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Originally Published: June 1999
"Alice Cooper The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper
Rhino/Warner Archives ****
"Now that Rhino has acquired the rights to most of the Warner Bros. back catalog, get ready for a windfall of reissues. Among the first to drop are these four-CD boxed sets of two of the hardest rockers from the 70s. Serious metallurgists may wonder how the lowdown Alice Cooper can beat out the relatively highbrow Deep Purple by a full star. Here's how:
Overall design: Cooper's Live and Crimes is a 3-D marvel, showing Alice glaring out from a padded cell; booklet and CDs are locked safely away inside. Purple's Shades has witless "metallic" art and a booklet that constantly tumbles out of it's slot. Booklet design: The Cooper booklet includes 80 pages, 44 of them in color. The Purple booklet has a mere 54 pages, only 16 in color. Introductory notes: Cooper fans get a pithy foreword by Alice, a decent piece by box set producer Brian Nelson, and a smashing appreciation by John Lydon. Purple fans get a foreword by box producer David McLees, who weakly "makes his case" for the set, and a wrongheaded appreciation by "radio personality" Jim Ladd. Main essay: Cooper's saga is told breathlessly by Jeffrey Morgan; he's an entertaining writer, yet he doesn't shrink from analysis, whether tackling the music or its theatrical trappings. Purple's bio, told by Mick wall, is seviceable at best, with almost no insight.
Track-by-track commentary: The Cooper box provides great inside info as told by Alice, producer Bob Ezrin, and surviving bandmates Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, and Neal Smith. Band remarks in the Purple box are scarce - and lifted from the definitive 25th Anniversary Editions compiled by EMI U.K. The bulk of the Purple commentary is by writer Tim Joseph, who spends much of his time dryly reporting whether the songs hit the charts or were played live.
Booklet extras: The covers of 32 Cooper albums and videos are reproduced in eye-friendly size. What's more, there are testimonials not only from the likes of Slash and Lemmy but also from Burt Bacharach and David Cassidy. The covers of 32 Purple albums are reproduced in postage-stamp size. What's less...there's no more.
Rarities: Cooper's Crimes has 11 previously un released tracks, including a hoot of a find in "Identity Criseses" (not a typo) from a Spanish splatter movie called Monster Dog. Purple's Shades has no unreleased tracks; it does gather various obscure releases, but except for the "Painted Horse" outtake from Who Do We Think We Are!, the important ones have already been heard on the EMI U.K. remasters (which, in turn, have been licensed for the U.S. by Rhino!).
Sound quality: Core Cooper has only been available on early-grade Warner Bros. CDs, so Rhino's rmasterings are often revelatory; one listen to "I'm Eighteen" and you'll like it. The Purple box offers sonic improvements as well (after all, the original Passport CD version of "Kentucky Woman" was mastered from scratchy vinyl), but when it comes to the core stuff, the EMI U.K. remasters got there first with authoritative rehabilitations. And what's with the strange case of "Strange Kind of Woman"? Has the master tape been lost? The song doesn't sound stellar on EMI's Fireball ( where it's remixed), but on Shades it sounds much worse - basically mono, with organ and rhythm guitar jacked up so high that Ritchie Blackmore's solos are nearly swamped.
Here's a case where my 28-year-old vinyl version of "Strange" beats the brand-new digital version cold. Okay, in Purple's favor: The Shades booklet is a sturdy stapled affair, whereas the glued Crimes, if bent back, can lose a page. The second half of Shades manages to fare better than the sappy ballads and hair metal of the second half of Crimes. Meanwhile, there are only two tracks from School's Out but four from Muscle of Love. Then again, there are only two official tracks from Deep Purple in Rock but five from Fireball"