40 Years Ago: Alice Cooper Breaks Character With ‘Lace and Whiskey’
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After the original Alice Cooper Group split in 1974, Alice Cooper, the man, kept the ball rolling as a solo artist. His first two solo albums, Welcome to My Nightmare and Goes to Hell, sold well and spawned hit singles (“Only Women Bleed” and “I Never Cry”). On those albums, Alice played up the “Alice” character, but he made the decision to change course on his third effort, Lace and Whiskey.
Released in the spring of 1977, the record shows Alice portraying an entirely different sort of character, one “Maurice Escargot,” a streetwise detective. “He’s just like Inspector Clouseau,” Alice told Creem at the time, referring to Peter Sellers’ character in the Pink Panther movies, “but this guy’s a real gum chew. He tries to be cool all the time, but keeps getting his fingers stuck in machine gun barrels.” While not entirely a concept album, there is a theme at play throughout, and though some of the music still carried a hard-edged rock style, this one has a distinctly grittier vibe to it.
Alice once again brought in Bob Ezrin to produce, with ace guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, bassist extraordinaire Tony Levin and drummer Allan Schwartzberg rounding out the core band. The album kicks off with a handful of great rockers. The heavy riff action of “It’s Hot Tonight” and the title cut are both solid, but “Road Rats” and “Damned If You Do” are truly first rate. While this band had nowhere near the true fire that the original band did, they do the job and it works in this context.
It’s after the powerhouse opening that things start to crumble. After the Top Five success of “Only Women Bleed,” Alice found a niche for himself as a balladeer. “You and Me” is hardly a bad song, but it’s also hardly an Alice Cooper song. At the time it seemed quaint, perhaps, but it hasn’t aged well. “King of the Silver Screen” fits into the “theme” of the album and comes off like a bad Broadway number, as well as playing into fan’s fears that Alice had “gone Hollywood,” which, of course, he had.
It’s still unsure how “Ubangi Stomp” was supposed to fit into the whole picture here. Originally recorded by rockabilly pioneer Warren Smith back in 1956, Alice stays true to the original, but it just seems drastically out of place here. “No More Love at Your Convenience” is simply awful, sounding somewhat like a Captain and Tennille tribute act appearing on the Love Boat. The drowning continues with “I Never Wrote Those Songs,” a song sunk by strings, sap and cheesy sax.
Perhaps “My God” was intended as some grand statement to close out the “story,” but it’s really more of a blueprint for the grandiose production style Bob Ezrin was so fond of back then. In many ways, it sounds like Lou Reed‘s Berlin meets Pink Floyd The Wall (both Ezrin productions) during its six minutes of torture. It’s a long way from “Under My Wheels.”
Yes, artists must consistently challenge themselves and follow their muse, wherever that may lead them, and yes, at the time it was probably a logical move to branch out rather than trying to make a “School’s Out, Part 2,” but the worst part of it was, and still is, that it leaves very little of Alice in the mix. With the exception of those first four tracks, it’s a washout that has not aged well at all.
Alice himself even went as far as calling some of it “heavy metal housewife rock” in Creem, adding, “I did those songs totally out of spite. I kept reading so many interviews and articles that I said I was never considered musical. I’ve been influenced by stage plays, musicals, TV themes and movie themes, but basically, I’m a rock ‘n’ roller.”
While “You And Me” was a Top 10 hit, the album failed to even reach the Top 40. It was the start of the commercial decline for Cooper that would continue until he rebounded with 1989’s Trash.
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