His Scariest Album To Date
Last February our very own Shallow Graves Nick Kelley wrote an amazing piece on the highly misunderstood album ‘Dada’ that even Alice Cooper does not remember. Being one of hia favorite albums, here what Nick has to say below…
Out of all of Cooper’s famous hits like “School’s Out“, “Welcome To My Nightmare“, and “Feed My Frankenstein“, the average person really doesn’t delve deep into his discography. Hardcore fans though will reference albums like Zipper Catches Skin, Flush The Fashion, and his most misunderstood concept album Dada.
Being one of my favorite albums, I accepted the theories that people have put forth on multiple fan sites and blogs even though they never really fit together as a whole for me. So, I decided to give it another run through and instead of just listening to the lyrics I noticed little subtleties that are littered throughout the music and production of the album. These are my thoughts and I’ll break it down song by song to come to the final conclusion of what Dada is really about. Let’s start off though on where Cooper was in his life.
In 1983, Alice Cooper was in a very deep and dark spiral of moving from alcohol to crack. He was losing a decent chunk of his fan base due to the more Nu Wave direction he was going with his music and his wife was starting to sign divorce papers. Things were not looking up. So, the Coop decided to fulfill his Warner Brothers contract and record his final album with them, Dada. Bob Ezrin came back to the producers chair and enlisted the help of Dick Wagner (who had also worked with Cooper on past records) to co-write songs and play on the album. So, the three of them got to writing and what came out was an album, in its most basic form, of a man who suffers from dissociative identity disorder meaning he has a split personality. Each song on the album is a specific story that creates the concept of the character Sonny from his early childhood to his depressing end.
The album starts with the very spacious and mysterious track “Dada“. Ezrin plays a psychiatrist asking his patient multiple questions that the patient, Cooper, seems to stumble over. At one point Cooper starts talking about his son and daughter until he is corrected by the doctor that he doesn’t have a daughter. Setting the backdrop for the strange banter is syncopated kick drum, a synth playing what sounds like a requiem for this twisted sequence and a child saying the words “dada” over and over again. My conclusion is that the patient is Sonny‘s father who is now probably in a weakened mental state and the repeated “dada‘s” are referring to where all of his problems began, with his father.
The next track is an upbeat pop number titled “Enough’s Enough” that introduces our unfortunate hero Sonny. Although it sounds somewhat bright and cheery on the outside, what the song really talks about is both the physical and sexual abuse he faces from his father after his mother passes (i.e. Sonny‘s mom calls him her “brave little cowboy” and the father echos the same line maniacally). The song also hints at him going into male prostitution with the father saying “go buck and buck and make a buck” with the first two bucks sounding like a similar word. At the end of the song Sonny is screaming that he’s had it and most likely walks out of his fathers house never to return.
After that we move onto the more classically ‘Cooperesque’ track “Former Lee Warmer” where Sonny‘s mental disorder starts to come into play. He talks about a brother who is locked away in the attic and how he’s never actually met this person. The description of his brother sounds like he is dead. As if he is a rotting memory coming out of the shadows. After the solo there is also a strange yet subtle touch of Coopers vocals breaking into a harmony with the top sounding light and innocent while the bottom is sinister and lifeless. This is officially the first time we hear Sonny‘s “brother” on the album. The most obvious hint that the brother isn’t an actual person isn’t only in the joking name “Former Lee Warmer” (Formerly Warmer), but also in the ending lines “he’s flesh and blood to me…but I don’t want to be Former Lee“.
Next we have one of my favorite songs on the album, “No Man’s Land“. In this tune Sonny talks about how he gets a job in Atlanta in a mall playing Santa. Soon a woman comes up to him and whisks him away to spend the night with her leaving crying children and screaming mothers in their wake. The young woman has a one night stand with him and pays him “double overtime“. During all of this Sonny worries the woman will sense his other personalities. The vocals again break into multiple voices when Cooper utters the line “she had to learn to love all four of me“. The song ends with background vocals repeating “I’m looking for the real me, if only I could feel me…sometimes I gotta play me, it’s really hard to stay me” hinting at the fact that his other identities are starting to take over.
