- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Alice Cooper

Along Came a Spider

Steamhammer Records/SPV

There’s something quaint about Alice Cooper’s endurance. Check out the video trailers for “Along Came a Spider,” floating around online. The 60-year-old rocker is tarted up with narrow rivulets of fake blood spilling from the corners of his thin mouth and trademark mascara splotches filigreed to make his eyes resemble spiders.

Mr. Cooper, of course, is not an example of a fearsome rocker succumbing hilariously to the ravages of age. He’s been playing his act for laughs since the beginning, combining haunted-house imagery, gender-bending sexuality and a spirit of anarchic glee into a screeching panoply of adolescent wish fulfillment.

If this is your cup of tea, “Along Came a Spider,” Mr. Cooper’s 25th full-length studio album, will not disappoint. It’s a concept album, telling the first-person story of a serial killer dubbed “the Spider” who has decided to murder eight female victims - and, through an ambitious dismemberment plan, compile the detached limbs to assemble his own spider. It sounds more horrible in the retelling than it does on the album because of Mr. Cooper’s high-camp crooning style, as on the track “Catch Me if You Can.” He sings, “Which limb will I choose/ Which one gets sawed in half/ Which leg would you lose/ To an arachnophobic psychopath.”

The sound of the album makes for a nice microcosm of Mr. Cooper’s oeuvre. There is the driving metal anthem, thrumming with leaden guitars and hollow tom-tom beats. There is the softer ballad with the deceptively sweet acoustic opening. There is cowbell, perhaps not quite enough, on the track “Your Feminine Side.”

Despite the thematic extravagance, the music is fairly stripped down, without a lot of cheesy guitar effects. Drummer Eric Singer is the soul of the album. Whether frenetically bashing or coolly tapping a triangle under a guitar solo, Mr. Singer provides a striking and compelling backbone to what otherwise might be a fairly ordinary metal album.

He does some of his best work on the unrelenting “Vengeance Is Mine,” which opens with a guitar riff reminiscent of “Purple Haze” and a thunderous roll of heavy drums. Guest guitarist Slash of Guns N’ Roses fame delivers a solo that runs the length of the song.

Ozzy Osbourne guests on the track “Wake the Dead,” which bears an eerie resemblance to Beck’s “The New Pollution.” Another track, “Killed by Love,” opens with a similar chord sequence to “Hotel California” by the Eagles, but it shows off more Beatles influence, with Mr. Cooper taking a McCartneyesque approach to the vocal part. This song introduces the redemptive element to the story of Spider as he finds himself falling in love with a prospective victim.

This is the same Alice Cooper who memorably tried to induce Kermit the Frog to sell his soul to the devil on “The Muppet Show.” He’s back in fine fettle and accompanied by a tight, aggressive band. For sexagenarian metalheads who have followed Mr. Cooper from the beginning, as well as fans who have discovered him along the way, it should be a welcome return.

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