With any artist who has such a long and storied career it can be difficult to listen to new material without weighing it up against their earlier landmark releases. Throughout his half-century career Alice Cooper’s never veered too far from his commercially tenable hard rock sound, and he puts this down to the natural instincts of himself and long time producer, Bob Ezrin.
“We’re both hard rock guys, but we really love to decorate that hard rock the way that Alice Cooper would do it,” he says. “We like twisting it, but if you really listen to all the songs, they’re very guitar-driven hard rock. And that’s the one thing that we will never give up.
The new record comes packaged with a bonus disc featuring two brand new recordings made with the original Alice Cooper Band – the group’s first collaboration since 1973’s Muscle of Love LP. Cooper singles out ‘Genuine American Girl’ (from the Paranormal bonus disc) to exemplify how a song gets honed to fit the Alice Cooper brand.
“It was written as ‘I want a genuine American girl’ and then I went ‘no, no, Alice Cooper would say, “I want to be a genuine American girl,”’ because that’s going to twist it a whole different way,” he says. “The trick to this song is that it is a rough, tough, non-feminine song. It’s a real street rocker and here’s this guy singing, ‘I want to be a genuine American girl,’ and everybody’s going, ‘wow, what is he talking about?’ And that’s pure Alice.”
Ezrin is an integral part of the Alice Cooper story. Cooper and Ezrin have worked together on numerous occasions dating right back to the 1970s, with Ezrin co-writing as well as producing many of Cooper’s most famous releases. The pair were the driving force behind 2011’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare and Cooper says it was a straightforward decision to team up again for Paranormal.
“Bob Ezrin’s always been my George Martin. He’s always been the guy that understood what Alice was and how to put it on tape and how to make these songs so that, as chaotic and subversive as they are, they’re palatable for radio.
“Every single that we’ve ever done has been subversive. ‘I’m Eighteen’, ‘School’s Out’, all of them have had this twist to them that normally wouldn’t get on the radio, but Bob is such a great producer he makes that song sound so good that you want to hear it on the radio. I think that’s where ‘paranormal’ comes in. We’ve never done anything that was normal. Everything we’ve ever done has been paranormal. So he really is my guru.”
Ezrin was noticeably absent from the credits of many of Cooper’s late-‘80s and 1990s releases, but that doesn’t mean his imprint was lacking.
“If I’m working with Roy Thomas Baker or if I’m working with David Foster or if I’m working with other producers and Bob’s not even on the album, I still send the songs to Bob,” Cooper says. “And Bob sends me the notes back saying, ‘This section isn’t right, this chorus could be better, re-work the lyrics on the verse.’ He’s always been my other half when it comes to writing songs.”
The Paranormal bonus disc also features a set of live recordings with the current Alice Cooper band taken from a show in Columbus, Ohio in May 2016. Many of Cooper’s all time greatest hits appear, including ‘School’s Out’, ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ and ‘Billion Dollar Babies’. They’re all songs he’s performed countless times before, but the bristling delivery shows that the songs remain very significant to Cooper and his band mates.
“Rehearsing it is drudgery,” he says, “but doing it onstage in front of an audience, you could never get bored with those songs. The first second the audience hear the chord and they recognise it, they go crazy and your adrenaline is firing. I never get tired of doing those songs.”
“I mean we have to do ‘Feed My Frankenstein’ because we do the big Frankenstein [stage prop], and we do ‘Ballad of Dwight Fry’ because of the straitjacket, and ‘Only Women Bleed’. That’s all part of the storyline, but every once in a while I’ll throw in a song like ‘The World Needs Guts’ or ‘Department of Youth’ or something that we haven’t done in a while and that keeps the band fresh.
Cooper is bringing the Paranormal tour to Australia in October. By then he’ll already have completed five months of exhaustive global touring. Nevertheless, his commitment to a quality performance refuses to falter.
“What I have learned to do is just not look at the itinerary. I think if you start seeing where you are and how many [shows] you have to go, that’s when you psych out. So I only go maybe two shows in advance – where are we today and where are we tomorrow? And that way you can handle it. If [in July] you start going, ‘Oh man in November we’re going to be in Japan,’ then you start wearing yourself out thinking about it. Just do the show that you’re at that night and make it the best show you’ve ever done.”