ALICE COOPER Billion Dollar Babies (Rhino)
Viewed from four decades’ safe distance, it can appear as though the seeds of glam rock’s destruction were contained in its own ridiculousness. As artist after artist attempted to outdo their previous efforts in preposterousness, their bold and original visions all too often curdled into parody. At least Bowie had enough sense to call a halt after “Aladdin Sane” didn’t quite undo all the good work performed by “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”, but Bolan’s post-“Electric Warrior” slide lasted almost until his tragically premature death. So it is with Alice Cooper’s follow-up to the very fine “School’s Out”. Rich in hits and luxuriantly excessive though it undoubtedly is, the packaging and image eclipse the music on the first Alice album to be recorded in the shadow of international infamy.
A great deal of “Billion Dollar Babies” rings empty and hollow, sad to say. There’s that bizarre opener, for starters: where on earth did Alice hear Rolf Kempf’s “Hello Hooray”? A Judy Collins album? The dental hygiene dilemma of “Unfinished Sweet” is perhaps the album’s scariest moment, its nerve-jangling dentist drill effects being all too realistic. “Sick Things” is a slothful dirge, “Mary Ann” an incongruous, twisted piano ballad and “I Love The Dead” a singalong necrophiliacs’ anthem, none of which reach any kind of escape velocity.
When the glam-pop lightning strikes, though, it does so with indelible force. The sugar rush Who overload of “Elected” stakes a claim to being the band’s finest four minutes, wonky stereo mix that has Alice shouting in your left ear notwithstanding. Almost as good is the title track’s dark (he)art, in all its camp creepiness, and “Generation Landslide” is wittily and inventively arranged. “No More Mr. Nice Guy” packs a walloping tune with lyrics that lock into a self-referential meta-whirl, Alice satirising his own notoriety.
Mostly, though, the music of “Billion Dollar Babies” feels like a secondary part of the package, compared with, um, the packaging. Rhino have gone all out for authenticity with this reissue, right down to the era-appropriate olive green Warner Bros. labels. The embossed, curved-corner gatefold opens to reveal pictures of the band, perforated to allow easy removal for decorating your teenage bedroom (that also being the only way to read the credits hidden behind them), and a genuine, illegal tender billion dollar bill. The hype sticker boasts of the album being cut from the original analog masters, but I found the sonics a bit dull and congested in places (“Unfinished Sweet” particularly). Maybe ‘twas ever thus, though.