It has to be all the golfing he does. Like his fellow aging hard rockers Ronnie James Dio and Lemmy Kilminster, who continue to sound strong as they approach the 60, Alice Cooper remains seemingly ageless. He’s still very trim, and sounds the same as he did more than two decades ago. Not only that, but the guy has a knack for staying in the public eye, be it as a spokesperson for Callaway, starring in cute Staples ads, owning his Alice Cooperstown restaurants in Phoenix and Cleveland, or being so bold as to declare his support for the Republican Party during the most recent US election campaign. Sports, stationary, food, and politics aside, music remains Coop’s focus. After his much-ballyhooed comeback in 1986, Cooper hit paydirt with 1989’s Trash, highlighted by the massively popular, Desmond Child-penned gem “Poison”, which would turn out to be the last great single of the ‘80s pop metal era. Although his album sales dipped over the next 15 years, Copper kept churning out the music, from 1992’s jubilant Hey Stoopid, to the 1994 concept album The Last Temptation, to 2002’s harder-edged The Eyes of Alice Cooper. Ably backed up by a rotating cadre of younger musicians (something he’s been doing since 1986), Alice Cooper’s music, while never earth-shattering, has always been infused with a snarky, youthful energy that belies his age.
Every so often, Cooper shifts from heavier, theatrical albums, to more accessible fare, and every time he softens his sound a bit, ever the huckster, he always heralds it as a return to the sound of the 1971 classic Billion Dollar Babies. However, for all the hype, the record never winds up resembling that timeless album at all (case in point: the polished Trash, which catered to the Guns ‘N Roses crowd more than vintage glam rock). Which makes his latest, Dirty Diamonds, all the more surprising, because not only has Cooper put out his catchiest album since Trash, but he and his guitarists Ryan Roxie and Damon Johnson, have truly nailed the old Babies sound, combining the retro sound with a few modern touches, and doing so with pure panache.
By revisiting the testosterone-fueled riff-rock of such early ‘70s tunes as “Under My Wheels”, “Muscle of Love”, and “Department of Youth”, and tossing in healthy doses of ‘80s cock rock (very similar to what Turbonegro has done in recent years), Dirty Diamonds adds some much-needed fun to today’s modern rock music. The swaggering “Woman of Mass Distraction” kicks off the album in style, the combination of acoustic guitar and slippery lead guitar fills bearing an incredible resemblance to Alice Cooper’s original guitar duo of Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton. The exuberant “Steal That Car” and the cheeky “Your Own Worst Enemy” are effective bursts of barroom rawk, but it’s the acid-tongued glam extravaganza “Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)” that steals the show, a ridiculously catchy piece of ‘70s sleaze pop that has Cooper taking a poke at the current generation of spoiled diva brats.
What many people tend to forget about Billion Dollar Babies is just how diverse a record it actually is, and Dirty Diamonds, too, has its share of twists and turns. “Perfect” has Cooper and his band delivering a laconic groove, much like T. Rex, while the tongue-in-cheek country ballad “The Saga of Jesse Jane” features the kind of deliciously over-the-top performance he dared to pull off three decades ago, as Cooper mimics Johnny Cash, singing about a cross-dressing truck driver who listens to Judy Garland. “Zombie Dance” goes for a more nocturnal, blues-drenched, “Midnight Rambler” feel. The bold, slinky cover of Lefte Bank’s “Pretty Ballerina” works very well, especially when contrasted with Cooper’s macabre persona.
For all its positive attributes, the album can’t avoid a couple of woefully self-indulgent moments. The sludgy “Run the Devil Down” lacks the charisma of the album’s better tracks, awash in a swamp of turgid riffs. Even worse is the near-embarrassing “Stand”, a duet with rapper Xzibit that has Cooper clumsily aping Rob Zombie’s blend of hip hop, dance, and metal, with very awkward results. However, two crummy tracks are a small price to pay on an otherwise superior disc. It’s not the album of the year by any stretch, and it won’t generate the kind of sales that Trash did, but seeing a hard-working hard rock vet like Alice Cooper mark a welcome return to form is one of the year’s more welcome surprises.