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Alice Cooper

A handful of artists can evoke distinct imagery and a tangible mood with no more than the dropping of their names. Alice Cooper is surely among the first generation of theatrical rockers to possess the ability to shock and horrify at the mere mention of his nom de rock. It's been that way since Cooper first burst into the public consciousness with his band's 1971 masterpiece, Love It to Death.

Never a follower of fashion, Cooper was serenading boa constrictors, having his head cut off on-stage, and loving the dead when today's crop of shock-metal merchants were wearing snap-up pants. Thirty years after those seminal moments in the annals of horror rock, and far away from the hits and gold and platinum records of his glory years in the '70s, Cooper is still inventing horrible little scenarios and characters and setting them to a howling mad soundtrack.

Cooper took some decidedly questionable turns when he began painting on a heavy metal canvas, resulting in a few hits and a fair number of misses. With last year's Brutal Planet, Cooper returned to a more hard-rock approach, a cycle that closes with the release of Dragontown, an album that not only details Cooper's circuitous evolution back to pure rock but also continues the Dante's Inferno-like story line begun on Brutal Planet. With Dragontown, Cooper has found the right balance between the furious sonic possibilities he sought with metal and the blues-based rock that distinguished his '70s triumphs.

None of it could exist without Cooper's songwriting acumen, a skill he displays on Dragontown with the confidence and swagger that has permeated his best work. He's in great lyrical and aural voice on Dragontown, with pummeling rockers ("Triggerman," "Fantasy Man"), metallic ballads ("Deeper," "It's Much Too Late"), and an acoustic/electric pop oasis in the third act ("Every Woman Has a Name"). Dragontown is a superb synthesis of everything Cooper has attempted in his career, incorporating the brilliance of his successes and the wisdom of his failures into an album that will ultimately stand as one of his best.

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Brian Baker

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