As recognizable as he is, ALICE COOPER has never been inclined to conform to expectations. The godfather of shock rock has been around for so long and achieved so much, that he is really just enjoying himself at this point, making albums that fit neatly into his legacy without threatening the supremacy of those early, revered classics. “Road” arrives six years after “Paranormal” (great fun, but slightly overwhelmed by its glut of star cameos) and two since “Detroit Stories” (a likeable return-to-roots escapade), and sounds like an album that the great man has been itching to make for rather too long. Effectively a showcase for Cooper‘s current live band, “Road” is also a concept record, detailing the many and varied experiences of touring musicians, in all their sordid and spectacular glory.
Pleasingly, his 29th studio effort honors its own theme by sounding big, bombastic and as close to live as anyone is likely to get with the sonically flamboyant Bob Ezrin at the controls. In fact, Ezrin has played it perfectly here: “Road” will surprise nobody with its potent blend of thunderous heaviness and trashy rock ‘n’ roll, but Cooper‘s band — guitarists Nita Strauss, Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen, bassist Chuck Garric and drummer Glen Sobel — sound fantastic throughout, giving their leader the perfect backdrop to ham it up against. And he really goes for it this time, the old rogue.
The mother of all self-referential anthems, “I’m Alice” sums up Cooper‘s philosophy in three minutes of rampant hard rock: yes, he’s “a master of madness” and “the father of fright” and we wouldn’t have him any other way. Musically, too, “I’m Alice” is a joyous snapshot of what this band can do, and the kind of fat-free, snot-nosed rock ‘n’ roll that always brings the best out of our hero. Happily, “Road” is full of the stuff. “Welcome To The Show” is a rowdy hard rocker with a bad attitude; “All Over The World” is a swaggering, STONES-ish jam proclaiming that “we kill it wherever we go”; the Tom Morello-augmented “White Line Frankenstein” brings ancient and modern together in a shower of riffs and goofy slogans; “Dead Don’t Dance” has the blues metal intensity of BLACK LABEL SOCIETY; “Rules Of The Road” is a feast of sound advice (“You’ve got to find a killer band and bust your ass, you understand?”) married to a perky, power-pop shuffle. Fans of ALICE COOPER‘s ’80s metal era will get a kick from the size of the riffs during “The Big Goodbye”, while those of a more sensitive disposition can bask in the melancholy, acoustic haze of “Baby Please Don’t Go” and the psychedelic theatricality of “100 More Miles”. Only a perfunctory cover of THE WHO‘s “Magic Bus” feels surplus to requirements, but still sounds like it was a lot of fun to record.
Permanently on the road and largely impervious to the passing of time, ALICE COOPER doesn’t really need to make records as good as this anymore. But the fact that he can, and does, is something to be celebrated. “Road” is top-of-the-range 21st century Coop.