Concerning Alice Cooper, it is by now axiomatic that any new album is intended only as the soundtrack of the latest group traveling extravaganza. But even considered as a soundtrack, Billion Dollar Babies seems an abortion. The extended numbers (ones around which the stage skits revolve) are the most abrasive. Rather than following Cream’s formula of presenting a tight skeleton on vinyl that can be expanded at will onstage, the Cooper troupers insist upon acting this soundtrack concept out to the bitter end. So we get to hear large stretches of the band in total sonic disarray while dentists’ drills roar (“Unfinished Sweet”), snakes hiss (“Sick Things”) and guillotine blades drop (“I Love the Dead”). Zero to each song.
As expected, Billion Dollar Babies doesn’t cut the mustard when viewed musically, either. “Hello Hurray,” which opens the album and the current stage act, is a Broadway production number by Rolf Kempf (the play escapes me), once again underscoring the “show” aspect of the Cooper experience. The adapted version gives an interesting view of the reluctant cynicism that’s an unavoidable component of the rock star existence, but does precious little else. As on every other cut the band just never manages to mesh musically, and the final chorus merely bluffs its way around becoming the intended musical conjuration of the awesome instrumental power behind a rock singer.
“Elected” fails similarly, a victim of incredibly inept production. Alice builds the song’s tone steadily throughout, then right at the top of the final chorus, just when you’re expecting the thing to explode into a fist-hoisting anthem, the whole damn thing suddenly fizzles out. Guitars decelerate, horns recede … it doesn’t make any sense. For a group that’s had such success with power-oriented songs in the past (“Under My Wheels,” “School’s Out,” “I’m Eighteen”), the approach is as mysterious as it is absurd.
Alice himself is fond of saying that “Raped And Freezin'” is “a classic rock & roll song in the spirit of ‘Brown Sugar.'” Believe it if you can, but Jagger and Co. would never be as unmelodic, as given to ridiculously arbitrary tempo changes, or as dependent upon sound effects to create moods as is ole A.C. There’s something about tape-recorded bullfights that just doesn’t fit in with rock & roll.
Donovan and Alice swap lines on the title cut, which is otherwise no different than the rest of the album — tedium ranging from boredom to humdrumity. But seeing as how that has also been a good description of Mr. Leitch’s career, his efforts here make a certain bizarre sense, something I’m sure that only Alice Cooper’s followers could fully appreciate.
While they’re currently quite content to hide behind this “entertainment” facade, I know damn well that these guys can be good musicians. They did a version of “The Train Kept A-Rollin'” once during a sound check that might have blown the Yardbirds away! Maybe we’ll get a taste of this later this year when guitarist Mike Bruce releases a solo album — could be nice. But as it is now, with each member totally willing to submerge his musical development within the group personality, we’ll continue to see a dependence on cheap tricks and illusions of decadence instead of rock & roll. Personally, I prefer a little music with my decadence, so please excuse me while I put Raw Power on the old Garrard.