The age of Aquarius was dawning in 1969. But the band Alice Cooper watched the sun set on the California shore as a sign that their time out west was over. They relocated to Pontiac, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, in 1970. There, they shifted their musical and theatrical direction away from the psychedelic experimentation. Instead, they embraced a harder-edged rock mixed with a horror show. The Detroit area had been the boyhood home to frontman Vincent Furnier, and it was here that the band from Phoenix by way of Los Angeles was reborn. They found a more welcoming audience and a scene of similarly raucous bands, whose attitudes were forged in the same foundries as the steel in the Big Three’s automobiles.
During a sludgy performance one night, producer Bob Erzin heard Alice Cooper perform what he thought to be “I’m Gritty.” The title fit the nightclub setting and dirty look of the band. But the song title turned out to be “I’m Eighteen,” which was the breakthrough single for the band.
Now, fifty years later, Furnier—who since 1975 has gone by Alice Cooper—has released a new EP as an homage to the Motor City and the pistons of rock and roll. The Breadcrumbs EP released on Friday, September 13. It packs a punch.
Alice opens with two original tunes. “Detroit City 2020” is an anthem that rivals KISS’s “Detroit Rock City,” but it does have its own tinges of Kid Rock. “Go Man Go” is the closest to punk that Alice has ever sounded, and nods to the proto-punk bands MC5, The Stooges, and Death.
Alice then launches into a string of covers from Detroit’s peak years of hard rock from 1965 to 1975. First is the garage rock sound of the mid-60s that would inspire Furnier and his friends to form The Spiders in Phoenix. “East Side Story” is a song written by Bob Seger for his band The Last Heard in 1966. Seger’s (great) original features the organ (probably the Farfisa?) paired with a fuzz guitar. Alice and his companions were more apt to use digital distortion, and the organ is missing.
A cover of Suzy Quatro’s “Your Mamma Won’t Like Me” from 1975 is next. Again, Alice tries to remain true to the original. Yet guitarist Wayne Kramer opted for the wah-wah pedal instead of the clavinet in Quatro’s original. That clavinet seems to be a nod to Stevie Wonder’s 1972 hit “Superstition,” by the way.
Next is a jazz-lounge interpretation of “Devil with a Blue Dress On,” made popular by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels in 1966. It’s a fun, fresh take on the classic. Alice departs from the original medley of “Good Golly Miss Molly”; he replaces it with “Chains of Love” by J.J. Barnes. Barnes’s original is an example of the Motown-esque funk in the late ‘60s, and it’s great. Cooper’s “Chains of Love” blends well with “Devil with a Blue Dress On,” but it fails to hit as hard as Barnes had.
Finally, Cooper and his companions close with “Sister Anne,” a 1971 song by the MC5. Wayne Kramer, guitarist for the MC5, plays on this EP, and the song is all too familiar to him. This is the one cover on this album that blows away the original. It has a fuller sound, a tighter groove, and the guitars sound so much crisper. It is a great finish to this hard-driving album.
The notable differences in sound are due to more advanced recording and mixing than what was available forty or fifty years ago. The absence of keyboards does diminish one of garage rock’s trademarks. It also abandons a feature in the early Alice Cooper sound. But the straightforward guitar rock has been Alice’s signature throughout the large share of his career.
Alice’s decision to included legendary Detroit musicians was also impressive. The MC5’s Kramer handles the guitar chops, as does Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad (out of nearby Flint, MI). Detroit Wheels drummer Johnny “Bee” Badanjek sits behind the kit, and Detroit-based garage enthusiast Mick Collins plays bass. It’s a great lineup of talented musicians invested in the Motor City sound.
Overall, the album is a welcome return to form. It’s one of Alice’s best outputs in a while, and superior to the Hollywood Vampires. His choice to celebrate Detroit’s musical heritage is on point. Given that rock and roll appears to be in steep decline these days, it is refreshing to hear hard-hitting rock and roll pulling off the factory floor.
“Breadcrumbs” can be heard in its entirety on Spotify.