Minneapolis Newhouse News Service

Originally Published: April 1999

The Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper

Curse him, laugh at him, love him or loathe him, but don't you dare put Alice Cooper in the same category as Marilyn Manson. When it comes to the music, Manson couldn't hold a candle to hard-hearted Alice. If you need proof, there's plenty of it on this new overstuffed four-CD boxed set. The long-overdue 88-track set covers Cooper's musical career from low-fi garage-band singles in 1965 and 1966, right up to "Hands of Death", a 1999 remix of an earlier collaboration between Cooper and Rob Zombie.

What's most striking about the box is how much of the music - particularly from the first two CDs - holds up with time. For all of his stage antics - the guillotines, electric chairs and barrels of fake blood - Alice Cooper was first and foremost a rock and roller of the highest degree. At least for a time.

That prime time was 1970 to 1973, when he had his very best band and released five exceptional albums. Standouts from those discs, including "I'm Eighteen," "Ballad of Dwight Fry," "Under my Wheels," and of course, "School's Out," are the heart and soul of this box.

While his themes could be tasteless - yes "Dead Babies" is still idiotic after all these years - Cooper at his best was a serious innovator. He turned "West Side Story" upside down with a crushing "Gutter Cats vs. the Jets." Long before collaborations were fashionable, he teamed with Donovan for "Billion Dollar Babies."

The biggest problem with this box is that Cooper's declining years are given equal weight, and the final two CDs pale in comparison to the first two. There are a few exceptions, including the hard-rockin' "Poison," or the 1988 remake of "Under my Wheels" with Guns 'N Roses, but for the most part the package is way off balance.