Alice Cooper

The Essentials

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For music fans looking for a compact cross section of Alice Cooper's vintage work, The Essentials is an excellent entry point. Spanning the Coop's '70s heyday, the 12 tracks here have been cherry-picked from an abundance of great material. Of the eight albums represented, five have earned platinum status (including 1973's chart-topping Billion Dollar Babies). The compilers' modus operandi seems to have been to go for Alice's most anthemic numbers and biggest ballads -- not a bad strategy. "I'm Eighteen" is top-shelf gloom-pop that rivets together the emotional shards of teen torment before closing with the defiant line "I'm eighteen and I like it!" On "School's Out" the mascara'd one gripes and growls for every kid that ever sat in math class carving graffiti into the desktop and wishing he/she was anywhere else. "Elected" towel-snaps the entire political world square in the crotch; and the ghoulish, big-riffing "Billion Dollar Babies" (with guest vocalist Donovan, no less) was a landmark in shock rock. On the softer side, it's hard to argue with selections like the perversely impassioned, big-production number "Only Women Bleed" (from 1975's Welcome to My Nightmare -- Alice's first album without his original band); the irresistibly maudlin "I Never Cry," a cut that show's that Alice really can sing without howling like a dog that stuck its head down the wrong hole; the almost-cabaret "You and Me"; and the -- believe it -- touching "How You Gonna See Me Now," with its sweeping chorus and true-life poignancy (taken from the album From the Inside about Alice's self-imposed institutionalization for alcoholism). Alice Cooper is a giant of rock. The fact that he has usually gone the nudge-and-wink route rather than take himself Led Zeppelin-seriously doesn't change the fact that he changed the face of modern music, both literally and figuratively. And this is how it all happened.

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