Alice Cooper needs no introduction. Since his start, he's been rock's nasty uncle and its master of the macabre.
Though some focus on his theatricality of smudged mascara, staged self-lynching, and blood-soaked beheadings, it is Cooper's contagious songcraft (hits like "Elected," "Poison," "School's Out") that distinguishes him.
Ask about endurance in the face of fickle audiences and Cooper launches into a tirade: "I swear, this generation needs a shot of testosterone. Too many rock bands now just want to blend in. In the '70s, the goal was to upset everything, change it. But you had to do it with good songs. Bands today don't have the energy for it. With the exception of Foo Fighters, there aren't bands out there with the grit and songs of Guns n' Roses or Nirvana. Hell, the bands from the '60s have more energy. Doesn't that seem weird to you?"
When Alice says something's weird, beware.
Perhaps it's testosterone that gives Cooper his edge in his 26th studio album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare. "I don't write like I'm 64. I write like I'm still 18. I don't feel like writing about what a 64-year-old man should. The songs are meant to be complaining and reveal my angst. Maybe I'm more sophisticated now than I was as a young writer, but, honestly, I can't act my age."
Cooper jokes about how he and producer Bob Ezrin have a "no boring songs" rule. "The tunes have to be really interesting and really rocking," Cooper insists. After realizing that the 35th anniversary of Welcome to My Nightmare, Cooper's debut solo success, was coming in 2012, the pair devised a plan - not a sequel but rather a new nightmare: "Why does Alice only get to have one bad dream?"
Along with using several of the 1975 album's themes, effects, and voices ("auditory hallucinations" says Cooper) to give the two Nightmares continuity, Cooper and Ezrin crafted new songs with their usual dramatic flair. "We created this Alice - how he thinks, what his sense of humor is, what he would do and wouldn't do," says Cooper. "He's cynical. When Bob and I write lyrics, we'll occasionally turn to each other and say 'Alice would never say that.' It might be something that I would say, but it's not something Alice would say."
One of the new album's boldest parts is the mixture of Detroit rock muscle and stark lyricism that is "When Hell Comes Home." Here the music was cowritten and played by Michael Bruce and other members of the original Alice Cooper Band, the whole of which was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The song's lyrics deal with a brand of horror that makes even Cooper squirm: abuse. Longtime fans will remember that one of his biggest hit ballads, "Only Women Bleed," was about an abusive husband.
In this "Home," the central characters are a child and a mother afraid of a violent drunken father. "The son simply isn't going to let it happen anymore. As soon as the old man gets home, he's planning on putting one right between his eyes. There's nothing scarier than an abused child to a kid - not ghosts, not ghouls."