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On Second Listen: Alice Cooper – Along Came A Spider

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A day in the life of the ultimate King of Shock Rock, aka Alice Cooper, aka Vincent Furnier, must be a pleasant day to behold. Not only does the man spend his days playing golf and visiting Milwaukee often, he also has time to tour, write new music, groom new musicians for critical acclaim (Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, previously and in particular) and still ride a wave of pure rock and roll heaven. With the return of the Shock Rocker, in his twenty-fifth release, Along Came A Spider, Cooper’s newest record is a stark departure from his earlier efforts. While there may not be nice guys on this record — and school has been out for at least three decades — Spider climbs the water spout with a few gems on its back, but departs quite quickly.

The album is a straightforward concept album regarding a serial killer named Spider. Coincidentally, each song resembles a chapter/episode of the killer’s diary which begins with “Prologue/I Know Where You Live”. Arming himself with top notch musicians that include former KISS drummer Eric Singer and guitarists Danny Saber and Greg Hampton, Cooper makes it clear that this is no ordinary record, even including cameo appearances by Slash and Ozzy Osbourne, among others.

While the concept sounds enticing at first, the record quickly divulges into a spiral of mediocrity and overproduction. “Prologue” begins with a voice-over, narrating the events of Spider’s journal, which has been discovered. Afterward, a series of classic rock-timbered chords kick in and begin the song from the get go. While overall its a pretty decent offering from Cooper, vocally he’s somewhat off and comes out rather hot in the mix. For an opener, it hits with a thud and really just doesn’t work; in other words, it’s somewhat of a lame way to open the album.

“Vengeance Is Mine” is a bit better, especially with Slash on guitar. The drums are heavy and the guitars are fine, but the overall production quality of these songs so far are pretty slick. Gone are the days of “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy” production values and instead there are the formidable recording tools of the 2000’s.  As mentioned before, while Cooper’s newest material is decent at best, the production of this album makes it seem like a larger than life work, when all it really needs is to be stripped down and raw as hell. On a positive note however, Slash still wails and gives one of his best guitar solos ever here.

The next few tunes are “Wake The Dead” (with Ozzy Osbourne on backing vocals), “Catch Me If You Can” and the AC/DC inspired “(In Touch) With Your Feminine Side”. “Wake The Dead” stalls in first gear for pretty much the entire duration of the song, “Catch Me If You Can” is a fairly decent number but suffers from the overproduction flu and “Feminine Side” proves to be the strongest tune on the record. Cooper sounds his best and throughout this stumble of an album, “Feminine Side” proves to be his scariest and sinister. By far a great Cooper cut to add to the live tours, but that’s roughly about it.

The Judas Priest influenced “Wrapped In Silk” continues in the riff rocking tradition Cooper and his contemporaries kick started in the 70’s. In terms of recording, this seems to be the least affected and certainly sounds awesome. Much like “Feminine Side”, “Silk” picks up the slack of this letdown of the Shock Rocker’s twenty-fifth album.

The worst song here and probably one of the worst blunders in recording ever is “The One That Got Away”.  What seems like pages ripped out of the script for 1991’s The Silence Of The Lambs, Cooper reverts into his journal, regaling over his one victim that got away and that it “must be your lucky day…”, similar to Ted Bundy.  While the song is a typical verse-chorus-verse-guitar solo schematic, the worst part is the voice over by his daughter, Calico Cooper. While it appears to be tongue-in-cheek (and how can you take Alice Cooper seriously?), even by these standards, the voice over kills whatever potential this song had going for it. I don’t even wanna give it away, but if you hear it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

As we reach the finish line, ending with the piano ballad “Salvation” and the final number “I Am The Spider/Epilogue”, Cooper’s trek through his first album since 2005’s Dirty Diamonds is somewhat of a time-consuming and painful one. While Satriani and Vai are nowhere near this record, the musicians here are good for it. However, the production kills what potential this story/music/performance/whatever you call it has and becomes a garbled mess.  Just like the Canadian quartet Sum 41 said before, “All killer, no filler”…Cooper’s newest offering unfortunately is just the exact opposite.

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