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Sunday, August 13, 2006

When New Wave Happens To Old Artists - Alice Cooper

The 80s were a weird period for Alice Cooper, and that’s saying something.

In the 70s, Alice’s musical journey had wound through catchy, extremely underrated “shock rock” like “School’s Out” and “I’m Eighteen” to borderline adult contemporary hits such as “Only Women Bleed” and “How You Gonna See Me Now”. But as the 70s waned, so did Alice’s hits. Alice’s career needed a jumpstart. So, why not rip off Gary Numan?


That’s right – in 1980, Alice teamed with the famous Roy Thomas Baker (the producer best known for putting the New Wave chrome sheen polish on The Cars’ first three albums), ditched the horror costuming and eye make-up and became “Alice Cooper ‘80”, releasing Flush the Fashion, a full-tilt New Wave album very much in the synth-based Gary Numan vein. And it wasn’t half bad.

Now the title, Flush the Fashion, could be seen as an ironic statement, since Alice was certainly embracing current fashion, or perhaps Alice was sincere in that statement in an effort to hold on to his existing fan base, who might have blanched at such genre-hopping. He shouldn’t have bothered – that was going to happen regardless once those fans heard the first single.

“Clones (We’re All)” was written by songwriter David Carron and brought to Alice via Baker, who thought it would make a terrific single, with its menacing tale of clones taking over human society, only to discover the loneliness of being just like everyone else. Baker was right – “Clones” is an excellent song, a tight, hook-filled number with just enough guitar crunch to offset the synthesized proceedings. It also became Alice’s first hit in two years, just squeaking into the Top 40. There was even a video that ripped on Numan's fog-filled affairs (which in turn were a rip on Bowie's Thin White Duke period, but still...). The video is neat in that Alice sings a live vocal over the track, but boy, the booze made him look a little rough:

Follow-up single, “Talk Talk” was another cover, this time an updating of an old garage classic from The Music Machine. You wouldn’t know it from the Numan-isms all over Alice’s version. “Talk Talk” was another well-crafted New Wave blast, but unfortunately flopped. The Flush the Fashion album soon dropped off the charts right behind, but Alice didn’t quite give up on New Wave yet. As his alcoholism spiraled out of control, Cooper’s next three albums, Special Forces, Zipper Catches Skin and Dada grew more wildly experimental, and some would argue, unlistenable. An eventual stint in rehab followed, after which Alice retreated back to his standard horror schtick, mascara intact, hiding beneath faux-hair metal shlock like “Poison”.

Of course, he returned to the Top Ten.

Alice’s New Wave legacy was legitimized years later when The Smashing Pumpkins covered “Clones” as a b-side, doing justice to a great single.

”Clones (We’re All)" peaked at #40 on the Billboard Top 40 and at #69 on the Club Play Singles Chart in 1980.
“Talk Talk” did not chart.

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Alice Cooper
posted by John, 8:28 PM