Three years on from 'Da Da', two years in preparation, 'Constrictor', Alices' first album for MCA Records, is, well, um, what you might call a qualified success. It was always obvious that Alice would stray, for the first time, into real (whatever that is) heavy metal. On first listening, it sounded like an ugly hybrid of Ratt, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Wasp and all the other mutations who have crawled from the glam-metal scene of Los Angeles, with their silk frock coats, stilleto heels, make-up, peroxide back-combs and a complete fixation with the instigator, Alice Cooper. But on second listening, 'Constrictor' gets to grips with your attention span.
It's major saving grace is, of course, Al himself. That voice and with it that ear for melody which has always distinguished him from the archetype morass of squealing guitars and monotonous riffing (although there's plenty of both on the platter). For example, 'Teenage Frankenstein' is rescued by the gravelly vocal and the insistent refrain, but it's hardly classic Cooper. 'Give It Up' on the other hand immediatley announces itself as great in every sense. The lyrics spit at Mr and Mrs Normal with another catchy chorus there to drive the song into your brain. So far, Soso.
'Thrill My Gorilla', a witty look back at prehistoric sex, is a bit too ordinary and is thrown a lifeline by lines like "where were you when the monkey turned to man". The guitar solo is kept to a minimum (thankfully) but sounds too identikit. 'Life And Death Of The Party' (what a brilliant title!) isn't Alices' best ever vocal but again, the chorus is built to last, although the accoustic guitar shouldn't be there as it struggles to be heard in the mix. The sound throughout is crisp enough with the production by both Beau Hill and Michael Wagner which gives everything a needed metallic sheen.
'Simple Disobedience' is the stand-ot track, with a drum intro that harks back to 'Beat The Clock' by Sparks. It follows the traditional rebel line you hear from most bands of this genre, but only Alice can come up with that hook line in the verse and follow it through to the chorus, as a generation of imitators look on enviously. 'The World Needs Guts' follows on from Alices' 1981 'Special Forces' philosophy, advocating jingoism in the name of self-defence. However, the track doesn't have the humour of it's predecessor and sounds like some kind of Reagonite philosophising with Rambo penning the lyrics. It's altogether too fast, too frenetic and lets the side down badly.
'Trick Bag' (for all you S&M freaks) is almost perfect, because sometimes, it's what you leave out that's as important as what you put in. American radio should love it. Not too sure about the last verse though, but the quiet break is exquisite. 'Crawlin'' on the other hand has the sort of lyrics Alice has never written before (where's the wit of 'Nurse Rozetta'?). Again, the hooks are there and you get trapped quite easily so it's thunbs up. The backing vocals are unnecessary as they are throughout the album but Kane Roberts' guitar comes to the rescue.
'The Great American Success Story' (love it!) powers across side two with 'Trick Bag' as it's co-hort. Let's hope the old man who went back to school graduated with honors because the track deserves an 'A', at least. After the bludgeoning HM comes the poppy, catchy, 'He's Back', the hit that should have been, the exercise in production-line mass appeal, which simply gets better and better. Ignore the lyrics and let the chorus, drum machine and 'Beat It' keyboards sneak up on you, along with the best vocal since 'Former Lee Warmer' on 'Da Da'.
So, 'Constrictor' will do for now. It shows that Alice still has 'it', whatever 'it' is. He also now has Kane Roberts as co-writer and multi-instrumentalist extrordinaire. It'll be interesting to hear his work with his own band Criminal Justice when their lp is released.
Headbangers everywhere will adore 'Constrictor'; I don't adore it, but it will do me nicely thank you, at least for the time being. The cover is hilarious, the best since 'Flush The Fashion' and equally as generic. As the song goes, 'He's back' and now he can brush imitators aside effortlessly with a wave of a mascara brush and take that disturbed man/boy/woman/girl called 'Alice' and put him/her (or it) at the very peak of the fun and flash pile. Now for the tour and the next album!