Originally Published: July 29, 2008

Alice Cooper - Along Came a Spider (SPV)

Author: Thomas Kintner

A July album release by Alice Cooper is as comparably early as a mall's hanging wreaths and tinsel before trees shed their leaves, but at least in Cooper's case there is a reasonable justification for issuing greetings out of season. Rock's most enduring horror showman gives listeners time to get familiar with his latest batch of Halloween rock before his annual fall tour (which stops Oct. 31 at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods Casino) and spins a typically dark fantasy built around exaggerated characters and a backdrop of grinding, throwback-style rock.

Casting himself in the role of an arachnid-obsessed psychopath, the 60-year-old former Vincent Furnier barks vocals with snide authority over blaring electric guitars on sizzling tunes with such suitably cartoonish titles as "Vengeance Is Mine." His gloomy tales are not silly, but neither are they especially threatening, despite Cooper's mildly fetishistic focus on the predatory instincts of a character who spends most of his time wallowing in self-assessments such as "Catch Me if You Can."

Although he's intently theatrical, Cooper could stand to add some character to the churning rock grit of the rumbling "Wake the Dead" and the fuzz-guitar-lined "The One That Got Away." Careful to keep his centerpiece degenerate from sounding too twisted despite multiple proclamations of the evil he shall soon do, Cooper gets little more than arch melodrama from the likes of "I Know Where You Live," and too often produces only repetitive sneering in places that should be stocked with tension.

Essential download: "The One That Got Away"