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Alice Cooper: Detroit Stories – album review

Album cover
Alice Cooper: Detroit Stories – album review

CD | 2xLP | DL

Released February 26th 2021

Louder Than War Bomb Rating 4

The veteran shock-rocker born Vincent Furnier returns to his roots with a boisterous celebration of the Motor City’s storied hard-rock scene of the ’60s and ’70s.

Who would have thought that three of the most life-affirming albums released during the Covid-19 pandemic would be by septuagenarian, old-school rockers? Following hot on the heels of Blue Oyster Cult’s ferocious comeback The Symbol Remains and AC/DC’s Lazarus-like return on Power Up, Alice Cooper has followed up his 2019 back-to-the-source Breadcrumbs EP with a full-length album that pays homage to Detroit’s original high-energy rock & roll scene which gave the world The Stooges, The MC5, Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, The Rationals, Bob Seger and of course, the Alice Cooper group.

Detroit Stories includes cover versions of key songs from the Detroit rock scene’s glory days, mixed with a glut of new songs that bristle with the raw pre-punk energy of the MC5 circa Back in the USA and High Time, the politically-charged group’s second and third albums respectively. The album also features a number of Detroit/Michigan luminaries, including Wayne Kramer of the MC5 and Mark Farner of the influential Flint, Michigan group Grand Funk Railroad, along with the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper group and blues-rock virtuoso Joe Bonamassa.

The frenetic blue-eyed soul of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels lit the blue touch-paper for a whole generation of Detroit and Michigan rock groups, so it’s fitting that Cooper should kick off Detroit Stories with a tip of the hat to Ryder, a cover of the Velvet Underground’s Rock & Roll that’s very faithful to the style of Ryder’s own cover of the song by his post-Detroit Wheels group, simply named Detroit. The similarity is perhaps not surprising, given the  presence of the group’s guitarist Steve Hunter and drummer, Detroit legend Johnny ‘Bee’ Badanjek, on the track.

Next up is the punky rock & roll of Go Man Go, one of the standout tracks on an album that maintains a high quality across the majority of its 15 tracks. Go Man Go is the first of several high-octane garage rock tracks that characterise this energised album, including Social Debris, Hail Mary, Independence Dave and an ebullient cover of the MC5’s Sister Ann.  There’s plenty of variety on offer too, with the twisted pop of Our Love Will Change the World, the soulful strut of $1,000 High Heel Shoes and the bluesy swagger of Drunk and in Love.

Given the excesses of Cooper’s lifestyle in the ’70s and early ’80s, it’s astonishing to find that his singing voice has barely changed, remaining a fiery cocktail of louche Jim Morrison croon, feral Iggy Pop snarl and gleeful Frank Zappa leer, perfectly adept at delivering the various shades of garage rock, soul and blues on Detroit Stories with aplomb.

It’s no surprise that original Alice Cooper producer Bob Ezrin is back at the helm for this, Cooper’s 21st solo album. Unsurprisingly, Ezrin steers an assured path through the varied musical currents of Detroit Stories, resulting in a lengthy album that nevertheless hangs together as a cohesive whole.

Cooper’s final Detroit story is simultaneously a salute to another Mid-West musical hero and a nod to Furnier’s own roots in East Detroit – a blazing cover of East Side Story, originally a hit for Bob Seger and The Last Heard in 1966. Essentially a revved-up rewrite of Them’s Gloria, East Side Story’s original lyrics are expanded by Cooper as this natural-born entertainer leaves us with one final tale of life in the Motor City. After a thoroughly miserable, locked-down year for many of us, the unabashed joi de vivre that 73 year-old Cooper brings to these songs is impossible to resist.

Buy Detroit Stories here.

Alice Cooper is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the web.

All words by Gus Ironside, 2021 More writing by Gus can be found here.

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Third Man Records: Southeast of Saturn Compilation — album review

southeast of saturnSoutheast of Saturn: Michigan Shoegaze/ Dream Pop/ Space Rock

Third Man Records

Out November 20

Southeast of Saturn illumines an entirely different Detroit Rock City than the one you think you know. It’s a sonic place you’ll want to visit.

BUY HERE

The city of Detroit is no stranger to music. Long before it saw an emerging space rock scene toward the end of the twentieth century, it seemed impossible to think about Detroit in any aural sense without immediately hearing the sounds of Motown, and bands like The Supremes and The Temptations. Less than a decade later, the city earned a place in the foundations of punk history, skyrocketing MC5 to success. Iggy and the Stooges (known then as the Psychedelic Stooges) also played their first gig in Detroit. And of course, Suzi Quatro was born there. So it shouldn’t come as much of a revelation to learn that this place sparked new creative energies in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although most of the bands on Third Man’s new Southeast of Saturn never saw any mainstream success, they’ve earned a cult following.

