Released: July 12, 1994 by Epic Records
I can’t think of too many artists who have had quite as schizophrenic a career as Alice Cooper has while still remaining within the same basic genre. I mean, it’s not like he’s gone through a country phase or a blues phase or some other off-the-rails departure from hard rock, but in 40-plus years in the business he’s changed up his sound quite a bit. Trying to compare the early days of raw garage rock (back when “Alice Cooper” was more of a band than just a man) to his late 80’s hair metal period to his 2000’s run through pure heavy metal is next to impossible, so I won’t try. It would be even harder for me since, technically, this 1994 “return to his roots” album was the first of his catalogue that I ever actually bought. I knew all the hits from the 70’s, and I was more than familiar with the stuff on Trash and Hey Stoopid!, but I never actually owned them.
In 1994, rock music was by all accounts a completely confusing dump-bin of sounds and styles, the stars of the 80’s either clinging pathetically to what once was or – even worse – trying to adapt to a sound they had no understanding of, while the new generation of grunge metallers and college rock nerds experimented with whatever sounds came to mind and got away with it. Into this morass wandered Alice Cooper, respected as a semi-icon of the 70’s and 80’s but always more so for his outlandish stage act than his musical pedigree. Knowing that the Sunset Strip sound was now a dead-end, and rightfully thinking he would seem ridiculous going full-on grunge, Alice stepped backwards a bit, returning to a 70’s rock sound without going fully retro. The resulting album is probably one of the easiest on the ears that he’s ever produced.
While there’s a lot of tasty guitar work present (love the solo on “Stolen Prayer”), it would be a misnomer to call this metal. The guitars are warm and stripped back with a lot of acoustic backing. The bass, while buried too far back in the mix for my taste, often rides that 70’s vibe where it carries its own story rather than diving low and tunneling alongside the drums just to keep the beat like so often became the norm in 80’s rock and metal. Again, the record doesn’t sound specifically retro, but it owes its feel to an earlier time (although “Sideshow” could easily be peak-era Kiss). Keeping things modern, Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell pops up on occasion to lend vocal assistance and songwriting help, as do a host of other “professional songwriters” like 80’s everyman Jim Vallance. It’s the Cornell stuff that stands out for me, his understanding of the 70’s seeming sharper than that of Cooper himself who, you know, actually lived it. Which also highlights one of the problems with the album and Cooper in general – he’s not the greatest vocalist around. His style works on occasion, but there’s times where his limited range and inability to choose the right notes rears its ugly head. Ultimately that’s why I find his heavier stuff to be better, as it covers some of the sins of his voice which are exposed for all to see on The Last Temptation.
The other thing that kinda bugs me about the album is the way it never really seems to get going, everything being a bit too restrained for a guy with a reputation like Alice has. Aside from the riff on “Lost In America”, the guitars never bite or grab, leaving the album stranded in a desert of mid-tempo stuff. Of course there is also the little sidebar that is the “story” behind the album, namely that it was intended as a concept album which was marketed alongside a full color comic book starring Alice as some sort of mysterious Carnival barker luring a bored suburbanite kid into a world of make believe. Or something. I never read the comic and the lyrics don’t really paint a full-fledged picture. It’s more “variations on a theme” than full-on story like bands such as Queensryche and Savatage were pulling off at the time (although “Lullaby” feels like it fell off The Wall).
In the end, The Last Temptation is well-crafted and quite listenable, but it’s not the kind of thing I reach for when I’m heading to the car and want to rock out. It doesn’t push hard enough for a guy like Cooper, who made his name pushing above and beyond, in taste if not in sound. The fact that it got lost in the musical sea of 1994 shouldn’t really come as a surprise, even if it does hold up way better than a lot of the other stuff that was pumped out that year.
ALBUM RATING: 5.
2. Nothing’s Free
4. Sad Place Alone
5. You’re My Temptation
7. Unholy War
9. It’s Me
10. Cleansed By Fire