Thursday, September 11, 2008
BILLION DOLLAR BOGIES (...or Alice Cooper Goes to Hull)
ALICE COOPER "Easy Action" (1970, Straight)
There’s a theory called Quantum Physics that deals in alternate universes and potential realities. But I’m a record collector, not a quantum physicist, so you’ll have to excuse my very limited knowledge of the subject. But I have to think that somewhere, there’s a parallel universe where Alice Cooper went on to become the most creative, envelope-pushing recording artist in rock music history. We, of course, ain’t in that universe, but we can, through carbon-dating and vinyl-studying, pinpoint the EXACT moment where those two universes split apart. It was 1970, right after this, his second album Easy Action on Frank Zappa’s Straight label. In OUR universe, a major label signing would result in Alice’s slow but steady decline into sub-Gwar kiddie metal and a side career as a good, if somewhat skeletal, PGA golfer. In that OTHER universe, however, Alice continued to release twisted psych-prog gems like Easy Action all the way up until his death, a tragic beating at the hands of some jealous renegade Droogs. Turns out they were only preventing him from doing an ill-advised commercial for Staples. Something WE couldn’t do.
Thankfully, at least, Alice DID drop a handful of pre-Staples masterpieces in our world before picking up a golf club, and on Easy Action, you can see just how fucking BRILLIANT this band was. I mean, if ZAPPA liked him, that means SOMETHING, right? (Okay, it doesn’t explain Captain Beefheart, but still…) He looks toward his past on the blistering “Return of the Spiders,” a heavy acid garage psych barnstormer with steam locomotive rhythm, flying twin guitar attack and gruff snarling pre-punk, post-garage vocals, as if ol’ Vincent Furnier finally remembered his mid-60’s years cranking out zombie garage singles in his basement before he got momentarily sidetracked by the prissy Pretties For You. And as we’ll find out later, he did.
Several songs on Easy Action are Alice Cooper as psychedelic popsters, just as legit as the Electric Prunes and the Human Beinz, and worthy of as much adoration amongst the weed-smokin’ box-set-buying retro hipsters who scour Ebay for that original Music Machine vinyl album in MONO. “Shoe Salesman” is popsike brilliance, a trippy little number that tones down most of early Alice’s eccentricities for a short radio-friendly shot of electric kool-aid that SHOULD have marked the band’s entry into the Billboard charts, if this universe were as fair as that other one. And if not that one, what about “Refrigerator Heaven,” a damn-near BRILLIANT psychedelic mushroom cloud decked out in layers of phasing and processing and even some fake Johns Children crowd cheers? Or maybe they’re real, I don’t know. Or maybe Vince just sank a ten-foot putt on the back nine.
Either way, Alice was on a fucking ROLL here, and if you dug his homage to those pre-album days cranking out garage beat with the Spiders, then just wait’ll you hear what this lean and hungry freakpsych band does with Alice’s old 1967 garage punk nugget “Lay Down and Die, Goodbye” (when they were known as the Nazz). The original single was lucky if it ran 3 minutes, but here, the Easy Action Coopers down some mescaline and stretch the thing out to a mind-bending 7-and-a-half minutes, a post-Syd Barrett “Interstellar Overdrive” freakout that probably wasn’t being done anymore in 1970, but fuck everyone else, right? Those extra 5 or so minutes are spent shredding instruments in a genuine psych-o-delic extended midsection jam, smashing amps, bending strings and generally creating the kind of mythical inhuman noises that Syd Barrett used to get out of his guitar back when he was still able to play on stage. But, to his credit, Syd never went on to make Monster Dog.
It’s hard to believe that Easy Action isn’t viewed as the psychedelic benchmark it SHOULD be, a lunacy module for the ages. Perhaps if someone ELSE recorded it – and by that I mean someone whose career wasn’t tainted by “Only Women Bleed” – it would be better remembered. If this were a homemade one-off album by some unknown Gandalf the Grey Wizard type whose identity remains shrouded in mystery, you might be remortgaging your house right now to get it. And it would STILL be worth every penny. But Quantum Physics aside, in OUR universe, it remains simply an early album by a creepy-looking PGA golf pro. Still, I betcha Seve Ballesteros never recording anything THIS good.
THE SQUID POP METER SEZ: Ten Out of Ten
BEST TAKEN WITH: Acid, Hallucinogens, Ben-Gay and a -5 Handicap