By Chris Petry
How do you follow up a classic album like Alice Cooper’s 1975 solo debut, Welcome to My Nightmare? Well, I would liken it to 1983’s Psycho II. (Strangely enough a couple of other online reviewers have also used that for comparison.) You have Alfred Hitchcock’s undisputed classic of 1960s horror cinema. It’s a film so well done and memorable that along with Powell’s Peeping Tom, it kicked off a whole new subgenre of horror films. Twenty-three years after Anthony Perkins played Norman Bates, he returned in “Psycho II.” I firmly believe, as do a lot of horror fans that “Psycho II” just might be one of if not the greatest sequel there ever was. It’s only flaw, it’s not the original. The original is better only because there was nothing else like it in the time it was released. It took the world by surprise, it broke taboos, it had us on the edge of our seats, and it will always have a special place in our hearts because of it.
Welcome 2 My Nightmare is very much like Psycho II. Not in terms of plot or even medium. It’s similar in that had the original not done it first, it would have that place in our hearts the original holds.
Welcome to My Nightmare featured the classic songs, “Only Women Bleed,” “Cold Ethyl,” The Black Widow,” “Devil’s Food,” “Some Folks,” “Steven,” “Escape,” “Department of Youth,” and the creepy spoken tracks by our protagonist Steven, “The Awakening,” and “Years Ago.” Oh, and don’t forget the title track! Each song worked together to tell us something about Steven. It was Steven’s story; a tale that touched on domestic abuse, childhood abandonment, arachnophobia, necrophilia, escapism, nightmares, and murder. (Pretty progressive for 1975.) From the lyrics of these songs, we learn that Steven is a tormented man child who may have killed his wife without even knowing it. Like Norman Bates, he is hinted to be a schizophrenic. Take for instance the lyrics, “I’m a little boy. No, I’m a great big man.” “I’m a little boy” is said from the perspective of a child, high prepubescent voice included. “No, I’m a great big man,” is bellowed in a deep masculine voice. Steven is haunted by scary dreams of spiders, death, and abuse which give us further evidence that our main character is psychologically damaged. “Escape” is his big sendoff; words that imply that Steven has temporarily awaken from his nightmare and realizes his only option is to run away and disappear. Though we know running isn’t going to solve his mental problems and that’s why, 36 years later, we have a sequel.
The first track of the new album opens with the familiar eerie keyboard of “Steven” from the original. Then we launch into the new nightmare. One disappointing factor, right off the bat is the fact that they auto-tuned Alice’s vocals for the first verse of the first song, “I am Made of You.” It’s an effect overused in modern music and robs the impact of the first verse’s lyrics. Once you get past it, the song itself is great. It has some great reflective lyrics, a haunting chorus, and awesome instrumentation. Track 2, “Caffeine,” is an infectious hard rocking number with awesome vocal delivery on the chorus. Track 3, is almost like “Awakening.” It is a song with powerful guitar and keyboard work and it also lets us hear from Steven. He’s still having nightmares and in fact, he’s too scared to sleep now because of them, hence his dependence on caffeine.
Track 4 is where the musical experimentation really kicks off. “A Runaway Train” is a southern rock infused track that features country star Vince Gil on lead guitar. Yeah, it’s strange but this album features a ton of collaborations and one more shocking than Mr. Gil. But for now, we’re on to track 5. “The Last Man on Earth” sounds like a Tom Waits song. Alice even adopts a rough and gruff vocal style for this one.
Track 6, “The Congregation” makes it clear that we’re actually in hell at this point. Rob Zombie makes an appearance as our tour guide and one of the highlights from his spoken word is when he tells about the boiling pit of death where we can find defrocked priests, pimps, telemarketers, and the guys from Wall Street!
Track 7, already a live favorite, is called “I’ll Bit Your Face Off.” It’s about his romance with an unstable woman and musically it will remind you of a Rolling Stones tune. Track 8 is where things begin to really get weird and I mean that in the best way imaginable. “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever,” is a techno, industrial, dance club parody that features lyrics about mowing down the disco with a machine club and stacking their bodies on the dance floor.
Track 9 is a surf rock, rockabilly, Beach Boys go metal type of song that is musically and lyrically foot-tapping. Track 10, “Something to Remember me By,” was reportedly written by Alice and Dick Wagner in the Alice Cooper Goes to Hell days and it does sound like “I Never Cry” from that album. “When Hell Comes Home” is the first song to feature the original Alice Cooper group since 1974’s Muscle of Love. It is a dark violent song about an abusive father and the little boy “putting one between his eyes.”
Remember when I said Vince Gill wasn’t the strangest addition to this album? Track 12, “What Baby Wants” is a duet with pop star Ke$ha. Surprisingly, it rocks! Ke$ha’s a sex-starved demon trying to seduce Steven to no avail. “You like my pretty mouth,” she sings. “Yeah but you got razor blades instead of teeth!” Track 13, “I Gotta Get Out of Here,” is Steven recounting the adventures from previous songs and begging to wake up from the nightmare he doesn’t want to finish. A hell choir tells him it’s not a nightmare anymore and that he’s really dead and he’s in hell. The song ends with “yeah, yeah, yeah.” Steven is eternally in denial of his fate. Track 14 wraps up the album with an instrumental amalgam of sounds from every song on both Nightmare albums.
Overall, Welcome 2My Nightmare is a great end to Steven. It’s a crazy carnival from hell and I would not expect anything less from the king of shock and horror theatre. If you’re the slightest bit tempted to buy this record, do it! Indulge. The Coop never went away so I can’t say he’s returned. He has, however, made a very good album. Its part rock, pop, metal, southern rock, techno, classical, surf rock, garage rock, glam, rockabilly, and blues. And it’s all Alice.
Chris Petry offers professional music reviews. His contact information is included if you would like him to complete a review for you or just send him feedback.