I had a rather lengthy Facebook chat last week with a couple friends about Alice Cooper’s early-80s albums. I shared with them I liked the music, but wasn’t fond of the production of Special Forces, in particular. I also named Flush the Fashion in that statement previously, but having gone back and listening to FtF again, I have to say I like the overall production. Special Forces? Well, as I said before, I like the songs a lot. It’s not my favorite Alice Cooper album, but Special Forces has a few gems I still like.
The reason I’m critical of the production? The drums sound muted and like they were amplified in a shoebox. The arrangements, hooks, chords and lyrics are great on songs like Who Do You Think We Are and Prettiest Cop On The Block. But the songs don’t have that oomph you get with other Alice records.
I wasn’t able to illustrate my point until I listened to Alice’s 1976 concept album, Alice Cooper Goes To Hell. And that’s when it clicked. Listen to the opening track, Go To Hell, and you hear the oomph that’s lacking on Special Forces. There’s a “bigness” to the kick drum, a great vibe to the bass. Dick Wagner’s guitar parts come in loud and awesome and Alice’s vocal is big and angry. The song sounds like it was recorded in a cathedral and the sound is absolutely engulfing the room and whomever is within earshot. Here are a couple YouTube videos that sort of showcase the differences.
You may or may not hear the differences I hear when I listen to the songs at home, but to me, there is a “thunder” in Go To Hell that is missing in Special Forces. That’s unfortunate because the songs on Special Forces clearly have energy. There’s a bitterness and anger just beneath the surface on all these songs that gets lost in the mix. Perhaps Alice was trying to avoid a full-on rock n’ roll record with Special Forces, in favor of something closer to the punk/new wave albums of the era. Either way, I’d love to hear Who Do You Think We Are recorded on a scale of what we hear on …Goes To Hell. It’s a big, mean, in-your-face song that simply deserves to be off the chain.
I liken this to Metallica’s …And Justice For All album. Lots of great material that is muted by poor production. That’s why you hear such a dramatic change on the Black Album.
Anyway, just food for thought on a Wednesday.