Speaking of the musicians so finely curated on this compilation, can I interest you in some lightning-quick time travel? Let me introduce you, reader, to some of the spaces where these bands honed their sound. First stop: Zoot’s Coffee, in Midtown Detroit. I’ll let you in on a little secret: not a lot of coffee got served there. The underground venue was home to a number of bands that defined the city’s music scene in the mid-90s, including Windy & Carl. The venue, as the story goes, was named after the owner’s Doberman. Down the road in Ann Arbor, Windy & Carl also booked gigs at the now-famous Blind Pig, which previously hosted performances by Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Sonic Youth. That venue and its current owner appeared in an October 2020 ad supporting Joe Biden for US president. So, in more ways than one, the Blind Pig is on the right side of history. Back in the Cass Corridor district of Detroit, Majesty Crush, one of the more well-known bands on the compilation, played at Dally in the Alley – a community festival with roots in the mid-nineteenth century that also hosted a number of the other musicians represented on Southeast of Saturn

Majesty Crush Detroit Free Press
Detroit Free Press, June 1992

Although arising out of the same geographic space and temporal moment, each of the bands channel their influences into distinctive tracks that conjure vastly different atmospheres of sound. Majesty Crush’s No. 1 Fan, the first track on the compilation, reveals the band’s acoustic connections to Britpop and American grunge. The sound is the band’s own, yet it contains hints of The Stone Roses and Nirvana as it engages in unassuming conversation with Oasis. In 1992, bassist Hobey Echlin told the Detroit Free Press that the band’s music “all comes out of punk rock simplicity.” Twenty-five years later, Echlin wrote a remembrance in the Detroit Metro Times for David Stroughter, the band’s lead singer who died in 2017. Echlin’s words describe Stroughter while illuminating the varied ways in which the band resonates:He was the epitome of a late ’80s Detroit post-punk enigma . . . a multicultural iconoclast who grew up with the nephews and uncles of Motown royalty, who could be heard chatting with Einstürzende Neubaten in fluent German upstairs in the Burns Room of St. Andrew’s Hall after a show.” 

A number of the tracks on Southeast of Saturn are instrumental, recalling early Durutti Column strings and keys. The Windy & Carl contribution to the compilation, Instrumental #2, feels like it could have been an outtake for the Durutti Column LP Lips That Would Kiss. I can’t help but wonder if Tony Wilson might have been interested in signing the band to Factory Records if the music had only got started a bit earlier. Beyond Windy & Carl, Miss Bliss’s Grey and Thirsty Forest Animals’s Nape are also sure to spark the interest of Durutti Column fans. In the summers of 1991 and 1992, Thirsty Forest Animals appeared on a number of bills with Majesty Crush, revealing how two bands with starkly disparate sounds could engage in a sonic dialogue simply because their music grew out of a corresponding space and time. 

As the compilation moves forward, songs like Asha Vida’s Eskimo Summer, Ten Second Dynasty’s Continuum, and Astrobrite’s Crasher exemplify the aural qualities that have now become synonymous with shoegaze. My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain seem to haunt the compilation just as it’s time to flip to the B-side. As the tracks on the album shift from fuzzy guitars to trippy synth sounds, it becomes clear how these bands, collectively, defined the age of Detroit Space Rock. Yet even as the electronic vibrations come into clearer focus, Glider’s Shift insists on grunge connections to the West Coast while Calliope’s Laughing at Roadsigns calls across the Atlantic as an answer to a Britpop anthem. 

Burnt Hair Records, a label that has since become synonymous with the Detroit scene of the 1990s, signed many of the bands on Southeast of Saturn. Radio DJ Larry Hoffmann, who hosted the locally famous Life According To Larry radio show, launched the label in 1990. While the collective sound of the compilation might ultimately be remembered as space rock, the nineteen songs together illuminate the varied influences and audiences these bands cultivated. This is a dazzling compilation from Third Man Records that you don’t want to miss.

You can order Southeast of Saturn from Third Man Records and from Sister Ray

~

Audrey J. Golden is a literature and film professor who lives in New York. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and you can check out her personal website to learn more about her writing and her archive of books, records, and ephemera.

The post Third Man Records: Southeast of Saturn Compilation — album review appeared first on Louder Than War.

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