Monday, March 18, 2013

Review- Alice Cooper/ Old School (1964-1974)

Alice Cooper/ Old School (1964-1974) (Nightmare/ Universal)
This was originally released in 2011 as a super limited edition deluxe box set. This 2012 reissue is comprised of 4 CDs in a hardcover book with a booklet. It lacks the extras in the original pressing but has all of the music and, most importantly, is way more affordable. If you are a casual Alice fan then this might not be for you. If you are a diehard or a fan of the original Alice Cooper band then this is a must buy. This is the holy grail and a necessary companion to The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper box set.
Disc One (Treasures One) starts off with a Spiders song not found on the aforementioned box set. Since these are demos, the sound quality is of a lower fidelity than a standard album, but I love raw mixes and hearing the limitations of analog tape. Your mileage may vary. This is like a super high quality bootleg at times, while other songs sound like album quality. It is all essential listening. Of particular interest is Fields of Regret (Chicago Underground). The instrumental portion in the middle would later appear on Halo of Flies. It's fascinating to hear all of these early versions of classics with different lyrics and arrangements.
Disc Two (Treasures Two) is even better. The School's Out demos are sweet, as you get to hear all sorts of studio banter and joking in between and during songs. Kid's Session (School's Out Kids Session) is just Alice and Bob Ezrin talking to the kids who provided the backing vocals on School's Out. Hearing them go over their lines over and over. Bob Ezrin is a true genius, by the way. I've always thought this but it seems like the man isn't given enough credit for his contributions to the albums he's produced. Outtakes/My Stars (School's Out Pre-production) is fantastic, as the tempo shifts found on the album version are not present here. It's a totally different beast, more of a groover than a rocker. Never Been Sold Before (Muscle of Love Demos and Rehearsals) sounds like Headlines off of Flush the Fashion in this arrangement to me.
Disc Three (In Their Own Words) is a series of interviews from various eras. I thought that this was going to be painfully dull but it turned out to be fascinating and highly entertaining. I've always thought that Alice Cooper was a lyrical genius and that he had to be smart, but he is also incredibly witty. I love the early interview where he and Dennis Dunaway are talking about the chicken incidents that occurred at early shows, especially those in Canada. Alice's comment that “Canadian chickens are better. They're more theatrical.” is pure genius. I've been a fan for decades; even so, I learned a ton of facts from these interviews. The Frank Zappa stories are also hilarious. Like I said, I thought that this disc would be a chore but it was not.
Disc Four (BOOTLEG CD- Killer Live St. Louis 1971) is the crown jewel of the box. Taken from a soundboard recording of the December 17, 1971 concert, it is one of those moments when you wish that everyone in the crowd had a cellphone video camera to capture it. So many brilliant moments lost to the mists of time. Thankfully someone taped this. This is the original Alice Cooper band in peak form, razor sharp and bent on world domination. It's funny to think of in modern terms, but most headliners back then only played for an hour or so. The band played 10 songs that night, 7 off of the then-new Killer album and 3 off of Love It To Death, released in February of that year. Most folks didn't realize that the band had two albums out before that, and the band generally ignored them. Halo of Flies is incredible. I've heard Alice do it live, but obviously never the original band. I work with a lady that is 66 who saw Alice play at the long defunct Eastown Theatre in Detroit around this time. She talked about the electric chair, so that show was probably within a month of this performance.
The original band was something really special. They were all great players, all unorthodox, but they knew their way around their instruments. This box set captures the brilliance of this band and the debauchery and outrage of the era. I strongly urge everyone who is a fan of the early stuff to pick this box set up. I balked at the price of the original pressing but am glad that I stumbled upon this “standard consumer edition” of it. Punk Rock and Heavy Metal would not have happened without Alice Cooper. The people of Earth owe him a debt of gratitude that they can never repay.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.

The OCD zone- This area is strictly about packaging and is not for the faint of heart.
Paper rating: 5 out of 5. The booklet has superb thick coated stock paper.
Binding rating: 4 out of 5. The booklet is glued in the middle of the cover. The CD's are on those horrendous hubs found in DVD boxes, where the second disc on each side cannot be removed without taking the one on top off first. These hubs are on the inside cover of the book. Because of the glued binding and thick paper stock, the booklet does not lay flat and must be pried open with two hands to read. Nit-picky? Sho' nuff. This is the OCD zone, folks. It's what I do.
Hardback cover coating rating: 4 out of 5. The hardback itself has a uniform dull matte finish coating with two exceptions: the heart logo on the front cover and the spine. Those have a separate glossy screen print coating to them. The coating seems sufficient enough that it should resist scuffing and shelfwear with reasonable handling. If you treat your CDs like the Samsonite gorilla you'll be disappointed.

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