Before there was Kiss, before there was Marilyn Manson, there was Alice Cooper.
Back in his seventies heyday, as the guy who more or less grandfathered the whole concept of rock theatre (or as it is most commonly known, "shock rock"), Alice Cooper was regarded as a genuine threat to the youth of America by just about everyone in a position of authority — from parents to the clergy to the law.
Which of course meant that the kids loved him. During their brief run on top in the mid-seventies, behind such classic albums as School's Out and Billion Dollar Babies the original Alice Cooper band was the biggest concert attraction on the planet. No small wonder, considering that the group's stage shows were grand spectacles that always ended with Alice himself being executed onstage — usually either by hanging or guillotine.
Unlike Kiss and Manson though, Alice also backed up the theatrics with great songs like "I'm Eighteen," "School's Out," and "Billion Dollar Babies."
In real life however, that same dizzying experience took its toll on Alice and nearly did him in for real. As the lines between the Alice Cooper character and the actual human being with the Christian name of Vince Furnier became increasingly blurred, Alice sought his own refuge in a bottle (actually, make that several cans of Budweiser) on pretty much a non-stop basis. Eventually, Alice had to check himself out of the game and into the hospital.
Alice has since comeback a couple of times, garnering hits with the solo Welcome To My Nightmare album, and then once more in the eighties with the song "Poison." But he never really did match that original run in the seventies when he was the single most feared man in America (well, by the adults anyway).
These days, Alice is clean and sober, a born again Christian, and a family man (Alice's daughter is even part of his stage show as a dancer). But even though he's toned down his act some (the sexier, x-rated gender bending bits are gone these days), he's still pushing the horror rock angle, touring the country six months out of every year. The venues may be smaller, but they are still nearly always sold out, and in addition to the old classic rock dogs you'd expect, Alice is also reaching a newer, younger group of fans.
On the new Along Came A Spider, Alice has also returned to what he does best, and that is crunchy riff-rock with hooks, while also spinning a pretty gruesome little horror tale. The album is told from the perspective of Spider, a serial killer who wraps his victims in silk. As the bodies stack up throughout the course of the album, the killer eventually is done in by falling for one of his victims.
For the album, Alice has recruited producers Danny Saber and Greg Hampton, and is backed by members of his longtime touring band including drummer Eric Singer, bassist Chuck Garric, and guitarists Keri Kelli and Jason Hook.
The songs themselves are also surprisingly good. Songs like "I'm Hungry" and "Vengeance Is Mine" (which features a guitar solo from Alice fan Slash) show that Alice still has a way with a good hard rock hook in the songwriting department. "The One That Got Away" even sounds a bit like vintage Killer era Alice — kind of a cross between "Under My Wheels" and "Be My Lover." Alice also still shows he can write a great ballad on "Killed By Love."
Alice's voice — once, one of the best and most original sounding in rock — also appears to have held up quite well, although you don't hear as many snarls and screams here as in the old days. And his band serves him well here too, sounding both young and hungry. The hard rock guitars crackle with fury and the rhythm section holds it all down like a well oiled machine.
Still, there's really nothing here as memorable as "I'm Eighteen" or "School's Out." But while I don't expect Along Came A Spider to be returning Alice to the glory days of platinum records and packed arenas (and at 60 I doubt he would want, or could even take another wild ride like the one he had in the seventies), it's still good to know that the master is still out there practicing the art that he more or less single handedly created.