|Dick Wagner - 'Full Meltdown' (Desert Dreams Records)|
|Written by Russ P|
|Monday, 17 May 2010 06:00|
This is a nice surprise and a blast from the past. Dick Wagner was the primo guitarist who teamed up with Alice Cooper after the demise of the original Alice Cooper band in the mid 70s. As fond as I am of the original Alice Cooper band Dick Wagner certainly played a major role in Cooper's next purple patch with career defining albums such as 'Welcome To My Nightmare' and 'Alice Cooper Goes To Hell'. Wagner co-wrote the classic ballads 'Only Women Bleed', 'I Never Cry' 'You And Me' and 'The Quiet Room'.
And, though Wagner has been absent from the live shows since the late 70s he's continued to be a song writing presence in the Alice Cooper fold well into the 90s. And news to me is that his talents have spread deeper into my music collection than I realised. From playing the superb solo on Peter Gabriel's 'Here Comes The Flood' to guitar duties on Lou Reed's 'Berlin'. Amazingly this guy even played on 'Destroyer' by Kiss. The acoustic guitar on 'Beth'? - That's him!
So, while the album cover might suggest that this is another instrumental album by another virtuoso guitarist I'm coming around to the notion to this may turn out to be a very interesting listening experience as it features a collection of Wagner's songs recorded between 1979 and 1995.
Throughout the album you can start to place, just by listening, when the individual tracks were recorded. I place track number 1 in the 1990s while track 2 sounds as if it was recorded a decade earlier. 'Still Hungry' starts off inauspiciously enough but soon grabs my attention with interesting melodic changes that raise the song up a notch from the ordinary and gives a hint of what this man is capable of. Wagner's voice is great too. On the one hand it could be said that Wagner is a better vocalist than both of his prior paymasters Alice Cooper and Lou Reed. He certainly has a wider range and is more polished - as is evident on 'Modern Times' - but we all know that great singing isn't the be all and end all when it comes to fronting a band and I'm sure that Wagner, despite being a side-kick to the superheroes Cooper and Reed, feels very privileged to have put his talents alongside these rock icons.
'Insatiable Girl' is a simple rocker to be sure but I'm kind of waiting for one of those ballads that he's so good at writing to come up. It's a grower. I could imagine the late Robert Palmer having considered recording this song. It would've suited him down to the ground. And, if you want someone in the land of the living then I think that Billy Idol could give it a darn good shot. I should've known. Track 4 is nine times out of ten the time when the first ballad appears. And so it is here. 'I'd Take The Bullet For You' is a pretty typical rock ballad and pretty typically good. The backing vocal arrangements are great and faintly reminiscent of the 70s Alice Cooper sound so I guess Wagner had a hand in that too.
'Stagger Lee' has a Meat Loaf kind of old classic rock 'n' roll sound to it courtesy of the boogie woogie piano but, every now and then Wagner throws out the standard rock 'n' roll turnarounds from Lloyd Price's original and chucks in some 'Wagner' chordal twists in their place. It's high-energy stuff and a lot of fun. And, to boot, Wagner has turned me on to Lloyd Price's music as this song is now lodged in my head permanently.
'Ecstasy' is ballad number two which starts out with Wagner picking out a slow chord progression which makes you think this is another 'Only Women Bleed' but then Wagner takes a side step and goes into a very tonally strange and pleasing pre-chorus. And the twists and turns don't stop there. It's a kind of rock opera sandwiched into a compact four-minute ballad structure. This is kind of what Steely Dan might have come up with if they'd ever been invited to come up with a James Bond theme.
The piano intro to 'These Days' gives me hope of another ballad comparable to 'You And Me'. And this could be the best song on the album. It doesn't take much effort to close your eyes and imagine Elton John tinkling the ivories. 'Modern Times' has the grandeur and drama of a classic 70s Alice Cooper track. It's clear here what Dick brings to the song writing table and what Alice Cooper brings. Because, despite this being an Alice track musically, it's nowhere near an Alice track lyrically.
'I Might As Well Be On Mars' reminds me of 'Former Lee Warmer' from Alice's 'Da Da' album. But that's not what it should remind me of should it? D'uh. It is what it is - from Alice's 'Hey Stoopid'. In my defence the shiny commercial Alice isn't my favourite period - I pretty much skip from 'Da Da' to 'The Eyes of Alice Cooper'.
For me - an ad hoc Alice Cooper historian - this album is a cool rock 'n' roll appendix. It's pretty good as an album in it's own right, but there are patches - the disparate recording times and production quality tend to make it sound like the lost and found collection that it is with 'She Said' and 'Darkest Hour' being the most obvious examples. Dick Wagner is undeniably a great songwriter and I wouldn't be surprised to see a large portion of these songs turning up as covers on other people's album - if indeed they haven't already.