Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Random Record Review: Alien - Cosmic Fantasy (1983)

No rhyme, no reason. This is the first of what I hope will be many reviews of records selected randomly from my collection.

In the days before anyone had thought to give this stuff its own condescendingly dismissive category (Hair Metal), the brand of music made by bands like Alien, Quiet Riot, WASP, Madame X and their ilk was just Heavy Metal with an eye-catching image. I hate these revisionist tags that get appended to bands years after the event. All of a sudden, after years of being Heavy Metal, prior to which they were a Hard Rock band, Black Sabbath are Stoner Rock. What bollocks! Like stoners restrict their listening habits to Sabbath and their thousands of (pale) imitators! I can just hear the music police now: "Sorry son, I'm going to have to confiscate your jazz cigarette until you finish listening to that Creedence Clearwater Revival album." Wait a minute, jazz cigarette? You don't mean to say that men with saxophones partake too? Surely not!

So, we're clear then, Alien aren't Hair Metal! Having said that, if the rear cover photo is anything to go by, someone close to the band had ready access to a sewing machine and a pair of hair tongs. No, they absolutely, probably aren't Hair Metal and if more evidence is required, just look at how the band has broken the unwritten law of Hair Metal (that it's a boys only club) by - whisper it -  having a girl in the band. Good luck spotting which one she is. I'll give you a clue, she's not the one called Brian.

Okay, so what about the record? It starts with a china boy cymbal crash and a smorgasbord of spacey sounds. I can just picture Alien stumbling through the dry ice onto their Bacofoil and tinsel-festooned stage with this as their intro tape. A few spooky backwards masked spoken vocals, which I shan't translate for you as I value my stylus too much, add to the bargain basement atmospherics. Any misapprehension that we're listening to a Hawkwind outtake quickly evaporates with the decidedly meat and potatoes, NWOBHM-style riff and sub-Vince Neil yelp that heralds the arrival of Cosmic Fantasy, a track that is more earthbound than celestial, but dumb fun aplenty nevertheless. The riff sounds like a variation on one that's been used to good effect by both Bad News (Warriors of Genghis Khan) and Scorpions (Crazy World). Some convincing twin kick drums drive the song along. Sonically, we're in Raven and Tygers of Pan Tang territory here.

Star Lover features vocals that soar to almost waist height, weighed down by lyrics that undoubtedly benefit from being largely unintelligible. The guitar solo sounds like a couple of stray cats rutting in an alleyway.

Headbangin' features lyrical gems like "we're a hard rockin' band, we're  playin' as loud as we can, just trying to get what I need, headbanging in the street" and one of those 'momma always told me...'-type lyrics that are the bread and butter of third-tier Metal bands. What is it with Heavy Metal bands in the 1980s wanting to share the mundane advice their mothers gave them? It's either that or we have men who haven't seen the inside of a classroom for a decade or more, telling us that they're too cool for school or that they don't give a damn what their teachers tell them. Roxann Harlow's kick-arse twin kick assault provides an unfaltering rhythmic foundation on which Alien's two guitarists trade solos, but there's nothing much to distinguish them from one another - same tone, same style - serviceable, but nothing that would have had Tipton and Downing looking nervously over their shoulders. I can confirm that this song is indeed suitable for headbanging and is vaguely reminiscent of early Mötley Crüe.

Side two's opening gambit, Don't Say Goodbye,  sounds like a stab at writing something radio-friendly. It features an uncredited female on co-lead vocals (presumably drummer Roxann Harlow). On this evidence, Alien might have wanted to get her out front more regularly. A choppy rhythm guitar combines with a sensitively picked chorus-effected guitar with pleasing results.

Final track Cosmic Fantasy shares more than just its title with its namesake on side one, as it is, as far as I can be arsed to ascertain, exactly the same track. What's the point of that then? To its credit, I had no overwhelming urge to take the record off before it had finished, so I guess the song ain't so bad. A bit more backwards mumbo jumbo and some cheap and cheerful sound effects give the impression that Alien have returned to whatever planet they came from. A mini-LP, short and sweet.

As is often the case, the stories that attach themselves to a band after they call it a day help us to contextualise and evaluate their music and its ranking in the rock 'n' roll footnote hierarchy. Singer Frank Starr found his true home when he resurfaced in the early Nineties in the decidedly un-cosmic, back to basics, and rather marvellous biker-boogie band, The Four Horsemen, resolutely shaking off any lingering whiff of that Glam / Hair stigma.

Bass player Damien 'The Beast' Bardot (AKA Michael Bruno) died of cancer after 25 years on death row in Florida for the murder of a man (Lionel Merlano) at whose apartment he'd been drinking. The victim was bludgeoned with a crowbar before being shot in the head twice at point blank range. Bardot is said to have returned to Merlano's apartment numerous times to steal the victim's stereo equipment and other electronics before the body was discovered three days later. Bardot / Bruno continued to proclaim his innocence throughout his incarceration.

Bardot on death row

Unsubstantiated internet reports suggest that Roxann Harlow is now a successful business owner. She also rescues animals, and counsels troubled young women. Thank god for that ray of sunshine! Another blast of Star Lover should cheer me up!



  2. Here's ALIEN's 1982 demo & an interview from 1983 i still had. These tracks are WAAAAAAAAAAAY heavier than the Cosmic Fantasy EP. Nice write up btw :)

  3. Hey, you're not wrong about the demo being heavier. Did I hear right - is one of the tracks called 'The Atomic Age of Glitter'? That's hilarious. Shame they softened up for the EP. Great youtube channel incidentally! Cheers for the link to my blog.

  4. Hello from A.F.O.I.M.M. Planet ! D.Brian Fair !!!!

  5. Hey Donald / Brian, glad you could drop by. Thanks for the music.