With the release of his 28th studio album, Alice Cooper rewinds the tape to honor Detroit, the city he calls the “Hard Rock Capital of the United States.” The 15-track album was written and recorded in Detroit while bringing on other musicians from the rock scene, including U2’s drummer, Larry Mullen Jr., and the group Sister Sledge, known for their ‘70s hit “We Are Family.” The Feb. 26th release marks a reunion for most of the original members of the band Alice Cooper, which disbanded in 1975 before singer Vince Furnier adopted the name for his solo act.
The persistence of Cooper’s heavy guitar sound combined with funk influences set this album apart from his others, but the release of the album at a time when live performances aren’t possible marks a loss of the signature Alice Cooper experience. Simplistic lyrics and repetitive riffs without music videos or other attempts to engage with the shock of the group’s on-stage antics leave listeners with a case study on artists whose appeal relies heavily on their stage presence.
“Rock & Roll” kicks off the album, marking a strong, upbeat anthem celebrating rock. It paints a portrait of Jenny, a child bored with mainstream music until she hears rock ‘n’ roll on the radio. It sparks interest in this genre, and Cooper describes the positive influence it has on her life.
“She started dancin’ to that fine fine music / Yeah, her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll,” Cooper sings.
Other tracks, such as “Detroit City 2021,” highlight Cooper’s presence in the Detroit music scene and the different staples of American music with roots there, such as the Motown Records and shock rock groups.
Alongside lyrics that name-drop major Michigan rock figures such as Iggy Pop and MC5, Cooper uses the song to take a dig at younger artists, like Eminem, who was an infant at the height of the shock rock movement. The criticism of younger artists represents a rift between musical generations that grows with comments like these, though it’s not unique to Alice Cooper. Other artists, like KISS’ Gene Simmons, are a quintessential representative of this divide, making regular comments dismissing any new artists because of their distance from classic rock figures.
Other songs on the album show a more lighthearted side of the band, with “I Hate You” exemplifying their ability to make fun of others in the group, using a heavy guitar sound complimenting the lyrics. Each member of Alice Cooper’s band is kindly gifted a verse describing what other band members dislike about them. Whether it be Alice Cooper’s signature “spider eyes” makeup look or drummer Neal Smith’s blonde hair, the song is generally lighthearted until the final verse. There, the band turns to late guitarist Glen Buxton, who passed away after the original Alice Cooper band disbanded, for a morose ending.
“But, most of all we’re filled with rage / At the empty place you left on stage,” the group laments.
Anyone looking for comfort from this album should look no further than “Hanging on by a Thread (Don’t Give up).” This was originally released as a single in May 2020, with the majority of the song being a spoken message from Cooper on one’s place in a global community. The accompanying music video includes photos of people holding up pages with the lyrics, showing connection through times of isolation.
“Life has a way of surviving and going on and on,” Alice Cooper begins. “We’re not fragile, and we sure don’t break easy.”
While Cooper’s album is filled with songs that seek to remind listeners of the band’s relevance in the hard rock genre, they end up exemplifying nostalgia that condescends younger musicians (see: the digs at Eminem and indie rock group Posse in “Detroit City 2021”). The lyricism and vocals are simple, but the wailing guitar and drums taken straight from the ’80s carry the music.
The shock of this rock group is lost from the lack of theatrics in the release, especially when Cooper’s “About Detroit Stories” discussed at length how integral that is to the group’s history. Ultimately, “Detroit Stories” shares music that may be better received by longtime listeners who can reminisce alongside Cooper and the band as the album’s music stays frozen in the past.
“Detroit Stories” is available on Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming services.