THIS MONTH IN METAL No. 3: Alice Cooper’s “Trash”

The Legacy

WAIT WAIT WAIT I see those metal elitist tongues eager to stab through my eye sockets and into my brain for a nasty headache. Belonging more to the classic rock category, Alice Cooper doesn’t often fit into the metal genre. While Alice’s 1989 release of Trash is, in essence, a hair metal album, it also isn’t always the most favored by old school fans. Seeing as at least two camps are already rolling their eyes, we’re just going to have to break down some barriers to get to the soul of this tribute.

Alice was shock-rocking well before Ozzy, Manson and GWAR pushed through further boundaries of taste in rock and heavy music. Kinky leather, dark humor, creepy-crawlies and fake suicides were just the beginning of the Alice Cooper signature. Similar to Marilyn Manson’s track, the whole group itself was originally called Alice Cooper, but the name itself evolved into Vincent Furnier’s own spooky alter-ego. He always kept a great balance between creep and camp, one example being the genuinely upsetting track Steven versus vaudeville vignette Black Widow on 1975’s classick Welcome to My Nightmare. Alice has remained a dynamic figure taking on many forms. In search for mainstream success after ten distinguished albums over two decades, things got trashy (pun intended).

Original 1989 cover art. Photo: Genius

Oh baby, it’s glammy. Alice has always been quite the individualist and followed his cobwebbed heart, that is for sure. However, it was 1989 and hair metal, as insufferable as it can be, had an influence on the musical style of Trash. Produced by hotshot 80s songwriter Desmond Child, it was really just a product of it’s time. How can we blame the guy if it’s a smidge cornier than his other records? It was never that Alice fell behind, his albums rather had varying accessibility and just didn’t always hit the mainstream vein. This is merely a small price to pay for his individual integrity. Trash stuck out as a career boost, hitting big charts and even a Grammy nomination. As different and dolled-up as it was, Alice had thrust his signature shock back into the mainstream.

Trash deluxe promo box set that came in a trash can (I’m a sucker for production gimmicks, sorry for the poor quality)  Photo: Eli.com

While the subject matter shifted more towards the typical hair-metal-ugly-bumpin’-bad-boy-rock, it couldn’t escape the spook. Alice’s snarly voice doesn’t shy away with this one. Eerie scoob riffs still sneak into songs like Bed of Nails and Spark in the Dark. What we ultimately receive is a glammy sleazefest sung by a ghoul fresh out of the tomb. At the same time, the tunes are catchy enough to hold weight in the mainstream proving a balance between the niche and widely accessible. As much as it seems like I talk down the hair, the injection of Alice’s signature spook makes it charming enough to stick around. Trash is merely one example of proof that shock is capable of creeping its way into the mainstream.

My Pain, Your Thrill

30th anniversary tribute artwork

My Pain, Your Thrill

Yes, there has to be a butt. Trash has a strong balance between spook and sleaze. Even when I was a pubescent 13-year-old listening to hair metal in middle school (Trash being a very integral album to my early teens and induction to heavy music), I didn’t care for the over-sexualized lyrics. The sexual nature of this record just can’t be avoided, because as stated before, it is a product of it’s time and musical influence (ahem, Desmond Child). Lovesick throbbers like Poison and Hell is Living Without You inspired the concept of toxic longing with our poor skeleton friend too thirsty for his own good. Spark in the DarkBed of Nails (hence the bed of nails) and title track Trash crank up a kinkier sadomasochistic sleaze by meddling the line between pleasure and pain. Such avenues led me to the pinup style, framing an ambiguous dungeon of steam, sparkles, studs and skin with black lingerie lace. Our vampire girl is clearly the one in charge here, torturing and teasing the skeletal remains of her undead victim in the bounds of fuzzy leather cuffs. I went for some seriously 80s purple reminiscent of the album’s video content. Also, This Maniac’s in Love with You sounds like a scrapped Prince song sung by a corpse?  I’m sure that subconsciously reinforced the purple. Per my trend of iconographic Easter eggs, I marked both the girl and skeleton with Alice’s iconic makeup. Alice thus takes on the role of tortured and torturer, much like the emotions he expresses in Trash and beyond.  The culmination of horrific and sensual elements distill the overall theme that comes out of this somewhat confusing but formulaic record: the steamy allure of darkness. Alice has been as repulsive as he has intriguing, but proved with Trash that he knew how to play the game. Its success exemplified that even creepy crawlers like him can reach all kinds of people.

See more heavy hitters in the MONTHLY METAL GALLERY

Stay shocking, folks.

–NCM

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