Detroit Free Press

Originally Published: July 27, 2008

Alice Cooper could have packed away the makeup long ago

But the Detroit-born shock-rocker didn't just keep chugging along -- he actually emerged from middle age recharged and inspired, and has settled into the most consistent stretch of his career since the mid-1970s.

"Along Came a Spider" (THREE STARS out of four stars, SPV Records, in stores Tuesday) is a fitting sequel to 2005's "Dirty Diamonds," a cool return to form after a clunky spell of throwaway work. As his 25th career record, "Spider" seems to have received an extra dose of attention and grooming from the veteran rocker, who concocts a typically over-the-top blend of cartoonish menace, pop hooks and guitar sizzle on a record that seeks to recapture Cooper's old heyday.

Lyrically, it's the edgiest work Cooper has produced in ages. But while it's ostensibly a concept record -- Spider is a madman killer whose descent and ultimate redemption is narrated by Cooper -- the album doesn't live or die by that conceit, functioning just fine as a collection of retro-minded tunes with a crisp contemporary polish.

All the classic Cooper moves are here: the propulsive hard rock ("Vengeance is Mine" with guest guitarist Slash), the gimmicky theater ("Wake the Dead"), the reverb-soaked power balladry ("Killed By Love"). Wiry cuts like "Wrapped in Silk" and "I'm Hungry" evoke a glammy '70s vibe while walking a fine line -- a few steps further, and Cooper would find himself in the land of self-caricature. As always, there's a knowing humor to all this, and the rock-operatic "Salvation" helps close the album down with a big, epic wink.

It's been a while since Cooper was 18 and liked it: He turned 60 in January. But clearly Halloween -- and rock 'n' roll -- never grow old.