In the hands of anybody else, you'd simply run away screaming from this pitch. 'Hey, let's follow up a wildly successful, hysterically theatrical baroque promenade of a monster metal concept album with...wait for it...an EVEN MORE hysterical one. Let's do it! It'll be great! We can have more fiddles on this one and get Ke$ha to sing on it.'
Yup, you heard right. Ke$ha. She of the squelchily autotuned vocal and party grrrrl lyrics that make you want to fling yourself gladly in front of the nearest pimped ride. On paper it sounds like the worst kind of trainwreck, a stumble from an artist in the gathering twilight of their career who simply can't see where they're going any more.
But we're not in just anyone's hands here. This is Alice Cooper's party, and once you've given it a chance you're going to have an absolute blast. Admittedly it doesn't start with a bang – the hand-wringing 'I am made of you' opener seems to have wandered in from a sozzled session tape and should have stayed there. But things quickly improve as our hero – reprised from the 1975 original 'Welcome to my nightmare' (see what they did with the '2' and 'to'? Again, only Alice gets this much leeway) – tries not to fall asleep lest the demons come for him. He stands in cold showers, necks amphetamines and screams for the 'Caffeine' of track two, all to no avail. He's taking the dirt nap whether he wants to or not.
Then we hit the barnstorming duo of 'A Runaway Train' and 'Last Man on Earth' and things really get going. “I'm sleeping in the graveyard / On the wrong side of the dirt” snarls Alice with the kind of gleeful psychobilly sneer you can actually hear coming through the speakers, before those fiddles arrive on 'Last Man on Earth' - which sounds like a drunken wicked uncle gatecrashed Springsteen's Seeger Sessions and the Boss just let the tape run. “I'm not a beggar, I'm a king” bellows Cooper's Lord of Misrule, and now things are swinging nicely.
From then on it's a slam dunk, and you may as well get into character and rush along with it. There's godawful rapping on the delirious synth-stomp 'Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever', devil woman fetishism on 'I'll bite your face off' and terrific Beach Boys-esque doo-wops in the background to the sweetly B-movie zombie-era imagery of 'Ghouls gone wild'. If he's taking it seriously, it's hilarious; if he's playing it theatrical – and he is – then it's inspired, unashamedly gothic pomp.
There are a couple of wobbles – 'Something to remember me by' is unfortunately rather forgettable, and while Ke$ha doesn't ruin the record, her track 'What baby wants' feels like the moment in the party when everyone realises they've had just about enough and should probably stop. But then along comes 'I gotta get out of here' like a round of tequila shots and you realise the old master has only gone and pulled it off. “I gotta get out of this iniquitous den,” he pleads, before the choir swells with a “What part of dead don't you get?” refrain, seguing into a full-on prog instrumental before a cover of 'We gotta get out of this place' rounds everything off. On the first listen it feels lazy; on the second, it becomes the arms-round-each-other valedictory singalong at the end of a great night.
All in all, this a very welcome nightmare indeed. It's not always wise to make a sequel to a successful concept album, and there will always be those to whom the unique Cooper brand of grand guignol entertainment remains baffling. But with dubstep lording it over the charts and a lot of guitar music introspectively pondering the troubled world we live in, perhaps it would do us all good to get dressed up and go the party at Alice's place. We need to unwind, and we're in very good hands.
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