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By Michael Henningsen

JUNE 1, 1999: 

Alice Cooper The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper (Rhino/Warner Archives)

Bob Dylan once called him an overlooked songwriter. KISS, the New York Dolls, Mötley Crüe, Trent Reznor, Marilyn Manson, Madonna, Cheap Trick, W.A.S.P., John Lydon and a literal host of others call him their most important influence. Your parents probably called him the Antichrist, or some variation thereof. But pretty much the entire world knows him simply as Alice Cooper, King of Shock Rock.

But anyone who listens--and pays attention--to Rhino's four-CD (pine) box set retrospective on the man will quickly realize that there's more to Alice Cooper than grease paint and sequined tights. More to him, even, than deceased divas named Ethyl, dead chickens and an endless (and endlessly entertaining) variety of on-stage suicides and executions. Dylan was quite on the mark when he characterized Cooper as an underrated songwriter. Through the years, Alice Cooper has authored and/or co-authored more than 200 songs that range from the nightmarish and wickedly funny to the downright romantic. These songs make up a discography--so far--of 25 albums and have influenced countless bands. Several of his records (Love It to Death and Killer in particular) have even changed the face of rock music. His live shows, twisted as they may be, have long defined the perfect marriage of theater and rock 'n' roll. Alice Cooper is a true original.

The quartet of discs in this set trace through the life, times and music of Alice Cooper via careful track selection, while the extensive 80-page booklet is full of historical context, song-by-song commentary, a comprehensive discography and a slew of never-before-seen photographs. And while it doesn't pretend to be a complete retrospective, it is a masterful collection of essential Alice Cooper recordings, representing each important period and direction change in his 30-year career. From early recordings by The Nazz and The Spiders, to classics by the Alice Cooper Group (and, later, simply Alice Cooper), Rhino's latest repackaging effort is quite extraordinary in every regard.

A dozen previously released tracks complement a cache of glam rock classics that include "I'm Eighteen," "Under My Wheels," "Be My Lover" and, of course, every 17-year-old's graduation anthem, "School's Out." What many listeners may find surprising, though, is the quality of Alice Cooper's lesser known material. Songs like "Desperado" and "Who Do You Think We Are," with their subtle complexities, lend credibility to the mass marketed side of the band.

In all, though, the best thing about The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper may be that it stands as a reliable archive for longtime fans as well as a tightly woven compendium for the uninitiated--a sort of Cliff's Notes version of a career that's approaching the three decade mark. Alice Cooper, of course, isn't (or is it aren't?) for everyone, but Life and Crimes is one of the best retrospectives Rhino has released so far, both in its subject matter and design. A better historical account and/or introduction to Alice Cooper you will not find. ¡¡¡¡¡

Gene Loves Jezebel VII (Robison Records)

Despite immense mid-'80s success, Gene Loves Jezebel never quite escaped the "men in muumuus" stereotype. That's unfortunate, because Jay Aston was one of the best songwriters of the new wave-glam revival of the era. Their hits were sweeping, hook-laden, hold-your-lighter-up classics, spun on great guitar work by James Stevenson and Michael Aston's kitschy, white boy dance moves. Problem was, their misses, including most of their later material, were just as gargantuan, eventually putting the band's lights out. A reunion several years ago represented a new hope, but it didn't last long due to bickering between brothers.

VII finds Gene Loves Jezebel reunited again, this time with the classic lineup sans Michael Aston. Beyond that, it's not a remarkable record. It starts off strong with "Love Keeps Dragging Me Down" and "Who Wants to Go to Heaven?," but falters shortly thereafter with songs that come across more as afterthoughts than the well-oiled melodic numbers fans are hungry for. Of course, it could be worse. A lot worse, in fact. GLJ fans will no doubt preach loudly the second coming. Those on the fence will likely remain comfortably seated. ¡¡¡


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