Rock & Roll Report Card

Conor Oberst
Conor Oberst
Credit: 
Supplied
Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper
Credit: 
Supplied

A- (81%)
Conor Oberst
Conor Oberst
Merge

While Conor Oberst’s most recent album makes for easier listening than the many previous ones under his Bright Eyes moniker, it’s not quite the pivotal moment in his musical career that the self-titling of this album suggests.

Altogether, the tracks are more cohesive than his previous efforts—as if the straight-jacket from which he used to rant has finally done its trick—but this fact is rather depressing as the establishment against which he has continually railed has finally pumped him full of social tranquilizers.

Despite this momentary loss of a generation’s great American folk-country psycho, Conor Oberst still rings of Oberst’s much-lauded poesy and a Kerouac-ian belief in the healing powers of the open road. In fact, the American dream of interstates, cheap gas and a trusty jalopy is alive and well throughout the making of this album: Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band decamped to Mexico to record it and the tracks reflect these idealistic convictions.

Oberst drives home an anthemic home-run in “Moab,” insisting—perhaps a little too heavy-handedly—“there’s nothing that the road cannot heal.” Similarly, on “NYC, Gone Gone,” Obserst’s croaky voice hammers out that a road trip to Mexico City will cure what ails you, while “Sausalito” is a rolling Dylan-esque ode to travelling down to California where life will fix itself on a houseboat and fears are sheltered between the legs of a nameless woman. Although Oberst often maintains this unshakeable belief in the tumbleweed life, the album also addresses loneliness and communication breakdown in America, which tends toward a bit of drivel-laced, if catchy, navel-gazing. In “Lenders in the Temple,” nobody will take Oberst’s call amidst the zoo that is Americana. In all, the album is a keeper, framed by two metaphysical, mortality-concerned acoustic tracks, “Cape Canaveral” and “Milk Thistle.” Unfortunately, this Conor Obsert’s sound is not as innovative as what we have come to expect from our old buddy.

—Heather Christie

A (86%)
Alice Cooper
Along Came a Spider
Steamhammer

Alice Cooper’s new album, Along Came a Spider is dark, disturbing and definitely worth a listen for those who can stomach it. A concept album, the creepy disc tells the tale of a serial killer called Spider, who stalks, traps and murders his victims, wrapping their bodies in silk and removing a leg from each of them to construct his own macabre spider.

Clearly, this isn’t Robert Smith’s “Lullaby” with its own spooky Spider Man predator. Actually, Cooper’s concept seems not completely unlike TV’s favourite serial killer Dexter. Maybe Cooper’s on the Dexter bandwagon too because this Spider is no one-dimensional killing machine: He has a deep and complex motivation for his actions, which is gradually fleshed out throughout the album, stringing the audience along in order to keep them listening. Musically, Cooper and his band explore a rainbow of rock styles throughout the album, featuring everything from straight-ahead rock tunes such as “Wrapped in Silk” to the heavily punk-influenced “I Know Where You Live.” Cooper even manages to squeeze room in for softer ballads like “Salvation” and “Killed by Love.” For flavour, Ozzy Osbourne makes a harmonica cameo on “Wake the Dead.”

More friends appear on “Vengeance Is Mine.” Velvet Revolver and former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash contributes a solo to this track, which is perhaps the only true hard rock song.

This move away from producing purely hard rock shows an interesting dichotomy. The album’s themes and lyrics are more in line with the Cooper’s traditional metal and hard rock, but his deliberate choice of softer styles to accompany the morbid lyrics has a more sinister effect than using the expected music would.

There’s something truly disturbing about finding yourself humming a tune about mass murder.

Despite the morbidity, Cooper never removes the Spider’s humanity. He builds the character up as a creepy to chilling stalker but then makes him vulnerable. Cooper creates a web of emotions that comprise the character. Spider is bizarre, but he’s designed to both repel and attract—kind of like Cooper.

—Andrew Bucholtz

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