There's little point in arguing for the greatness of the singer Alice Cooper (Vincent Furnier) after he left the band Alice Cooper in 1975, and my friend Bill Glahn does a terrific job of explaining why the band is so important over on his It's a Highway Song blog. But outside of those early albums and a few post-band singles, Alice Cooper the singer released one record that's remained in my heavy rotation since I first heard it in the mid-1980s: DaDa.
A loose concept album that explores typical Cooper themes—insanity, alienation, depression—with an equally typical Cooper mix of humor and horror, the Bob Ezrin-produced 1982 DaDa combines straight-ahead guitar rock with the synths and new wave sounds Cooper had been trafficking in since the late 1970s. Opening with the eerie title track, in which you hear snippets of a therapy session in which the album's narrator is clearly out of touch with reality, the rest of the album takes you through all the things that led to what is, presumably, his institutionalization—a hateful father ("Enough's Enough), a hidden-away brother ("Former Lee Warmer," a delicious, sinister pun on a dead body grown cold), loveless sex ("Scarlet and Sheba"), and American consumerism ("I Love America," featuring a meta-take on Alice Cooper the character as a used-car salesman), and a suicide attempt (the devastating "Pass the Gun Around").
Along the way, there's a stop in "No Man's Land" as a shopping mall Santa that features some of the funniest lyrics Cooper ever wrote:
I got a job in Atlanta
In a mall playing Santa
Not because of any talent
But because I was the only one the suit would fit
Oh, and there's a song about a vampire, too. Or maybe it's a werewolf. Possibly just a cannibalistic serial killer ("Fresh Blood").
In other words, if you were going to come up with a parody of an Alice Cooper album, you just might come up with DaDa.
Thing is, it works, for the same reason great horror stories always work: Because they conflate reality and fantasy, because they make us confront the monsters inside ourselves. And on DaDa, Cooper presents an entirely believable character; as unhinged and fantastic as some of his tales are, there's no escaping the fact that he believes every one of them happened.
Musically, it certainly helps that Cooper and Ezrin are joined by guitarist Dick Wagner, who played on Lou Reed's classic Rock 'n' Roll Animal as well as some of Cooper's own classic work, both with the Alice Cooper Band and as a solo act. Wagner's guitar work gives the album a heft it might have otherwise lacked, and he's listed as co-writer on most of the album's songs. The result is an album that marks the high point of Cooper's post-band work, before returned to the eyeliner and guillotine and opted for the cheap scare instead of real horror.