Produced by Bob Ezrin
What many fans and collaborators (including producer Bob Ezrin and guitarist Dick Wagner) have wanted Alice Cooper to do for years is make a sequel to his classic Welcome To My Nightmare concept album and finally, after 36 years, he has done just that. The protagonist, Steven, was re-visited on Wind-Up Toy, the closing track on 1992's Hey Stoopid, and again mentioned at the very end of Alice's last album Along Came A Spider, signaling his intentions for his next album, but a full sequel is what people have craved.
At the time, with its use of keyboards, jazz guitar, horns and other such non-rock instrumentation and song arrangements, Welcome To My Nightmare was Alice's most diverse and creative release to date. It was the beginning of a truly wide-ranging collection of music which would see him through a very successful period with albums like Goes To Hell and Lace And Whiskey following suit; packed with new ideas.
The "concept" of Welcome To My Nightmare was that each song was a different nightmare experienced by a boy called Steven, before the closing trilogy of songs actively about Steven and his madness. What they enabled Cooper and co. to do was start the album off and finish it with parts of the story, but basically write about anything he felt like in the middle, quirky swing jaunts like Some Folks for instance, without having to worry about linking them together.
He has essentially done the same thing here, to the point where, without the history, recognising this as a concept album is at best difficult. Steven doesn't even get a mention by name. He's also tried to re-create the inventive diversity which made the first album such a gem. The off-kilter tracks on that album, which stepped away from the standard rock 'n' roll formula, were all incredibly well executed, but above all kept a certain sinister edge to them, no matter how upbeat they appeared to be. That's something which gave the first album its identity and made it unique from his other diversified albums.
Here, with the exception of one or two songs, that sinister edge is gone completely. These are upbeat songs and there's very little, besides a few lines of lyrics, which fit the album's title or concept at all. The album feels like it wants to be a sequel to Dirty Diamonds more than it does Welcome To My Nightmare. There's a huge amount of humour and tongue-in-cheek delivery as well as the wide variety of musical styles, except there's nothing as funny as Jesse Jane, and nothing as downright cool as something like You Gotta Dance or I'm The Coolest. In short, Alice has previously done diverse better than this.
To add to the diverse nature of the album, Alice has laden it with special guests as well. Rob Zombie pops up at the end of The Congregation with a hilarious carnival-style voice over, his bassist Piggy D appears on Last Man On Earth, the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper Band, and guitarist Steve Hunter, who played in Alice's solo band in the mid-'70s and is now back in as a touring guitarist, appear on several tracks, pop star Ke$ha duets on What Baby Wants, and elsewhere there's guitarist John 5, country player Vince Gill, Drive By Truckers' Patterson Hood, Winger front-man Kip Winger, and several others.
But first and foremost all that, an Alice album isn't an Alice album without some bona fide instant classics, and he manages to kick off proceedings with just one of those. Brilliantly layered instrumentation recalls Guns N' Roses' expertly produced Chinese Democracy album, right down to the wonderfully emotive guitar solo, making the hauntingly dark I Am Made of You a theatrical masterpiece. It's a new sound for Alice, and actually indicates that he's going to be spending much of this album without his trademark snarl, but it's a welcome experiment.
Genuine high-points are hard to find after that until around track nine. But first there are a couple more good tracks. Caffeine is a fun rock 'n' roll song, with great lyrics that show one of the few direct links to the intended theme of the album, let down a little by it's strange chorus, and haunting intermission track The Nightmare Returns signals Steven's slip into the deadly sleep he's always trying to avoid. From here things go from OK to bad and back up again. A Runaway Train is an acoustic country track which, in the typical nature of an Alice Cooper track, will become infectiously catchy very quickly, even if you don't want to it, and that goes double for quirky 1920s swing number Last Man On Earth.
