And if you're an agnostic yourself, without a "sickthing" to guide you...buy it and email me your favorite song. I'll steer you in the right direction (even if it is Zipper Catches Skin.)