I was born into Alice Cooper fandom.
My mom, straight-laced as she is (or at least pretends to be), always liked Alice Cooper. Can’t really figure out why, aside from his talk show and Hollywood Squares appearances in the 1970s, friendship with George Burns and Groucho Marx, etc. But yeah, she liked the Coop, so I was predisposed to give him half a chance growing up.
Fast forward to the early ‘80s, and I was getting into metal in my own little way based largely on my being exposed to the “Satanic Panic” that was popping up all over (and which I had mentioned in an earlier post). Among the culprits I had been warned against was Alice Cooper. I figured that, hell, my mom dug Alice Cooper, so I had to explore the idiocy they were talking abour first-hand.
I made my first forays into the catalogue with the typical selections: Welcome to My Nightmare, School’s Out, Billion Dollar Babies. The album that really stood out to me, though, was Love It to Death. I think what made me pay special attention to it was my dad telling me that this was one of his early, weird albums. And thus, my fascination with early, weird Alice Cooper came to be. I picked up a live cassette of something called Nobody Likes Me, and was blown the hell away by the pure insanity on display. This was notoriously when the band would be able to clear out the Whisky-A-Go-Go before their set was finished. I knew that they’d put out two albums on Zappa’s Bizarre Records imprint, but try as I may, I couldn’t track them down. I eventually got my hands on the second of those LPs, Easy Action. Interesting, but not that far removed from Love It to Death, truth be told.
But then I got Pretties For You. Their first album. The material that much of that Nobody Likes Me cassette drew from. And I proceeded to ignore it. It was a lot less weird than I expected. It was some kind of psychedelic frippery. It just didn’t do anything for me at first. But then I came back to it after a while, and something hit me:
If you went to some random clueless Pitchfork reviewer and played this for them, blind, and told them that this was some lost album by a forgotten splinter project of the Elephant 6 Collective, they’d buy it. This stuff was seriously forward thinking. The low-fi attempt at emulating grander psychedelic sounds, off-kilter harmony vocals and Beatle-esque melodicism accidentally do exactly what bands like Olivia Tremor Control would attempt if they were somewhat less sunny in disposition.
Divorced from what Alice Cooper as a band would later attempt, and especially what Alice Cooper as a solo artist would aim for, Pretties for You is a lovely little slice of dark psychedelia that still reflects the twisted mindset that would eventually produce Killer and Love It to Death. There’s no singing from the POV of the clinically insane, there are no paeans to dead babies or sick things, there are no excursions to Hell, and there are no calls for teenage rebellion. Just balls-out weirdness with no real conceptual planning behind it. And with the ace compositional skills of the Alice Cooper band (seriously, even though the songs sound like they could fall apart at any time, it takes some real effort to sound this sloppy and hold it together), the songs are memorable and successful. The album, against all odds, works. And if you’ve ever been put off by the cartoonish grotesqueries of Alice post-1975 and have never bothered to venture into the early oeuvre, you should definitely give this a chance.