Last year, shock rocker Alice Cooper staged a fake presidential campaign to go along with the reissue of his tune “Elected.” His slogan: “I can do nothing as well as they can do nothing.”
Now that we have a president who’s living up to that mantra, what does Cooper have to say?
“Who would want that job, first of all?” Cooper, one of rock’s most affable personalities, laughs in a recent phone interview from a Texas tour stop. “I don’t understand why anyone would want that job. You’re a figurehead, basically. You might as well be a good-looking one or something. At the same time, I think people around the world think our president is the king, but he can only do what Congress will let him do.”
Cooper, who’s currently on a summer tour with the Edgar Winter Group and Deep Purple that comes to Blossom on Saturday, Sept. 9, has moved on from politics to other topics. His current tour promotes his new album, Paranormal, a particularly potent collection of tunes that features guests such as U2’s Larry Mullen, Jr., who plays on 9 of the 12 new songs, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Deep Purple´s Roger Glover.
The album also includes a mini-reunion of the original Alice Cooper band members, who join Cooper on two bonus tracks.
On songs such as the swirling “Fireball” and the moody title track, Cooper embraces a gritty garage rock sound that simultaneously sounds retro and contemporary.
Though he purposely wanted to avoid writing a concept album, he inadvertently came up with songs that revolve around the idea of the paranormal.
“We’re always writing songs,” he says. “When you’re in a rock band, you’re always writing. It’s just what you do. We started writing, and I said, ‘Let’s not do a concept album.’ [Producer] Bob [Ezrin] and I are used to doing concept albums, and I said, ‘Let’s not do that. Let’s just write 13 great rock songs with a lot of attitude and make ’em really sexy.’ We wrote 13 songs, and we were very happy with them. All of a sudden, it dawned on me that we had written a concept album. The characters were all ‘paranormal.’ That’s the only word I can think of that sums them up— paranormal. Even though we didn’t sell it as a concept, it does have a string of things that runs through it.”
The semi-autobiographical roadhouse blues number “Fallen in Love” features some simmering guitar licks courtesy of ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons.
“All your life, you get to know these different musicians, and we have an art of knowing who belongs on what,” says Cooper. “We just said, ‘If we have a choice, who would be great?’ When we did ‘Fallen in Love,’ [Ezrin and I] both said Billy Gibbons should play on it. We sent it to him, and he said, ‘This song is written for me.’ Certain songs are exactly right for certain people. After 27 albums, you know who those people are.”
To “change something basic,” Ezrin suggested U2’s Mullen Jr. play on the album. Cooper knew the members of U2 were fans of his because they used to play his track “School’s Out” at the end of their shows.
“I thought it was the greatest idea in the world [to have Mullen Jr. on the album],” says Cooper. “There he is. He kills it. I never had a drummer come to me before a song and ask for the lyrics. Drummers just don’t care about the lyrics. He interpreted the lyrics for U2, so he wanted to interpret the lyrics from this album.”
Another highlight comes when Cooper sings “Genuine American Girl,” a snotty glam rock tune about gender confusion, in the first-person.
“It started out being that I wanted to find a real American girl,” he says of the tune. “I wrote it with [guitarist] Mike Bruce and [drummer] Neal Smith. After it got written like that, I realized it wasn’t special. I thought, ‘What would Alice have said in 1972?’ Alice would have said he wanted to be that girl and every parent in America would have been really pissed off. I sad, ‘Let’s go there.’ The way to make the song so it really works is that you have to do it hard rock and can’t show any weakness. You can’t make it sound feminine at all. It has to sound tough. It has to sound like a truck driver singing it.”
Two of the bonus tracks feature Cooper and the members of the original Alice Cooper Group. Cooper says that it was quite natural that he and members of the old band, Bruce, Dunaway and Smith, would still converse. When Bruce and Smith were in Phoenix visting, they mentioned they had some songs. Cooper suggested they head to the studio together.
“I didn’t want to layer it,” he says of the collaboration. “I wanted Dennis on bass and Mike on guitar and Neal on drums and me singing. I wanted to do it live in the studio and see if it sounds like 1974. And it did. Those two songs came out sounding like that. The line ‘I’m only 30 out of 50 shades of gray’ is one of my favorite lines ever.”
If Alice Cooper’s stage show changed with the times, Cooper says he intends for the music, which he hasn’t altered over the years, to stay true to rock’s spirit.
“The one thing that doesn’t change in rock ’n’ roll is full-on guitar rock,” he says. “Look at where rock has gone. It’s gone to grunge, metal, punk and disco and yet the one form that doesn’t change is Alice Cooper and Aerosmith and Guns N Roses-style rock ’n’ roll. That kind of rock doesn’t change. That’s the only kind of music that doesn’t change. It seems to go right through the middle of the whole thing. I don’t think I’ll ever move away from that.”
Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, the Edgar Winter Band, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9, Blossom Music Center, 1145 West Steels Corner Rd., 330-920-8040. Tickets: $27-$122, livenation.com.