#2. Alice Cooper: Anything With Steven
Don't think the Seagulls are the only ones to take the football of decent storytelling and vomit all over it like a group of musical Mark Sanchezes. Turns out Alice Cooper is quite adept at that as well.
Billion Dollar Buttfumbles
Cooper's solo debut album after breaking up with his previous band, Alice Cooper (yep), was called Welcome to My Nightmare. It chronicled the tragic tale of a disturbed little boy named Steven who had horrible nightmares about spiders and domestic abuse. Sadly, that's about it. His nights sucked because he had bad dreams. Isn't that kind of a thing everybody has, like, all the time?
Near the end of the album, Steven wakes up (one of the few times they make it clear what happened) and we learn that he had a wife whom he apparently killed. So now he's an adult? Was he dreaming about being a kid? Because then there's a sequel album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare, which very much presents him as a boy dominated by bad dreams again. Sometimes. In the end, he dies and goes to hell, which is one of the few nightmares where they actually reference him. I'm starting to think that Cooper did not outline Steven's life story properly in between lines of coke and speed.
All this is dreadfully confusing enough on its own, but then Steven started popping up on other Cooper albums, and not one appearance makes sense. Sometimes he's a juvenile delinquent, other times he's the voice inside a serial killer's head, other times he's a regular little boy who just can't stop having scary dreams. And none of this comes together in the slightest.
Let's put it this way: Cooper's Steven concept is so convoluted and so botched that my attempt to describe it for your edutainment was one of the most difficult bits of writing I've ever done. I'm still not sure if I pulled it off. I'd write a sentence, then find something else in another song that made something else in another song make even less sense than the zero sense it had already been making, and then I'd have to change it all again. Italics.
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Look, ambiguity is fine and happy, but utter confusion is not. This is like when a 4-year-old tries to tell a story but constantly starts over because she just remembered an earlier part that she forgot to tell you. Also, the main character is a bear, then a goat, then a cat, then a bear again, but with a cat head. Am I saying Alice Cooper is a 4-year-old girl? Maybe.
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"Honey, have you been playing with my makeup again?"
How It Could Have Worked:
Give Steven's story an actual beginning, middle, and end, and then follow through until completion. And when I say beginning, I mean BEGINNING. There is no reason to only mention the main character once or twice an album, usually not until the very end. Cooper's other concept album, Along Came a Spider, shows that he actually can tell a coherent tale, so the whole Steven thing is even less excusable.
Oh, and if all of this is indeed just disjointed dreaming inside the head of a twisted little kid, that might be the flimsiest excuse to write spooky music in history. After a couple decades of golf clubs and jump ropes, Alice probably needs all the excuses he can muster.
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#1. Marilyn Manson: The Triptych Trilogy
Marilyn Manson, who you might remember as the guy who wasn't in The Wonder Years no matter how many email forwards and Facebook posts insist that he totally was, has long been seen as his generation's Alice Cooper. This not only applies to acting all scary and Satan-like, but also to completely mucking up the basic idea of telling a fucking story.
To hear Manson say it, three of his albums -- Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals, and Holy Wood -- are supposed to be one big, long, connected storyline. Called the Triptych Trilogy, the albums chronicle the rise and fall of a cynical, misunderstood rock star martyr. To make it even more intriguing, the story is told in reverse order: Antichrist, which was released first, was the finale, and Holy Wood, the most recent release, provides the opening chapters.
While this was more or less totally unnecessary, it's still a rather innovative concept. Yet there's a problem here, and it isn't your typical Marilyn Manson problem.
Like the local bookstore being sold out of Bibles he could burn onstage.
No, quite simply, Manson's trilogy doesn't even make the tiniest piss stain of sense; the main character in Holy Wood is not mentioned at all in the other albums, even though it's supposedly the same guy the entire time. And the actual city of Holy Wood isn't mentioned even once in the other two albums. Maybe they blew it up? If so, you'd think that would've been worth some song time, instead of blatant controversy bait like rhyming "distortion" with "abortion."
All throughout the three albums, everything Manson sings about remains ridiculously vague -- his metaphors are inconsistent, characters appear and disappear at will, and there doesn't seem to be an actual beginning or an end to his protagonist's tale. Luckily (if that's what you want to call it), Manson has an excuse: This trilogy was never supposed to be a trilogy. I'll pause while you get over that Scanners-level mind-blowing revelation.
"No. Fuck you. I'm not doing it. Give me a real reason to."
He had originally written Animals as a sequel to Antichrist, but fan backlash over Animals' glammy creepy-David-Bowie-meets-even-creepier-David-Bowie bullshit prompted him to ret-con it as a prequel about the character "selling out." Well, shit, that explains the real-life selling out perfectly! So, something written as a sequel became a prequel after the fact. That's like if Memento only decided to become Memento halfway through the film, expecting you to slam your head against the table a thousand times until you forgot everything you just saw.
Manson then released Holy Wood, which conveniently sounded a lot like Antichrist, satisfying the "you sold out" crowd that people love to cater to for whatever reason. It was sold as a prequel to Animals, before the character "sold out," something Manson never did, nosireebob. Poor Animals was now a betweenquel of a trilogy that had never been laid out, planned, or even considered before then.
"All right, fine. You've convinced me. I'll do it."
How It Could Have Worked:
All it would take is one stinkin' book, and the previous 500 words would never have existed. Manson promised a novel, also entitled Holy Wood, which would explain everything about this mess of a trilogy. So of course it doesn't exist. It was never completed, and it likely never will be completed, since such a massive amount of ret-conning and backtracking would likely take more years than Manson has left on this planet.