With each passing track the feeling that many of the songs here, although lyrically vintage Alice, beg to be set to more fitting music. None more so than tip-of-the-hat to The Rolling Stones I'll Bite Your Face Off which on one hand is gruesome, classic Cooper in the words, but a cheerful Stones riff in the music. The album also has its real baffling moments. Caffeine's chorus for one, and Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever for another. No one needs to hear Alice Cooper rap about "players", even if it is a parody of teenage pop-rap. But rap he does, to a disco beat no less. Strangely, all the way through the music sounds like it would be better served as a guitar riff, and in the closing passage it switches to just that. A lost opportunity perhaps? Then there's Ghouls Gone Wild. The less said about that the better. Let's just say if there were a Halloween parody of 'Happy Days', this would be the theme tune.
But after that mid-album lull things start on an upward trajectory again. First there's the obligatory ballad, Something To Remember Me By which, although not as delicate as Only Women Bleed, Take It Like A Woman or I Never Cry, is a prime Alice ballad which fans will enjoy. Then comes the brilliantly sinister When Hell Comes Home. Driven by an evil bass line it is, aside from I Am Made of You, the absolute highlight of the album. Dark, mean and nasty it's what an album about nightmares should sound like.
The strangely appealing dance track What Baby Wants with Ke$ha actually maintains the quality, with some very cool guitar work and a delivery from both singers which really works and doesn't sound out of place. A little Springsteen Americana casts its shadow over I Gotta Get Outta Here, which is another dip (although the ending is very funny), when the track really should have been another dark one, then The Underture, the only appearance by long-time collaborator and guitarist Dick Wagner, ties everything back together by running through musical motifs from several of the tracks on both the first album and this one. Welcome To My Nightmare, Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever, Black Widow, Only Women Bleed, Something To Remember Me By, Ghouls Gone Wild (on the piano), Steven and I Am Made of You can all easily be picked out, played together as one piece of music.
The two unifying qualities of the album are the playing and Alice's singing. His voice is at its most consistent best on this album, from a technical perspective, even if there's not much of the snarl he's become famous for. But above that, despite the huge variety of musicians on the album, the playing is of an amazingly high quality throughout. Some of the guitar in particular is amongst the best work an Alice Cooper album has seen since From The Inside.
There are of course many Alice Cooper fans who will buy every new album regardless, and enjoy it. But even they will feel massively let down by the release configurations of Welcome 2 My Nightmare. There are no less than five of them, each with different bonus tracks (the most common being We Gotta Get Out of This Place, which is a Billy Idol-style rocker featuring the previous Alice Cooper band line-up of Garric/Kelli/Johnson/DeGrasso), meaning as many as four versions will need to be purchased to get all of the new songs. Plus the limited edition 7" single of I'll Bite Your Face Off, which will have an exclusive live version of the song as its b-side. See the tracklistings.
While the live versions of tracks every Alice fan probably owns (better quality) versions of already are no great loss, fans are guaranteed to be upset that there is no edition of the album they can buy (yet) which contains all of the new songs. Not the wisest move by the label, especially as music buyers have fully come to expect Super Deluxe Edition of big albums these days, containing every available track.
Welcome 2 My Nightmare is not the roaring success is perhaps should have been. It's certainly incredibly imaginative musically, and brilliantly executed, but it needed a much darker feel, a better attempt to link the songs to the overall concept, and a little less diversity for diversity's sake. I Am Made of You and When Hell Comes Home should prove immense live though, if they can be pulled off.
“ tried to re-create the inventive diversity ”
Tracklist: I Am Made of You / Caffeine / The Nightmare Returns / A Runaway Train / Last Man On Earth / The Congregation / I'll Bite Your Face Off / Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever / Ghouls Gone Wild / Something To Remember Me By / When Hell Comes Home / What Baby Wants / I Gotta Get Outta Here / The Underture
Standard CD bonus track: We Gotta Get Out of This Place
Vinyl bonus track: Flatline
iTunes bonus track: A Bad Situation
Deluxe Digipak CD bonus tracks: We Gotta Get Out of This Place / No More Mr. Nice Guy (Live At Download Festival) / Black Widow (Live At Download Festival)
UK Fan Pack CD bonus tracks: Under The Bed / Poison (Live At Download Festival)
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