33 Years Ago: Alice Cooper Tries to Stay Current With ‘Zipper Catches Skin’
As the ’70s gave way to the 80’s, the heroes of the old decade were struggling to stay alive in the new. Alice Cooper was one of many old guard trying to read the new maps for the new times. Released in August 1982, Zipper Catches Skin was the third in a run of four experimental albums issued by Cooper in the period.
1980’s Flush the Fashion produced the semi-hit “Clones,” which at the time, seemed a nod to the likes of Gary Numan, then hot with his one and only U.S. hit “Cars.” Alice was smart enough to see the writing on the wall that times had changed. He streamlined his image, style and sound on the records he made in the early ’80s. Zipper Catches Skin finds the rock legend having a go at a very New Wave-influenced brand of pop-rock while trying to remain “Alice.”
During the making of the album, Cooper was still struggling with the demon alcohol, and that may have something to do with the lack of focus in the overall sound. The album kicks off nicely with the glossy, yet punchy, “Zorro’s Ascent.” It’s not bad by any means, but really the kind of song that might have been more at home in the clutches of Adam Ant. Alice seems a bit out of his comfort zone here, but nonetheless, gets things off and running. “Make That Money” is heavy on the riff but lacking much of anything else. Elsewhere, Alice seems even more uncomfortable. “I Am the Future” comes off like a bad Styx Kilroy Was Here outtake while “Tag, You’re It” tries to hard to recapture the Alice persona and ultimately falls flat. At times, the album comes off like an off-kilter hybrid of the Knack and the Cars, in other words, a bit far from home for Alice.
You can’t help bit sorry for Alice in this era. Though more than a few punk bands borrowed heavily from the master (Stiv Bators and Johnny Rotten in particular), the punk era itself had come and gone and what was left in its wake was a bit too glossy and shiny for Alice to find a real home in. There are some fine moments, however, like the pair of songs that end the album. “I Better Be Good” delivers some ace guitar work, and “I’m Alive” rings triumphant, but it was a case of too little, too late. The album sank without a trace and for the first time since 1970, an Alice Cooper album failed to make the Billboard album chart.
But if fans don’t remember this album, neither does Alice. In a 2009 interview with The Quietus, Alice said, “Well, there’s three albums that were basically my blackout albums – Zipper Catches Skin, DaDa and Special Forces. I wrote them, recorded them and toured them and I don’t remember much of any of that.” He added, “I would actually like to go back and re-record those three albums because I never really gave them their due. I love the songs, I just don’t remember writing them.”
Within a few years, Alice would be veering a bit too far in the other direction with the metallic bombast of Constrictor, as he was still trying to find his feet. Ultimately, Alice is at his best when he is simply, Alice!
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