Cooper finds a new way to shock

New on CD

Music: in concert, CDs

October 16, 2003|By Brian McCollum | Brian McCollum,KNIGHT RIDDER / TRIBUNE

It's been a long time since Alice Cooper shocked anybody. The guy who invented the rock 'n' roll gross-out game was long ago surpassed by the acts for whom he paved the way -- Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, even Eminem.

The 1990s found Cooper making music that was about as methodical as his golf game, and it was easy to get the impression that at this point in life he was happier devoting more energy to the links than to the licks. Brutal Planet and Dragontown were halfhearted stabs at squeezing his muse into a dark industrial-rock box and followed a decade in which he'd tried the same clumsy trick with hair metal.

That's why The Eyes of Alice Cooper is genuine shock rock -- an Alice Cooper album that isn't bad. For the first time in years, the former Detroiter sounds like he's remembered the kind of stuff that made him successful to begin with: catchy rock 'n' roll with wiry muscles and a tongue firmly inserted in cheek. While he hasn't quite latched on to the latest trend du jour -- garage rock -- he has made a record that sounds inspired by today's back-to-basics mood.

For Cooper, getting back to basics means getting back to the vibe of "Welcome to My Nightmare" and "Billion Dollar Babies," and that venerable mid-'70s spirit is captured from the new record's opening cut, "What Do You Want From Me?" Like many of these 13 tracks, it's got all the Alice Cooper essentials: a taut riff, a huge chorus and a snarky, sleazy lyric about romantic frustration. "Bye Bye, Baby" attaches a frisky horn section to the proceedings -- 1971, anyone? -- while "I'm So Angry" and "Backyard Brawl" ramp up the distortion and furnish the shout-along refrains.

Avoiding the overproduced mess of recent work, Cooper's got his band playing like a band again.

Appropriately enough, the album's best song is a swaggering anthem called "Detroit City," an ode to the scene that bequeathed Cooper his rock 'n' roll endowment: "Play it loud and fast/Make that guitar blast/Play it like today will be your last."

Sketching the lines that connect old and new -- "The kid was in his crib/Shady wore a bib" -- it's an entertaining little homage from the Arizona emigrant who obviously has a soft spot for the mean streets.

There are missteps here, most notably the tepid ballad "Be With You Awhile" and the Sebadoh-styled "Song That Didn't Rhyme." But they're minor blemishes on an album that stands out for making Alice Cooper sound like he cares again. You don't have to love it to death to like it a lot.

Alice Cooper

The Eyes of Alice Cooper (Eagle Records) ***

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