Alice Cooper creates shock rock for modern times
Alice Cooper, the reigning king of shock rock, has a new album, “Paranormal,” coming out on July 28, 2017. The first single, “Paranoic Personality,” contains much of the elements fans have come to love about Cooper since 1969—humor, social critique and hard-driving rock and roll.
Cooper is probably best known for his hits from the 1970s—“School’s Out,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” and “I’m Eighteen.” Those songs have appeared in movies throughout recent decades, but represent only a small portion of the work Cooper has created for roughly 50 years. His outlandish stage shows focus on the stuff of nightmares.
Despite the sometimes-gory visual presentations offered by Cooper, a listen to his lyrics reveals wordplay or humorous admissions that let audiences know that the arguably scary parts shouldn’t be taken so seriously.
Cooper’s work is not all spiders and guillotines. At times, he addresses social ills like suicide and substance abuse in down-to-earth ways without losing the hard rock sensibility he is known for. The song, “Hey, Stoopid” from 1991, is an excellent example of this.
But humor and social critique only go so far. Cooper’s staying power is rooted in his ability to write practically timeless rock songs. And as rock songs, Cooper’s work has an energy—sometimes brooding, sometimes kinetic, that captivates rock audiences decade after decade.
“Paranoic Personality”–Alice Cooper’s new rock
It is always interesting when a popular music veteran releases new work. The longer the artist has been around, the more pressing the question of relevance becomes. Cooper answers that on “Paranoic Personality.”
The rock elements in terms of instrumentation are present. A bass line that sounds sardonic or angry, or both, or that could be better described as sounding like early 1980s Accept, sets the tone. Above that, at the beginning, is the sound of people talking unintelligibly. The underlying question seems to be, what came first, the paranoia or the gossip?
True to form, Cooper throws in off-kilter rhymes that make an almost awkward lyrical line. But it works because the song portrays the growing paranoia that some people are experiencing in contemporary times. In the communication dystopia that Cooper describes, no one can be trusted and the individual is likely to be paranoid—both conditions are true. Listeners can see evidence of this in real-life, and Cooper’s ability to describe what is happening “now” in the context of a throaty guitar and tribal rock drums makes him that much more appealing.
The overall feel of the song is that of a driving stomp. The hard rhythms are as persistent and mean as a hateful rumor, and perhaps that is the point.
Toward the end of the song, Cooper treats listeners to his trademark wordplay. He switches the beginnings of each word in “Paranoic Personality” to make “personoic paranality” which seems a minute detail, especially near the end of a song, but it makes a point. The result is a feeling of distortion and of being off-balance. The effect symbolizes the sometimes problematic state of human interaction.
“Paranoic Personality” sounds like a taste of a much-larger serving of social critique and hard rock that Cooper is likely to serve when the full album is released later this summer.