“Dyslexia” is one of the quirkiest tracks on the album being driven by a syncopated rhythm and synths. The song is riddled with jokes about dyslexia like “I got these glasses thick and green” and “is dis love or dyslexia“. This is where Sonny seems to start getting lost within himself and not really knowing at all what is happening as well as it possibly being one of his other personalities.
Here’s the tricky song. “Scarlet And Sheba” is very catchy but never truly tells us what it is about. The theories that have been brought forth never really made any sense to me in the context of the album. My theory is that one of Sonny‘s personalities is broken into two women. Scarlet is loving although points out his flaws while Sheba is a more assertive dominatrix type. He only wants Sheba for her body while Scarlet is there to take care of him afterwards. My conclusion for this is Sheba is a symbol for his sexual desires and self punishment while Scarlet is a manifestation of his deceased mother who cares for him after Sheba is finished.
Being more of a novelty song (as Cooper self admits), “I Love America” is a straight forward manifestation of an all American man that loves hot dogs and mustard but only loves a commie if he’s good and dead. This character is also a car salesman as well. America is a fun track filled with bald eagles, country music, and 1950’s commercialism. ‘MURICA!!!
“Fresh Blood” proves to be one of the best and most menacing songs on the album. With a funky bassline and drum loop as the backdrop, the lyrics talk about one of his personalities who is a serial killer. The high and low vocal harmonies return throughout the whole song with the higher (being Sonny‘s) almost sounding as though he is screaming while the lower bluntly states how he kills bussinessmen and old women to feed on their blood. Anyone that gets too close to them is killed as well. Sonny cannot face the fact that one of his personalities is a killer and ends the song with a cry for help “fresh blood it goes through me, flows through me…fresh blood inside of me, cry to me“. Some might think this is his lowest point, but it gets worse.
For the last song “Pass The Gun Around“, Sonny wakes up sick and doesn’t know where he is or who is sleeping in his bed. He has finally hit bottom and cannot take the insanity anymore. His other personalities have taken him over and Sonny contemplates suicide, “pass the gun around, give everyone a shot“. This track is also a bit autobiographical for Cooper with the line “sees a little blood run from his eyes, feels a little hotel paralyzed“. Cooper stated in the documentary ‘Super Duper Alice Cooper’ that after locking himself in a room while using drugs, he looked in he mirror to find his eyes bleeding. The whole first verse in fact applies to the singers life that we know with “Sonny wakes up in the morning feeling kinda sick, needs a little stoli vodka needs a little quick“, Alice has talked about how he would wake up in the morning, puke, and then immediately start drinking. The track comes to a close with Sonny repeating “pass the gun around” and ends with an abrupt gunshot and the same pulsating kick drum from the beginning with the word “dada” being said one final time.
Dada is one of Coopers most underrated albums. Even though it sounds a bit dated due to most of the instruments coming from a Fairlight CMI (one of the first digital synthisizer samplers), the songs and musicianship are still strong today. Dick Wagners solos on songs like “Pass The Gun Around” and “Former Lee Warmer” are about as arguably comparable and memorable to that of David Gilmours for any historic Pink Floyd track. The bass work from Prakash John is solid and tight while the actual drums (the ones not supplied by the Fairlight CMI) fit right in the pocket while building up the emotional depth of each tune (thanks to Richard Kolinka). So where did this album fall flat and why is it so unheard of?
Two problems really. One is that Warner Brothers saw no commercial interest and barely promoted it. The album was given no hype and due to the mental and physical state Alice was in at the time, no tour was scheduled. It reached No.93 on the UK charts, but didn’t even break the top 200 in the US. With no tour and no promotion, he was dead in the water. Second, he already had a dwindling fan base. Cooper fans missed the old days of his mixture of horror with rock n’ roll. The Nu Wave stuff, although still good, just wasn’t cutting it back then. Disinterested fans, no promoting, and no tour lead to a sinking ship in 1983. Another fun fact for the album is that Cooper doesn’t even remember recording it nor have any of the songs ever been played live.
If you are interested in giving Dada a listen, the youtube link below is part of a playlist and while you’re at it, tell us what you think and if you have your own conclusions please share.