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Alice Cooper - Detroit Stories (Album Review)

Tuesday, 09 March 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

It’s beyond lazy to dismiss Alice Cooper as a shock-rocker after six decades in the business.  The tag implies that he’s a one trick pony, someone who’s forged their reputation on cheap stylistic tricks rather than lasting musical substance. Theatricality and historic controversy may be a telling part of his story but ‘Detroit Stories’ is a back-to-basics, aggressively guitar driven homage to ‘the birthplace of angry hard rock’ that proves Cooper’s career was, first and foremost, built on a bedrock of stellar songwriting.

Expanding on the concept of 2019’s ‘Breadcrumbs’ EP, here Cooper returns to the place he was born and the city where he launched his band’s strange brew of spooky shenanigans in the early 1970s after they’d failed to fit in everywhere else. It is a riotous, economical brew of garage-fuelled rock ‘n’ roll that fires out boisterous, pop-savvy hooks with unfailing precision.

Go Man Go is a punky MC5 banger, Hail Mary delivers a pumped-up, devilish boogie that pivots around cathartic yob shouts and the sneeringly wry Shut Up and Rock embodies Detroit’s no-nonsense, blue-collar attitude.

Alongside regular producer Bob Ezrin, guest appearances by the remaining members of the original Alice Cooper Band, MC5’s Wayne Kramer and Detroit Wheels’ Johnny ‘Bee’ Badanjek lend authenticity to every dirty and destructive note.  

Detroit City 2021 could easily brawl with Kiss’s similarly titled number for ‘official anthem’ status, while Alice’s old gang simply blaze on the raucous Social Debris and tongue in cheek insult-fest I Hate You as they gleefully tear each other to shreds.

Cooper knows there was more to Detroit than just hard rock, though, and $1000 High Heel Shoes finds him going full Motown over pumping Motor City Horns and, yes, Sister Sledge backing vocals. Surprising?  Yes. Brilliant?  Undoubtedly. A cover of the Velvet Underground’s Rock & Roll, meanwhile, compresses Lou Reed's hazy New York chic into a punchy coming of age piece capped off by a swinging soul revue chorus.  

Throughout his career Alice has successfully conquered almost every iteration of the hard rock  landscape, but regardless of each reinvention his songs have always boasted vivid tales full of killer one-liners. This time those stories siphon all things Detroit, with Independence Dave spitting out one of many detail-rich character yarns over a super-powered Chuck Berry romp.  

Elsewhere, Drunk and in Love, which connects the singer’s past addictions with homelessness in present day Detroit, sees Joe Bonamassa adding six-string credibility to its harmonica-soaked, bluesy chug. Our Love Will Change The World, on the other hand, juxtaposes creepy youthful proclamations of superiority over a delightfully happy-clappy pop nursery rhyme.  

Hanging By A Thread (Don’t Give Up) tackles both the Motor City’s economic instability and the Covid pandemic as it delivers a rallying cry to battle on through adversity.  Undoubtedly inspiring, it does miss a trick by having Alice speak the verses when an appearance from Detroit legend Eminem would have been conceptually perfect.

At its heart, ‘Detroit Stories’ is simply a cracking tribute to both the city and the kind of life-changing musical awakenings and influences that continue to inspire this—and here’s the real shock—73-year-old legend to keep producing such finely crafted, eternally youthful songs. 

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