If you went to high school in the ’70s, Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out” became part of your life. Cooper dirges like “Desperado” and “Muscle of Love” used dense Black Sabbath rumbling to rock in ways no ’80s or ’90s art-metal band has matched. On the other hand, the psychedelic backup vocals in Soundgarden’s “Spoonman” prove just how much Whitewater-era grunge owes the Watergate-era kind. So it’s no surprise to find Soundgarden howler Chris Cornell, not to mention sometime Sonic Youth and White Zombie producers Don Fleming and Andy Wallace, working with Alice now.
Cornell collaborates on two ballads on Alice’s new Last Temptation, one eerily reminiscent of Alice’s late ’70s “I Never Cry”/Hollywood Squares period (“Stolen Prayer”), one merely messy (“Unholy War”). But Alice’s successes have always been sellouts: when he turned toward teen anthems after the dopey Zappa thespianism of Easy Action (1970); when he switched to adult crooning; when he got a New Wave haircut for his last really fun album, the dance-oriented Flush the Fashion (1980). Alice’s new record is his most listenable since then.
Temptation is supposed to be a morality play about a bored hick-town teen being lured toward sex and drugs by an evil stranger; the Cornell songs come when the kid starts tangling with his conscience. “Lullaby,” the inevitable “Welcome to My Nightmare” (via Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”) rewrite, comes next, then our side wins. The album’s junkiest riffs and funniest jokes come early: “Sideshow” is the kind of song Urge Overkill would overkill for; “Lost in America” is a “Fight for Your Right (to Party)” sound-alike about a latchkey Beavis who wants a dad and a girlfriend with a gun. After those two, though, Alice gets a bit too melodramatic — just like his old music did, not long after “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out.”