"Welcome to my breakdown."
Splitting from the Alice Cooper band when he did was a gamble for Vincent Furnier, but in retrospect, and probably at the time, the Detroit five piece had achieved all they could by 1974’s Muscle of Love, and the band had started on the downswing. Co-opting the name of the band for his solo career, Furnier solidified himself as the Alice Cooper character, and set about ensuring that while the band with which he had made his name had gone their separate ways, he himself would keep his place at shock-rock’s top table. To do this he retained the production services of Bob Ezrin, recruited a couple of guitar players from Lou Reed’s band, and a whole host of session musos led by bass-wielding chrome-domed demi-god Tony Levin to record one of the greatest theatrical rock records of the 70s.
If Welcome to My Nightmare had not been a success, then Alice Cooper’s solo career would have fallen at the first hurdle. Would he have regrouped with his former bandmates to try and capture old glories? Would he have drunk himself into oblivion? There’s every chance.
As it turned out, Welcome to My Nightmare not only became a success, but arguably the greatest album of Cooper’s career, solo or otherwise. This would not have been possible without the production nous of Bob Ezrin, who managed to blend the garage-rock of the old Alice Cooper band with more ambitious arrangements and a significant upping of theatrics and even a conceptual arc through much of its second half.
Welcome to My Nightmare opens with its title track, and one of the Alice Cooper’s signature tunes, despite it never being issued as a single. A horror movie narrative in the form of a top-draw rock song, it remains a glorious introduction to Alice Cooper as a solo artist. The first half of the album is studded with highlights – from Vincent Price’s gloriously over the top museum curator extolling the virtues of his precious “Black Widow” a good seven years before Michael Jackson recycled the idea of having Price provide a spoken word intro to a song. There’s also the surprisingly tender “Only Women Bleed”, a song covered to great effect by a number of Vincent Furnier-endorsed female acts down the years.
The second half of Welcome to my Nightmare kick’s of with pop-tastic rocker “Department of Youth”, which is quickly followed up by “Cold Ethyl”, a tune which sounds like it would have sat quite happily on any Alice Cooper band album, but particularly on Billion Dollar Babies. From there we start on the unsettling narrative arc on “Years Ago”, which continues through “Steven” and “The Awakening”. It’s hokey stuff, but with Ezrin’s assistance Alice Cooper pulls it off with no small amount of style. Indeed, one has to wonder how many of the production techniques that Ezrin used to such great effect on Pink Floyd’s The Wall five years later first germinated on Welcome to My Nightmare.
Despite the ambitious leap to full-blown theatrical rock, Welcome to My Nightmare is a reassuringly coherent album. It progresses Alice Cooper from grease-paint daubed garage rocker to horror-rock icon, and in doing so covers a hell of a lot of ground, has a host of diverse tunes, yet nothing seems out of place or awkward. The whole thing is wonderfully well judged and executed to near perfection. Against the odds, and with the assistance of a well selected backing band and exactly the right producer, Alice Cooper became an icon on Welcome to my Nightmare.
After the well placed creepiness of “The Awakening”, Welcome to my Nightmare closes with “Escape”, “Department of Youth”’s pop-rocking counterweight, a riffttastic break for freedom with a glorious chorus. Even in its closing moments Welcome to my Nightmare hits exactly the right tone, underlining that Alice Cooper the solo star was now very much a thing, so much so that arguably, Vincent Furnier has never truly topped his first solo album.