Dick Wagner - Full Meltdown
Visitors to this site should need no introduction to Dick Wagner. The man Alice and Bob Ezrin chose to create their music after Alice left the original Alice Cooper band. A seasoned session player you could count on when you needed something done right the first time, as used by Lou Reed, Kiss, Aerosmith and countless others. Of course Dick had been playing in his own bands for many years including The Frost and Ursa Major.
This "new" Wagner album is a collection of classic rock songs and acoustic ballads which Dick has put together while he recovers from health problems, which sadly are preventing him playing at present. As he describes it, it's "the essence of who and what I am and have been these last 50 years" and you can't argue with that. Many of the songs date back many years, beginning in 1979 when he was writing and performing with Alice on the 'From The Inside' album so rather then talk about it in the order songs appear in the CD, I'd rather go chronologically.
There are six songs from the 1979 period which are possibly the most interesting to AC fans. 'Blue Collar Babies', 'Modern Times', 'Motor City Showdown', 'Feel It All Over', 'Stagger Lee' (A cover, based on an old Blues song about a murderer), and 'These Days' have a definite audible link between some to the great songs on 'From The Inside'. In fact you can envisage Alice singing some of them (although presumably the lyric would be different). Whether any were written for Alice, or if it was just the style of Dick's writing at the time I don't know, but you do wonder what they would have sounded like in that context. The intro of 'Modern Times' could easy fit on any late 70s Alice album for example.
Many of Wagner's distinctive melodic ideas are in evidence. Dick is a good singer (he sings all songs himself) and, of course, his playing is beyond question. However as a vocalist he's more Elton John then Alice in many places (especially 'These Days which features Dick alone on Piano), with even a few Ian Hunter similarities. All six 1979 songs are quality American AOR rock and it would have been interesting to hear what Alice would have done with them.
After this we briefly stop in 1988 for 'She Said', which features Dick playing all instrumentation on a quiet acoustic guitar based power ballad type of thing. We then move to 1991 where the bulk of the remaining tracks originate from. 'Insatiable Girl' is a heads down rocker (featuring Fred Mandel) that almost sounds like something Kiss would come up with. 'I'd Take a Bullet' is a pretty ballad in a similar style to 'I Might As Well Be On Mars'. 'Another Twist Of The Knife' features the old David Lee Roth rhythm section of Greg and and Matt Bissonette, along with Mandel again, as does 'Ecstasy' which is a great song that keeps taking unexpected musical curves before returning to the main themes. Lastly from 1991 is 'Steal The Thunder' which is possibly the heaviest thing on the album. A crunchy opening riff which makes way for a more laid back verse.
Fans will of course pick out 'I Might As Well Be On Mars' as recognizable. A highlight on the 'Hey Stoopid' album, Dick's version is from 1995 and isn't radically different. It's a definite highlight, whether through familiarity, or simply the fact that it's beautiful song. Finally from 1995 we have 'Darkest Hour' which is solo Wagner song showing off his great acoustic playing.
While maybe not what I would normally listen to, being a little to AOR in places for my tastes, 'Full Meltdown' is a really good collection of songs that highlight what an undeniably great songwriter Wagner is and always has been. He has a talent for knowing how to use musical dynamics to power a song, using changes in tempo, with light and shade, to give songs an epic feel. The album really grows on you the more you listen to it. There are moments of pure songwriting genius in many of the songs (especially 'Ecstasy') which highlight why he was such a good choice for Alice to work with. However you have to wonder how some of these tracks would have changed if Ezrin had put his own golden touch to them back in the day. Definitely worth grabbing if you are a fan of Alice's late 70s style (which Wagner had so much to do with) or are just interested in getting an introduction to Dick's work aside from Alice.