Nothing says 'hazy summer afternoon' like a born-again Christian pro-golfer's take on the exploits of a wannabe anti-Spiderman serial killer.
Yes, Alice Cooper's released album 6, 666 (probably), 'Along Came a Spider'. A piece of musical theatre, the album revolves around a spider-like serial killer busy collecting the limbs of his eight female victims to build his own - presumably female - spidery play-zombie. It’s an open invitation to throw any semblance you ever had of taking shock-rock seriously out the window – more appropriately, to banish it to the deepest pits of rock-snob hell. Once you've done that, you're free to enjoy Cooper's latest work for the unabashed, horns-in-the-air nod to the age of Hammer Horror and pedestrian zombies that it is.
The band, Alice’s touring band, sounds tighter and more together than they have in years, but the guest slots alone make the album worth a listen: Slash contributes a magnificent old-school guitar solo to anthemic second track 'Vengence Is Mine' and, in a move of sheer crazed genius, the harmonica solo on 'Wake The Dead' is provided by none other than Ozzy Osbourne.
There's less of an industrial flavour to this album - this time around it's all Rocky Horror meets Twisted Sister - which is peculiarly relevant given that the Nine Inch Nails latest album, 'The Slip', is released on CD this week, and that Trent 'NIN' Reznor discovered, produced, fell out with and then reconciled with Cooper’s closest rival, Marilyn Manson. Unlike Manson, however, Alice Cooper has always been an act – in interviews, Alice refers to him in the third person - and his skill as a performer is an attribute that makes this album. It's why a born-again Christian can get away with singing 'I've got some chloroform and some handcuffs/Just for you' only tracks before the well-intended - but as lyrically subtle as being slammed around the head with a copy of the King James - penultimate track 'Salvation'.
That 'Salvation' is overturned by 70s-budget-horror epic 'I am the spider/epilogue' is perhaps a glimpse of the seething underbelly that lies beneath the shimmering Alice Cooper trademark, the discomfort that must come from making a reputation bating the religious right before, oh, becoming one of them. As Cooper sings on 'Wrapped in Silk': 'Where did you get that skin/It covers up all your sin/I wonder what’s underneath’. Does knowing that Cooper is an evangelical Republican de-fang the spider? Not really. Alice is as believable in the role of sneering-leering stalker as he is playing love-struck and in need of redemption. If you're a long standing Cooper fan, this is a fascinating album, a veiled glimpse at the demons of the Prince-of-Darkness made good. If you're not a long standing fan, you can still shred air guitar to Slash's trademark and solo and headbang along to the epic choruses. A solid all-rounder, then - and to so conclude a review of a shock-rock concept album is a fitting tribute to Alice Cooper’s 60 years of contradiction defying, melodramatic, tongue-in-cheek music-hall rock .