July 28, 2008

CD Review: Alice Cooper - Along Came A Spider

Alice Cooper is an endlessly intriguing figure, emerging from the late 1960's he purposefully deciding to create an over the top theatrical persona, wishing to take the mantle of rock and roll bad boy. He succeeded at his goal and did not stop there; he pushed the limits of what was considered good taste, resulting in his getting banned from venues all over the world. He led his band into uncharted waters of theatrical rock and roll, inspiring everyone from KISS to Rob Zombie to Marilyn Manson, to Gwar. Without Alice we would be missing a large chunk of theatrical rock music. Now, nearly forty years after the release of his first album, Alice Cooper still nows how to hit all the right notes. Along Came A Spider is a rocking album that is deceptively upbeat as it spins its tale of a schizophrenic serial killer.

I must admit that my path has only crossed with Alice's on a few occasions. I cannot explain why I never actively sought out his music, as I have enjoyed so much of what I have heard over the years. The standouts from my experience would have to be Billion Dollar Babies (which was a late encounter), Raise Your Fist and Yell, Trash (both coming around the time I got into music), The Last Temptation of Alice (which drew me in with its comic book connections), and most recently Dirty Diamonds. Yes, there have been other songs that have entered my ears, but for some reason they were very far between. Also, for some reason I was not even aware of recent releases like Brutal Planet and Dragontown. I did review Dirty Diamonds, and it seems pretty telling that I wrote "This is a fun album which seems likely to be overlooked by many, although it deserves better than that." Makes me wonder what else I may have missed.

With Along Came A Spider, it appears that Alice has gone through some sort of rejuvenation, perhaps he took a dip in thbe Lazarus Pit. This album sounds like old school Alice blended with a more modern production sound. It is a step up from Dirty Diamonds, which, while good, sounds more like an album that would come out at the tail end of a career, where Along Came A Spider sounds like it came from an artist with a lot more left to give.

Taken as a whole, it is easy to get wrapped up in the web that Alice spins, as we listen to Spider go into the details of murdering young women, wrapping them in silk and removing one of their legs. The concept may be held together by loose threads, but it is easy to follow the narrative from its prologue, where Spider's diary is found through to the epilogue where Spider talks of what they must have thought from his writings.

To be completely honest, this album rocks, with the hard rocking "Vengeance is Mine" opening the festivities in earnest. The song also features Slash sitting in on guitar, delivering a rocking solo. Slash is not the only star to be involved, as Ozzy Osbourne co-wrote "Wake the Dead" and provides some harmonica to the rocker.

In addition to the hard rocking cuts, there is another side of classic Alice to make an appearance on the album. You see, I may not be the most knowledgable of Alice's history, but I do know that while he can turn it up, rock out, and perform live decapitations, Alice likes to show his softer side as well. His inner balladeer appears with songs like "Killed by Love" and "Salvation," the latter with a near epic tone that attempts to imbue Spider with the slightest bit of humanity. Now, although the songs may appear to be on the softer side, don't think that Alice is going soft. The songs have an edge of darkness, playing along the edge of evil. There are few that come close to equaling Alice Cooper's ability to marry the soft and the evil sides of music in one song.

With Alice leading the charge with his inimitable voice, he has assembled a solid group of musicians around him. Keri Kelli (Big Bang Babies, Saints of the Underground) and Jason Hook handle guitar duties, with Chuck Garric on bass, and Eric Singer (KISS) behind the drum kit.

Bottomline. Alice Cooper has done it again, delivered a strong album that should not be overlooked. He has crafted a loose tale of murder, dismemberment, and evil with a soundtrack that is deceptively upbeat. He even ties it in with an older release, mentioning Steven of Welcome to My Nightmare fame. Cooper obviously still has it, and I look forward to whatever he has to deliver in the future.



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