Observer

Originally Published: July 07, 1997

School Was Out Years Ago

For God's Sake Alice, Grow Up

Author: Sam Taylor

Alice Cooper has always had a thing about props. In the past, he has used an electric chair and, most famously, and eight foot long python. One of my colleagues interviewed Cooper back in 1970 in his room at Blakes hotel in London's south Kensington. The python slept with him. It dined on fresh mice bought from Harrods. And, during Cooper's stay, it dissapeared into the hotel's plumbing, never to be found.

These days, the American shock-rocker's props are rather more modest. In line with fashion, Cooper's new show is 'stripped down', which means we get nothing more spectacular than a leather whip (thrown into the audience), a sabre, and a metal crutch - on which he first pretends to limp, and then plays air guitar.

The geriatric symbolism is apt. Vincent Furnier, as he was christened, is 49 years old, but he looks about 490. Staring out from the stage at Wolverhampton Civic Hall last Thursday, ha actually resembled a cadaver - like you imagine Barbara Striesand might look if she died an old lady, after several facelifts, was buried for a few years, and was then dug up and reanimated by electric shock therapy.

And the audience looked even worse. (How must the poor kids feel, watching mum go out dressed in tight leather shorts and chain mail bra, her face smeared with black mascara?) Apart from a few teenage fans, drawn by Alice's cameo appearance in Wayne's World, most of them would have been doing their O-Levels when the classic anti-education anthem, 'School's Out', was first released in 1972. The delirious passion with which they chanted 'No more pencils!/No more books!' suggests most of them have since become teachers.

The fact that the current tour - intended to promote a ropey live album, A Fistful of Alice - is called the School's Out '97 tour gives you an idea of how many great songs Cooper has written in the past 25 years. Nonetheless, he merits a place in rocks pantheon - somewhere between Iggy Pop (androgenous, rebellious godfather of punk) and Gary Glitter (daft, camp godfather of panto).

Like fiftysomethings Pop and Glitter, he is still ridiculously energetic. When he makes his entrance, by smashing through the stage backdrop (a graffitied fence, unexcitingly enough), you get the sense of a man who will still be climbing on tables and screaming 'I'm 18' when he's safely locked away in an old peoples home. He may have a double chin and must surely struggle to get into his leather trousers, but he has the indestructable aura of nuclear waste.

Unfortunately, this show is never remotely atomic. Cooper snarles and grimaces entertainingly, and his best songs - 'Eighteen', 'Billion Dollar Babies' and 'School's Out' - still smell like teen spirit. But it is all too easily ruined by his dreadful band, which consists of the dregs of the Eighties heavy-metal scene. There is a ten minute period - during which Alice goes off-stage to change his trousers and we suffer a display of torpid anal soloing by his henchmen - when you wish he still had the guillotine to sort them out.

Then he comes back, and it all goes mildly bonkers: he is attacked by a gang of bikers, then beaten with baseball bats by men in white coats and masks, on of whom he throttles with a hanky. Bizzare stuff by normal standards, but all a bit of a letdown from a man whose shows used to climax with him being electrocuted.

One is forced to conclude that a 'stripped down' Alice Cooper show is about as much use as a melancholy Spice Girl. If any guests at Blakes happen to find a thirty year old snake in their bathroom, could they please return it to Mr. Cooper, as he misses it desperately - more than he knows.