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I had a lot of fun with this record, even though parts of it had me wincing as though I'd just eaten a lemon. The Eyes of Alice Cooper is a much more casual, humorous, and diverse record compared to his previous albums, which were two very serious nu-metal concept albums. In one respect, it's a relief to listen to an Alice Cooper album of simple Rock and pop songs that's not taking us on a frightening journey into Hell. While I do adore Dragontown and Brutal Planet, I'm not exactly a person who particularly enjoys listening to music that's meant to be taken extremely seriously - give me lighthearted pop/rock any day of the week.

The first thing that can be said about The Eyes of Alice Cooper is that Cooper has abandoned nu-metal just as quickly as he picked it up. The album begins with a Hard Rock song called "What Do You Want From Me", that sounds refreshingly like the songs he used to write and perform in the early-70's. And it's almost as good as that stuff too, thanks to its catchy vocal melody, loud guitar riffage, and the vocal play-acting from Cooper and his rather goofy-sounding cohorts.

I mentioned in my opening sentence that certain parts of this album made me wince. Let's get into that now, since the wincing parts begin as early as the second track. The one enquiry I have about “Between High School & Old School” is - why does it have to sound so much like a modern teenbeat popsong? Granted, it would be one of the better teenbeat popsongs out there if it were indeed one, but I almost feel violated when I hear Alice Cooper performing such a thing, even when compared to his cheese-metal period of the 1980's. That feeling bleeds on into the following track “Man of the Year”, which - to add insult to injury - features an annoyingly whiny vocal performance from Cooper. I'm also disappointed with the over-processed way the guitars sound on those teen-beat songs. But I guess they're not such a big deal, since at least Alice was kind enough to write genuinely hilarious lyrics for them (which would be way too 'edgy' for someone like Hilary Duff anyway) and the melodies have their fair share of hooks.

“Bye Bye, Baby” gets my vote as the best song on the album (although that was hard to choose). It's one of the songs that sounds exactly like Cooper's 70's Hard Rock style, and compared to the teenbeat stuff, it's blatantly obvious that he probably should've concentrated on that style. I'm also a big fan of the hard-rockin' “Detroit City”, a rather fond tribute to his hometown - the guitars and Cooper's vocal performance are much grittier there than they are on the rest of the album, and I pretty much crave that sound from him.

This album also has two ballads, but - unlike his previous two albums - they don't comprise its weakest moments! That's not only because there were two annoying teenbeat songs beforehand - the ballads are actually pretty well-written: “Be With You Awhile” - while hardly a masterpiece - is a rather charming love song. “The Song That Didn't Rhyme” has a nice melody too, but that's more memorable for its knee-slappingly hilarious lyrics, that are right up there with the best comedy-rock Weird Al Yankovich ever managed (The melody blows in a key that no one can find. The lyrics don't flow but I can't get it out of my mind. A three minute waste of your time - no redeeming value of any kind). Cooper's delivery is so straitlaced what with its sentimental lyrics, that I can't help but laugh.

Since this album was basically a career and life retrospective from Cooper, I guess it wouldn't be complete if he didn't try to relive the spooky horror-show play-acting from his Welcome to My Nightmare heyday. The central nursery rhyme melody of “This House is Haunted” is very reminiscent of his 'Steven' trilogy. I guess since he didn't have Bob Ezrin on hand, the instrumentation is startlingly bare, featuring only acoustic guitars and the subtle addition of a ghoul-like clarinet. It's not a great masterpiece or anything, but it's oddly engaging.

I'd say The Eyes of Alice Cooper is a very successful late-career addition to his discography. It's not a great work of Art or anything, but it isn't trying to be. Cooper wanted to create nothing more than a fun album, and that's exactly what he did. So kudos to him.

[Footnote: Don Ignacio's Blog supplements this Review with a bonus track-by-track commentary]

by Reviewer: Don Ignacio

Posted: Monday 22nd Sep 2014 6:30 PM

Although David Henry was still involved with the recording of Under Cold Blue Stars, his production duties are taken over here by Roger Moutenot, who'd previously worked with artists as varied as John Zorn, Beulah, and Yo La Tengo. Moutenot’s strength is that he can make an album sound very natural, very organic, and Under Cold Blue Stars has a fresh and modern resonance, which turns it into the most detailed and 'experimental' of Rouse’s albums.

It doesn’t hurt that Rouse himself has come up with another excellent batch of songs either. The elegant “Nothing Gives Me Pleasure” (an uplifting love song!?) has the songwriter singing in a higher-pitched voice than usual (the album really sounds more soulful than his first three), which makes him sound more vulnerable, but it comes off great. In fact a song like “Miracle”, led by a keyboard melody, probably wouldn’t have fit on Nebraska, but the sense of wonder expressed and the accompanying sonic details (man, this is one album to hear with headphones) are another confirmation of Rouse's talent.

For me however, the album’s weight is in the terrific middle section. The irresistible title track has a gorgeous 1970’s R&B vibe to it, with little details all over the place, and keeping the long fadeout at the end of the song was a great idea. The driving “Feeling No Pain” just screams SINGLE!, another song in which Rouse succeeds in combining a melancholy melody with a chorus that just has it - you know, that rare essence, seething with possibilities, sparkling with energy, and the typically British sound of the guitar just tops it off (Rouse admitted that the end solo was influenced by Morrissey’s “Suedehead”).

“Ears to the Ground”, the first cover on a Rouse album, was written by one James Phelan, and it does sound different with its particular drumbeat, bassline and strings, coming off as a graceful semi-disco song (really!). Anyway, now I can get to “Ugly Stories,” my favorite track that I deliberately skipped:

By far the longest song on the album, "Ugly Stories" is a ballad about love gone bad, with a minimal arrangement and a sense of dosage, but for me it’s the bridge section that really sets it apart, sends shivers up and down my spine with the line Believe in your doubts because I found out you can never trust in anyone. All in all a pretty depressing message (don't bother coming around you're not welcome anymore is the next step), but then Rouse never claimed to be the world’s jolliest songwriter.

The album’s also supposed to have some sort of concept about a couple in the 1950’s (his parents), but Rouse was smart enough not to make that too explicit. Only during the last part of the album is it possible to detect: “Summer Kitchen Ballad” is an acoustic snapshot, and the tremendous “Women and Men” that tells us the past can’t be erased, both thrive on Rouse’s durable storytelling talent. Then there's “The Whole Night Through”, the album’s poignant closer.

Somehow, I feel I could say more about this album, about the great bass sound in “Christmas with Jesus” for instance, or Rouse’s knack for writing witty lyrics, but that should be clear by now. Under Cold Blue Stars sounds unlike any of his other albums - more experimental, more soulful, and in a way more daring - but the end result is simply excellent.

But I don’t think Rouse has made his masterpiece yet, so maybe the next album will once and for all make clear why I consider him one of the most interesting contemporary artists. His upcoming album is called 1972, and is supposed to be drenched in that typical 70’s vibe. There’s better music out there than the crap shoved down our throats every day by commercial radio stations - Josh Rouse makes me look towards the future with optimism.

by Reviewer: Guy Peters

Posted: Monday 22nd Sep 2014 10:07 PM