Alice Cooper – Brutal Planet / Dragontown (2CD 2013 Reissue Package)

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Review by Brian McGowan

Eagle Rock

These two releases confirmed Cooper’s artistic reinvention, but failed commercially. Marlette has gone on to produce albums from Seether, Shinedown and Filter amongst others. Cooper’s subsequent recordings saw his return to the theatrical, melodic hard rock of his earlier career.

Brutal Planet (2000)

Hooking up with Bob Marlette in 2000 was one of the best things Alice Cooper could have done. Cooper had written with a host of acclaimed songwriters on previous albums – Desmond Child, Jack Ponte, Jack Blades, Jim Vallance, Mark Hudson and others – but writing a full album with a producer and songwriter as skilled and talented as Marlette gave Cooper new voice. There’s a sense of purpose and a cohesion to Brutal Planet that make it infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.

The title track immediately reveals a template no longer dependent on theatre or the elements of glamrock formula borrowed heavily by Cooper on earlier recordings. Arguably, the music is a natural successor to previous album The Last Temptation, replacing that album’s comic book melodrama with a condemnation of the West’s moral decline. His savage satires are deployed like RPGs, propelled by Marlette’s sturdy, insidious melodies, and a production that takes a huge transgressive sideways step into the world of industrial metal, only with better tunes. It doesn’t venture too deep into the darkness, just far enough for the downtuned guitars to add a doomy, driving clang to Cooper’s bruising meditations on death, decay and despair. And winningly, despite the subject matter, the songs have their blood spattered boots firmly planted in memorable melodies and short, sharp choruses. The stomping, half spoken ‘Sanctuary’ and the powerful ‘Blow Me A Kiss’ are formidable assaults on the senses. Cooper’s protagonist exclaims his paranoia with slashing ferocity on the former, and on the latter, lines up discrimination in his gunsights, lightening both songs with sturdy tunes and head turning hooks.

And that’s what makes this album work so well. Marlette’s arrangements may often include short bursts of deliberate dissonance – usually where we expect an emotive swell of guitars/keyboards/synths – that reflect the subject matter, but they’ve written songs filled with ascending choruses and catchy tunes. The soaring power ballads, ‘Pick Up The Bones’ and ’Take It Like A Woman’ are cases in point. They deal in death and dysfunction, but are realised in hi def melodies that never undermine the weight and meaning of the lyrics. It’s a surprisingly effective combination.

Alice Cooper - Brutal Planet6 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Brutal Planet
  2. Wicked Young man
  3. Sanctuary
  4. Blow Me A Kiss
  5. Eat Some More
  6. Pick Up The Bones
  7. Pessi-mystic
  8. Gimme
  9. It’s The Little Things
  10. Take It Like A Woman
  11. Cold Machines

Dragontown (2001)

Unarguably a continuation of Brutal Planet, with Cooper and Marlette again collaborating, and Cooper surrounding himself with a tighter than tight band – Eric Dover, Tim Pierce, Ryan Roxie and Kenny Aronoff. Cooper and Marlette, by now enjoying a collusive and confident songwriting relationship, fan that creative spark into something more substantial on Dragontown. Here, Cooper is guided by a greater sense of social commentary and narrative complexity. He torques up the tension on funereal elegy, ‘Deeper’ and laces ‘Sex, Death & Money’s morality tale with dark humour. ‘Somewhere In The Jungle’ and ‘I Just Wanna Be God’ are less about the music and more about creating a clinging, dream-like atmosphere, where the message is hammered home by heavyweight guitars and pounding beats. This time around, a couple of more commercial – or at least accessible – tracks are to be found among the grim tales of alienation and materialism. ‘Triggerman’ keeps a foothold in Cooper’s big chorus, big hook past, and the endearing ballad, ’Every Woman Has A Name’ add greater musical and emotional range to Dragontown, providing radio with an opportunity to play Cooper’s new music, without compromising anyone’s position.

Alice Cooper - Dragontown7 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Triggerman
  2. Deeper
  3. Dragontown
  4. Sex Death And Money
  5. Fantasy man
  6. Somewhere In The Jungle
  7. Disgraceland
  8. Sister Sara
  9. Every Woman Has A Name
  10. I Just Wanna Be God
  11. It’s Much Too Late
  12. The Sentinel