One listen to "The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper" reinforces the notion that Marilyn Manson is just a new dog doing old tricks. Alice Cooper was the original shock-rocker, the first to effectively connect rock's over-the-top theatricality with the twin influences of horror films and comics. In retrospect, the antics of Cooper, a minister's son born Vincent Furnier, seem tame: mock executions by guillotine, gallows and electric chair; the live boa constrictor; the thick black makeup dripping down his face, making him look like a demented demon.
All that has tended to obscure his band's rock bona fides, a situation redressed in this new four-CD set from Warner Archives/Rhino. It collects 81 tracks, from early group efforts in Phoenix as the Spiders and the Nazz to the band Alice Cooper's '70s songbook and latter-day solo projects by the man Alice Cooper (the name Furnier eventually adopted legally).
The set kicks off with 1966's "Don't Blow Your Mind," a regional hit for the Spiders, and the harmless Nazz single "Lay Down and Die, Goodbye." By 1968, the band had evolved into Alice Cooper and moved to Los Angeles, hooking up with kindred troublemaker Frank Zappa. Unfortunately, the band's desire to alienate its audience proved all too effective, evidenced by the rhythmically fractured "Nobody Likes Me."
Two years later, the band moved to Detroit, hooked up with producer Bob Ezrin, soaked up the raucous energy of the MC5, the Stooges and Grand Funk Railroad, and emerged with a new sound--tighter, tougher and heavy with hooks.
The band's first chart action came with "Caught in a Dream," but it was "I'm Eighteen" that elevated the band to superstar status. "Eighteen," released in 1971, addressed the pain and loneliness of growing up in terms so familiar to its audience that it became as much of a youth anthem as "My Generation" was in the '60s and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" would be in the '90s.
It was followed by such theatrical wig-outs as "Ballad of Dwight Fry," "Welcome to My Nightmare" and "Dead Babies" ("our most misunderstood song," Cooper says), generational anthems like "School's Out" and such minor hits as "No More Mr. Nice Guy" and "Only Women Bleed."
Cooper and the band split in 1974 and he never seemed to get back on track, releasing albums that often seemed like self-parody. Among the few strong later tracks are "Poison," "Hey Stoopid" and "From the Inside," written with Bernie Taupin after a rehab stint for alcoholism. And Cooper's reputation was rehabbed by the movie "Wayne's World," when Wayne and Garth knelt before their beloved idol and declared themselves "not worthy."
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8185.)
CAPTION: In his new four-CD anthology, the shock-rocker seems tame by '90s standards.