Love It To Death saw the original Alice Cooper band emerging from the psychedelic haze of their first two albums. Under the stewardship of soon-to-be-famed producer Bob Ezrin, the band reined in their free-form tendencies in favor of a sharper, more concise sound, notable exception being the hypnagogic voodoo of ‘Black Juju‘. Elsewhere though, the group began consolidating their macabre yet arena-friendly brand of shock rock. More musical than contemporaries like The MC5 and The Stooges, but sharing the same wild spirit and certainly no less noisome to critics and the cultured masses at large, Alice Cooper came to symbolize young, rebel-without-a-cause energy better than any rock band hitherto.
It bears to remember that Alice Cooper, for the entirety of its creative peak, was an ensemble, and not the name of an individual, as popular consciousness has come to assume. The band unanimously allowed the Alice persona to evolve in the body of singer Vincent Furnier, but undergirding it always was the same group of five misfits from an Arizona high school. That chemistry forged in fearless youth is evident in all of the original band’s work but especially so on the string of releases beginning from Love It To Death; it is an organic interplay of ideas between people on the same wavelength on account of age and circumstance, who appreciate what they have in common enough to accommodate each other’s creative quirks, to the point where what emerges is an indivisible whole, a seamless composite of their individual psychological energies.
On Love It To Death, pop sensibility exists at ease with progressive ambition, come-what-may derring-do lives next door to melancholy and regret. An anecdote: I once picked up a slightly eccentric friend from the bus stand; he didn’t say but the most perfunctory greeting on our way back on my motorcycle, but once we reached home, the first thing he said was, “You and I, we are old souls“. Cheesy as that sounds, and blazed as he must have been, I suppose there is something to be said for the idea of old souls, especially when they are trapped in young bodies, and this perhaps is the central conceit behind Love It To Death. For every explosion of reckless hedonism that characterized the 70s, Love It To Death also contains a pearl of piercing wisdom. Take the evergreen ‘I’m Eighteen‘, for instance: ‘Lines form on my face and hands / Lines form from the ups and downs / I’m in the middle without any plans / I’m a boy and I’m a man’. Who among us metalheads hasn’t lived these words, to our alternating joy and chagrin? Who hasn’t – or more pointedly, doesn’t – exist in that limbo between the memories of an exciting and volatile past, and the onset of responsible and mature decrepitude? Who doesn’t dread climbing down the other side of that rise, not because of what we stand to gain, but for what we might lose behind us, and that for ever?
Out of nowhere, in the middle of the relaxed, blues-infused first half of the album, comes ‘Black Juju‘, a tense, nine-minute tribal-giallo drum-and-bass workout that wouldn’t have been out of place on 1988’s The Serpent And The Rainbow. It is also the first hint of the group’s theatrical aspirations, easily lending itself to vaudeville interpretations and naturally playing into the repertoire that the band would develop over the next five years. ‘Is It My Body‘ has premonitive punk swagger, not dissimilar to the Dead Boys debut, only ahead by a mere six years. The best part of Love It To Death, however, is the closing trilogy, a plummet into insanity that starts with an inability to laugh at oneself and a propensity to take too seriously things beyond one’s immediate control. Perhaps that is too liberal a take, granted, yet all the more pitiful that it stands up to scrutiny in our current climate. Musically, this three-part suite – ‘Second Coming‘, ‘The Ballad of Dwight Frye‘, and ‘Sun Arise‘ – is impeccable in demonstrating, via perfectly accessible techniques, mind, what a mental breakdown might sound like. Dwight Frye was the actor who played Renfield in the classic Dracula from 1931; imagine what an achievement to bring something of his essence to life in 1971, and to have it linger to and be empathized with in the present day.