Foregoing songs about masked serial killers, nightmares and mental asylums, Detroit Stories (earMUSIC), the twenty-first solo album from shock-rock legend Alice Cooper, has been written expressly as a tribute to his hometown of Detroit. Forget about guillotines, spiders, Vincent Price and Frankenstein. This is a more down-to-earth, less twisted and surreal version of Alice, even if the record does occasionally touch base with the likes of From the Inside.
Surrounding himself with more legends of the industry, the album was produced by long time collaborator Bob Ezrin while also enlisting the help of MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, former Grand Funk Railroad guitarist Mark Farner, drummer Johnny “Bee” Badanjek from The Detroit Wheels, and jazz/R&B bassist Paul Randolph as well as including contributions from The Motor City Horns and other local musicians. Not to mention of course a couple of welcome guest appearances from former bandmates Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, and Neal Smith.
Considering the album’s overall theme, opening with a cover of ‘Rock & Roll’ by New York experimentalists The Velvet Underground does seem a little contrary, but by switching New York for Detroit in the lyrics, everything is brought together nicely and strengthened even further by a typically memorable solo from New York guitar legend Joe Bonamassa. The first of three tracks lifted directly from Alice’s 2019 Breadcrumbs (earMUSIC) EP, ‘Go Man Go’ is a noisy blast of Misfits meets Ramones style punk. A cover of Detroit-based Outrageous Cherry’s ‘Our Love Will Change the World’ follows, taking the 1960s psychedelia of the 2008 original and giving it a 1970s makeover. The record’s first “proper” track, ‘Social Debris’ features Alice’s three surviving former band(in)mates joining him on a sturdily written rocker about how they saw themselves back in the day.
‘$1000 High Heel Shoes’ is a particularly funky slice of Doo-wop Motown rhythm and blues, if that makes any sense at all, while ‘Hail Mary’ is about a sexy secretary who enjoys turning the heads of the local drunks and derelicts. Originally released as ‘Detroit City’ on The Eyes of Alice Cooper (Spitfire) in 2003, then overhauled and revamped as ‘Detroit City 2020’ for Breadcrumbs, Alice’s reference-filled paean to his home town, ‘Detroit City 2021’ is given another little tweak and it’s never sounded better.
Driven by a suitably sleazy variation of that classic Muddy Waters blues riff, the alcohol-soaked debauchery of ‘Drunk And in Love’ is infused with horns and harmonica, telling the tale of the occupants of Detroit’s version of skid row. Conversely, ‘Independence Dave’ sounds like it could have been written for a Broadway rock opera. Alice takes a back seat on the punky ‘I Hate You’, letting Bruce, Dunaway and Smith trade insults with him and each other before ending the track with a touching tribute to their departed friend and former guitarist Glen Buxton.
The sinister, almost John Carpenter crawl of ‘Wonderful World’ is offset by one of the catchiest choruses on the album, while ‘Sister Anne’ (another track culled from Breadcrumbs) is an upbeat punch of blues-rock featuring some lively guitar and harmonica work. Released last year to an overwhelmingly positive response, ‘Don’t Give Up’ carries a genuinely warm message of optimism and encouragement, putting an arm around the more vulnerable during the current Coronavirus pandemic.
“Don’t wanna hear about your politics!” declares Alice on heads down rocker ‘Shut Up and Rock’, delivering a clear message that many people have been telling celebrities for years before closing the album with a cover of ‘East Side Story’, the 1966 hit by Detroit’s own Bob Seger and the Last Heard.
With their combined songwriting talents and the Canadian producer’s skill in the studio, Detroit Stories possesses all the hallmarks of a classic 1970s Ezrin/Cooper collaboration with a modern yet nostalgic flavour to the lyrics. And while it’s true the album features a number of covers and previously released tracks, it still never feels anything other than cohesive and natural. Even when presenting the more modern sound of ‘Don’t Give Up’, a heart and soul of pure 1970s is reflected in the Alice Cooper of 2021.
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8 / 10