Despite the mainstream media’s barrage of assertions to the contrary, time and again – in the world of hard rock at least – it’s the old guys who continue to hit hardest, at the same time retaining the sort of relevance that their youngers and supposed betters are meant to have the mortgage on. This time around, it’s the ageless Alice Cooper proving once again that real punk rock isn’t about corporate sponsorship and bawling the right slogans on demand – it’s about heart, soul, and, in the case of new album Detroit Stories, balls-out rock n’roll…
For this twenty-first solo effort, Cooper has surrounded himself with friends (very) old and new – the supporting cast of musicians numbers a staggering twenty eight – giving the album a well-worn feel, a comfortable air where the main man was clearly absolutely sure of the quality of the contributions coming from all around; this leads to a confident performance from not only our hero, who sounds utterly in his element and in his best voice since the hair metal days of the late eighties, but also the guest stars, none of whom flunk their chances in the spotlight.
Musically, Cooper has left the prog metal of last album Paranormal well alone, preferring himself to examine his own musical roots as a hungry (and very drunk) rock n’roller cruising the streets with his band in Detroit City nearly fifty years ago. Tracks like the superb Independence Dave – which features guitar interjections from MC5 alumnus Wayne Kramer – take a fond look back at the old days, but nostalgia is kept to a minimum as Cooper, driven on by producer Bob Ezrin, searches for the spirit of what made him and his band so great in the first place; rather than opt for chicken in a basket schmaltz, Cooper and his surviving band members erupt in a snarling proto-punk maesltrom on I Hate You, a track as great as it is surprising when you remember the combined ages of those performing it. Similarly Shut Up And Rock, a clarion call of outrage at the whining nature of today’s current crop of rockers, mixes venom, contempt and, most key of all, humour, to get it’s timeless message across.
Ezrin’s role in this can’t be understated; he’s the ultimate studio ringmaster, not only tweaking the nobs but also adding keys and percussion as necessary. But beyond that, it’s his guiding hand that gives the project it’s form and function, fusing contributions from all of those contributors – players of such renown and stature as bluesman Joe Bonamassa through Kramer to Grand Funk Railroad icon Mark Farner, not mention members of Cooper’s latter day touring band – and giving the album a coherence and purpose that might have been lost in the studio mayhem that such an ambitious project creates.
Cooper clearly looks back on the old days in Detroit with fondness, as evinced by the storytelling Detroit City 2021, wherein other Detroit heroes such as Iggy Pop, the MC5, Ted Nugent and Bob Seger all get namechecked alongside the post-historic exhortation to ‘play it loud and fast, ‘cos the blues are in the past’; and whilst I wouldn’t want him to keep revisiting his old stomping grounds – none of us have got time for that – it’s great to be able to spend time soaking up the past through the eyes of Alice Cooper on Detroit Stories.
Detroit Stories is out now.