The late seventies and the early eighties was probably not a good time for Alice Cooper - artistically speaking. Judging by contemporary pictures and rumours and whatever muck rock'n roll journalists cared to dig up on him, he seemed to have a jolly good time indeed.
Sex and drugs and rock and roll.
At the end of his obscure period - or rather what us regular guys and gals thought was, he released a string of albums which were really, really strange. The first two were the punk-inspired Flush The Fashion from 1980 and Special Forces from 1981. Zipper Catches Skin came out in 1982. The last before heading into hair metal stardom was Da Da, released September 28, 1983. All four of these are usually filed under "obscure oddities" in most people's record collections (sorry, CD collections). But then again, there are record collectors and there are music collectors.
Overlooked, unknown, for die-hard fans only, weird, strange, incoherent, eerie. That's just a small selection of adjectives this Alice Cooper album have been adorned with.
So what the hell was Mr. Cooper up to all these years? Besides drying up in a clinic and starting a family, I don't know. Your guess is as good as mine, but if you care to actually listen to the music on these albums instead of using them as muzak or merely consuming them, there's quite a few surprises to be had.
I'll leave the first three albums for you to explore on your own. I'm just here to talk about Da Da.
Da Da was recorded in ESP Studios outside Toronto in Buttonville, Ontario. It was basically an old barn converted into a studio by Dee Long and John Johns. Alice Cooper's contract with Warner Bros. called for one just more album, and it seems Warner secretly hoped Cooper and producer Bob Ezrin, would just take the money, do nothing with it and contractually disappear. Instead, Alice Cooper returned from Canada with a whole album. Sometimes you get more than what you barter for.
Maybe it was a tight budget, maybe it was some kind of social stuff, or maybe it was just a crazy experiment, but most of the album was made with a Fairlight CMI and a drum computer. The drums were enhanced with the real stuff, but you can't tell even if you're a drummer hotshot tech wizard with knowledge of what year Da Da came out. Like I said: don't consume. Listen.
As usual, guitar player Dick Wagner was brought in to play, arrange and contribute musically. Just crank up Wagner's solo on Pass The Gun Around and close your eyes. Not all rock guitarists are craftsmen with an attitude. Some take it a bit further.
Back in the day, all albums had a real cover, and one of the oddest parts on Da Da was the twelve by twelve cardboard art adorning the vinyl inside. If you step back and gaze upon it from a distance, you'll make out an old man's head. Up close you see a couple of Alices dressed in a strange-looking garment. The cover is part of a Salvador Dali painting called Slave Market with the disappearing bust of Voltaire. That old man you see is supposedly Voltaire, and I assume the couple of Alices are slave sellers. I'm not going to embark on a lengthy discussion on record contracts, Salvador Dali, dadaism or Voltaire's satirical works. That's what hardlinks are for.
Da Da has nine songs, and luckily no "Improved" version with "bonus tracks" have been released. I think it's perfectly okay to have CD's that are only half full. If you want a double CD with 148 minutes of music, burn it yourself or buy one of them elevator music compilation discs. Whoever owns the rights to Da Da probably consider the album to be beyond rescue commercially. Whatever.
I'm not going to say something about every single Da Da song here, because the only thing that's worse than being shot at is some guy who tries to describe what music sounds like.
Da Da starts with the Fairlight (I think) playing some kind of theme while a little girl (Bob Ezrin's daughter Sarah, actually) repeatedly says "dada" in a thin girl's voice. It's truly eerie, especially when you consider Alice's allegedly bad relations with his father and the dialogue that goes on in the background throughout the opening song.
Enough's Enough is another song about someone's father, possibly his own. "I just wanna tell you/you're a lousy dad/to hell with you" should tell you what you need to know. More family things are going on in Former Lee Warmer, his brother who's locked away upstairs. The song is like a creepy novel by itself. Former Lee Warmer/waves at his father/out in the family grave.
Dyslexia is about a guy who has, well, dyslexia. It doesn't really fit in with most of the other songs. Instead, it's about this fella with thick glasses who meets a girl, wondering if he misunderstands her in the same way he misunderstand road signs and everything else. Truly bizarre.
Then there's the song that almost seems out of place: I Love America. When I first heard it in 1983, being a non-American, sixteen years young and not very experienced in the fine art of irony, I didn't get it. Alice takes on bigoted rednecks, singing like he was one of them. You know, the kind of persons that have no tolerance for anything and don't really understand what goes on around them very well. You know who they are, and if you have a dislike for this kind of people, this song is a little bit for you as well.
Last on the album is Pass The Gun Around, about the final hours of a complete loser. When this song starts, there's a few seconds with the sound of someone loading a revolver. It sounds very realistic, raw and up close, nothing added for Hollywood-style effect. At the very end we hear a gunshot, something dripping and very briefly another "dada" from the opening cut.
Sitting or lying down, listening to the album in one stretch will leave you a bit confused. Just when you think you're listening to the Welcome to my Nightmare sequel, Alice kicks into gear and sings about getting a job as a Santa in a mall, in the progress counseling a 21-year old woman who can't get laid.
Da Da is not a theme album and it's definitely not a rock opera unless you make it into one in your head. At best it's a bunch of disconnected stories written with dark humour and some disturbing imagery .
The next thing anyone heard from Alice Cooper was the abominable 1986 Constrictor, making himself a newborn poodle-rocker with stadium friendly chants and annoying radioplay.
Alice Cooper had become undead. Long live Alice Cooper.