Thursday, September 15, 2011

New Nightmare, or How Bob Ezrin Sucks

Bob Ezrin built his reputation on Alice Cooper in the 1970s. He cowrote songs on and produced the great albums that defined Coop’s career: Love it to Death, Killers, School’s Out, Billion Dollar Babies, and Welcome to my Nightmare. He followed these up by working with KISS on their Alice Cooper-lite (and for some reason most popular album) Destroyer, and found his biggest success with Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Without a doubt, Ezrin was a very successful and skilled producer in the 1970s.

This all fell apart in the 1980s. He managed to force Ace Frehley out of KISS and talk them into recording the insipid concept album Music From The Elder, a piece of music so embarrassingly awful that even Gene Simmons admits it was a piece of shit. He also managed to produce a really bad self-titled album for Rod Stewart in 1986, as well as some utterly forgettable Cooper albums in the 1980s. He then managed to stumble into producing Revenge, the last great KISS album. I would attribute the success of this album more to the fact that Vinnie Vincent returned to the KISS fold and wrote some skull-crushing tracks with/for them than any kind of inspiration from Ezrin.

Since then Bob’s kept a low-profile and hasn’t really done much of note, until recently that is. In the beginning of the year, Ezrin and Cooper announced that they would be teaming back up and bringing some of the old Alice Cooper band from the 1970s with them for a tour and sequel to the aforementioned Welcome to my Nightmare. The sequel’s title? The rather unclever Welcome 2 My Nightmare. As someone who is a huge fan of Alice Cooper (I would easily put him into my top five favorite musical artists of all-time) and his classic material as well as his more recent work, I do not approve.

Since 1994’s The Last Temptation of Alice Cooper to 2008’s Along Came a Spider, the man has put out six albums that have ranged from decent (2005’s Dirty Diamonds) to excellent (Last Temptation). Most importantly, he hasn’t just continued to cash in on hits from the 1970s like a lot of his fellow classic rockers (coughKISS/Aerosmithcough). True, he plays mostly older hits live, but he always adds new songs to his set list and keeps them around for several tours. He also continues to put thought and effort into each album, rather than using them as a way to continue to tour. The biggest sign of someone who is a serious musical artist is that the person continues to record new material and doesn’t just rely on old standards to justify existing.

That’s why this new collaboration is so distressing. Cooper gave an interview recently where he stated that he wanted to make a sequel to Along Came a Spider, but Ezrin flipped out and wouldn’t let him, saying, “Why would you make a sequel to an album no one bought?” He then coaxed Alice into a sequel to Welcome to my Nightmare instead. Never mind the fact that a producer should be there to guide the musician’s ideas and not to dictate what the music should be, the bigger problem is that Ezrin is obviously unfamiliar with his dear friend Alice’s material. Along Came a Spider is a sequel to Welcome to my Nightmare. The whole point behind the album is that it can be taken as a sequel or as a stand-alone piece of work. In some ways, Last Temptation is a a follow-up of sorts to Nightmare, featuring a main character of Steven that may or may not be the same person as the one from 1975. Regardless, Alice has touched upon elements and themes from Welcome to my Nightmare a few times without having to do a blatant follow-up.

This is why Bob Ezrin sucks. He gets it in his head that HE is the brains of the outfit and knows more about what is good for the artist than the artist does. In fact, it’s the opposite. When he pushes something in a direction of his choosing, it is terrible. The prime examples would be his work with KISS. People love Destroyer, but when you look at it as a whole, it is good despite his production and not because of it. His production makes it sound like Billion Dollar Babies without the great songwriting and personality. The track he cowrote, Flaming Youth, is just a shitty retread of Alice’s Department of Youth. Destroyer can’t hold a candle to his work on Elder. Coming into that recording session, KISS brought in a bunch of heavier and more rocking material, which Ezrin told them was shit. He then said they needed to do a concept album so that critics and the world would take them seriously and brought in Lou Reed to help them write material for it. Yes, that Lou Reed. He paid no mind to the fact that unlike Alice Cooper, the members of KISS didn’t think in terms of concepts and themes and story arcs. They wrote straight forward, three to four minute, three chord rock songs. What came out of it was a concept album that made no sense and made them sound utterly ridiculous. Elder is clearly the worst KISS album, and possibly one of the worst rock albums ever made.

Now, I don’t think that Welcome 2 My Nightmare is going to be bad like Elder is bad. Alice is adept enough at concept album writing that he won’t unleash songs like “A World Without Heroes” or “Under the Rose” upon the world. It’s just that there are two things that “classic” artists do as a cash grab when they can no longer write good material or are too lazy to try: re-record a bunch of songs from that were popular thirty years ago or write a sequel to an album that was really popular thirty years ago (ex. Operation Mindcrime II by Queensryche). Alice Cooper is better than that. He can still write songs and still wants to. It’s too bad that Bob Ezrin doesn’t.

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