Zipper Catches Skin

Alice Cooper

Warner Brothers Records, 1982

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


Interesting title. Depending on your point of view, listening to this album will pretty much give you a similar sensation. Zipper catches skin = pain...listening to album = pain. I've heard in the past that these early 80's albums were churned out by Alice just to get out of his contract with Warner...that sure would explain a few things, including this truly bizarre mess of ideas. Why else would a previously hugely successful rock artist feel it necessary to saturate shelves with four albums in four years, and then not tour for most of them?

The first major improvement over the album's 1981 predecessor, Special Forces, is the welcome return of axeman extraordinaire Dick Wagner, responsible for most of the superb guitar playing on Alice's mid to late 70's albums. It's simply amazing how much more creative and memorable the guitar playing is on this record than on the last two. I suspect that Wagner's return is also at least partly responsible for the increased theatricality of the material.

This does not mean however that Zipper Catches Skin sounds more like Alice's classic 70's output, because despite the presence of far more professional guitar riffing and a greater diversity in the overall songwriting, sonically this is very much a typical early 80's post punk style. No multi-layered, glitzy bombastic studio polish anywhere to be found here.

While the production of this album could definitely be better (it was produced by Alice himself and the bass player), it's an improvement over the utterly tepid Special Forces. In keeping with the minimalist punk aesthetic of the time, the production and arrangements are quite bare and straight forward without any of the clutter and studio gimmickry that some feel marred Alice's mid to late 70's solo releases. Due to the blunted production I find that you need to turn the volume up very loud with this album to get the full potential power of the music, but once you do, it is very enjoyable to listen to, so hit that 11!my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Cooper sounds like he had a lot of fun recording Zipper Catches Skin, and even though his vocals are sub-par due to a strange habit of talking through the songs more than actually singing, the mood overall is very upbeat due to the hysterically tongue-in-cheek subject matter and the blissful melodies. Another thing worth mentioning is that he decided to almost completely eliminate all use of keyboards, synthesizers and drum machines this time around in favour of the melodic punk style approach I mentioned above, giving these songs the ability to overcome the passing of time much more successfully.

Zipper Catches Skin is one of those rarer instances where Alice did not write with a concept in mind, but is simply just a collection of unrelated rock songs. In terms of lyrics, I don't think Cooper has ever before or since been as insincere as here, with bizarrely diverging but hilarious tales ranging from silver screen heroes ("Zorro's Ascent"), to human greed ("Make That Money"), to a call for intergalactic peace ("No Baloney Homosapiens"), to sleazy womanizing ("I Like Girls"), to the perspective of a slasher film director on the set ("Tag, You're It"), to the title-says-it-all "I'm Alive (That Was The Day My Dead Pet Returned To Save My Life)"! The addition of two highly melodic uptempo punk pop songs in the form of "Adaptable" and "I Better Be Good" ensure that the listener will not be able to resist cracking a smile of enjoyment.

So, as completely wacky as this album is, it's undoubtedly a high energy affair that should be able to lift the spirits of even the unredeemable grouch, and the term high energy is key to this album's description; with the exception of the synthy ballad "I Am The Future" (included on the Class of '84 soundtrack), all of these songs are very fast and happy sounding! Easily his quickest album in terms of tempo. Will Alice never cease to throw curveballs at us? Just when it seems we have him figured out he writes music in a style that he hasn't been associated with before, thereby enhancing his chameleon-like career.

Speaking of chameleons, this was the third straight album for which Alice gave himself an image makeover. Just seeing the godfather of shock rock on the back of the disc in a white button shirt, tie, and with short brown hair conservatively parted to one side is, well...shocking!

Some people would probably be put off by Zipper Catches Skin's inherent silliness, but it's nothing more than an extremely fun, fast, hard (but not particularly heavy) rock album that isn't meant to be taken seriously in any way. Alice's lyrics on this album are the weirdest, silliest, and possibly funniest, ones he's ever done, but I can see how it may be a bit difficult to get into when holding the typical pre-conceived notions of what to expect from the guy. This is not a shock rock album, and none of it is is creepy in a way though, through its eccentricity, and provides glimpses of an artist about to fall off the sobriety wagon again.

Many die-hard Alice fans are not fond of his early 80's output, including this release, accusing it of tinny production and under-developed songs that leave much to be desired in the wake of his earlier work, but the truth is that while 1982's Zipper Catches Skin may not contain any classic Cooper cuts, it's a surprisingly solid collection of perfectly listenable contemporary material that by no stretch of the imagination deserves the less than favourable reputation that it is saddled with.

Rating: B-

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© 2001 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.