Welcome 2 My Nightmare
Sequels, as applied to concept albums, never quite match the expectations of those who set about to create such things. Nevertheless, they do happen - albeit far more infrequently than in the movie biz where sequels are harvested into franchises with built-in financial incentives and long-term yields. But where Meat Loaf, Rick Wakeman and, to a lesser degree, Queensrÿche, have stumbled through gracefully sequels of their masterworks, it almost makes sense in the case of Alice Cooper's first solo album from 1975, the loosely conceptual Welcome To My Nightmare. So, 36 years later we get Welcome 2 My Nightmare, and the verdict is out as to whether it holds up to the original. Let's just say, it's demonstrably different for both good and bad reasons.
For this record, Cooper decided to go with star wattage to make it shine. Teaming with producer Bob Ezrin, who is also a major co-writer and played on many of the songs, was definitely a nod to the original. Recruiting heavy hitters like guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, who also appeared on the original album, underscore a commitment in matching the intensity of 1975. Taking it further, Cooper brought in three members from the original Alice Cooper Band - bassist Dennis Dunaway, guitarist Michael Bruce and drummer Neal Smith - to play on arguably three of the album's stronger tracks. Bringing more contemporary names in like Vince Gill and Ke$ha is a noble attempt at adding a modern spin to what could potentially be perceived as an old wise tale.
Beyond the issues of insanity and perhaps a scorching case of insomnia, it's difficult to assess what exactly the original Welcome To My Nightmare was about. With Alice Cooper's creepy antics and Vincent Price's eerie narration, it didn't seem to matter. The storyline is even more ambiguous on 2, but it allows Cooper to amuse himself with any and every whim that may have crossed his radar. The opening "I Am Made Of You" almost sounds like an outtake from the last Lady Gaga record before the piano twinkles ala Nightmare, and Pink Floydian-like guitar lines (obviously Ezrin's touch) suspend the melody.
Tracks like "Caffeine" and "The Congregation" are more in line with the heavy strokes of catchy, melodic metal Cooper has been refining in recent years. But the real muscle (of love) might just be in the throwbacks featuring Dunaway, Bruce and Smith. "Runaway Train" throttles along at a beautiful pace. Bruce gets plenty of help from Hunter, Tommy Henrikson and Vince Gill, who plays a fine little solo at the bridge. "I'll Bite Your Face Off" and "When Hell Comes Home," the other two featuring original Alice Cooper members, are pure, vintage Alice Cooper without much extra baggage.
Elsewhere, there are dashes of extravagance, even by Cooper's standards. Things get downright campy on "Last Man On Earth," and "Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever" may worry some Cooper diehards intent on hearing what's safe and certifiable. There's a sly attempt to eclipse the tenderness of "Only Women Bleed" with "Something To Remember Me By." The song has its moments, but it's somewhat contrived, left with little room to break out of its shell. "What Baby Wants," the song featuring Ke$ha, might well resonate with the kiddies and various other dancing fools. Maybe it's just a set-up for "I Gotta Get Out Of Here," the grand finale delivered in grand style and coupled with "The Underture," an instrumental montage consisting of themes from the original Nightmare album.
In the end, you can either judge Welcome 2 My Nightmare as a proper and fitting follow-up to the original, or as another standalone addition to the Alice Cooper catalog. It has its fair share of highs and lows, but functions effectively as a creative outlet for Cooper's fertile imagination. Even at this stage in his career, you have to commend him for trying to push forward, while simultaneously looking back to what made him what he is today.
~ Shawn Perry