Alice Cooper’s career longevity is a testament to the power of artistic detachment. Ever since he became one of the first celebs to check himself into rehab (back when it was still called “the asylum”), Vincent Furnier has realized that his livelihood and sanity depend on treating his ghoulish alter ego as a business tool to be trotted out when it’s expedient and sent straight back into the closet when it isn’t.
We call that playacting, which is what Cooper gets up to on Along Came a Spider, his 25th studio album and a nod to the faux-novelistic concept records he made with Bob Ezrin in the 1970s. Over the course of an 11-song suite, Cooper assumes the persona of “The Spider,” a crafty serial killer who dismembers his victims and wraps them in silk. This is hardly a stretch for a guy whose toy box already overflows with Dwight Frye and black widows, and narrative variety is not among the new disc’s several virtues: Nearly three-quarters of the songs are internal monologues in which the slavering killer touts his indomitable will and lays out his nasty plans for his prey. “You look like you’d fit in the trunk of my car,” he’s still gurgling by the ninth track, all but imploring us to guffaw at the single-minded stoopidity.
What makes it all work is the crackling versatility on display as Cooper’s backing band tears gamely into surprisingly well-written, hooky material that affords all of the résumé-building opportunities of one of their typical concerts. Propulsive drummer Eric Singer marches the muscular ensemble from rattling garage rock to weepy power ballads to smudgy nü-metal. There’s also a fun running game of Spot the Classic-Rock Swipe, with the leering “(In Touch With) Your Feminine Side” pilfering the drum intro and the cooing background vocals from “Sympathy for the Devil.”
What does it all mean? Nothing, and we should all thank god. If you’re offended at being placed inside the skull of a psychopath for purposes of entertainment, blame Alfred Hitchcock. At this late date, it’s not only dumb but dangerous to ascribe any sort of social agenda to Cooper, who appropriates slasher-flick clichés with the zeal of an 18-year-old horror hack posting his first Hostel knockoff fan-vid to YouTube.
The lone glimmer of potential sincerity is the ballad “Salvation,” in which our suddenly repentant antihero wonders if his misdeeds can ever be redeemed by a higher power – a certain someone “washed in blood” who “died for me.” The notion might come straight from the real Alice Cooper, who has been quietly born-again for some years now. Or it could just represent a canny stab at invading the inspirational charts. That would be a feat for an album that elsewhere features the lyric, “Which leg would you lose to an arachnophobic psychopath?” Between the two sentiments, let’s take bets on which has the better chance of ending up in the live firstname.lastname@example.org