We all love Alice Cooper. Wayne and Garth bowing before The Coop in Wayne’s World was really a representation of what we’d all do if we were to meet the man, and given his tireless workload over the last forty-plus years he is quite rightfully regarded as a legend in rock and metal circles.
But when you see Alice appearing on countless quiz shows, chat shows, documentaries, radio programmes, golf courses, various horror movies and generally being a much-loved multi-media celebrity, it is quite easy to forget that back in the early 1970s the man born Vincent Furnier and Alice Cooper – the band he fronted – were something of a thorn in the side of so-called public decency and the music that they made was a lot more raw and shambolic (in a good way) than the slick, heavy metal anthems that the frontman became known for in the 80s and 90s.
“Old School: Special Edition” is a condensed version of the deluxe set that was released last year and contains four CD’s featuring studio outtakes, demos, live versions, radio sessions and many more promotional titbits from the period 1968 – 1974. Giving you some sort of insight of what the Alice Cooper band were really like as a musical unit during that time, the recordings here are of varying quality but all paint a picture of a young and hungry band finding their feet and probably being a little more inventive and interesting than what some of the finished tracks that we all know and love would have you believe.
The likes of ‘Is It My Body’ – recorded live in Seattle – showcase a band demonstrating a talent for feel rather than technical ability, a big Jimi Hendrix vibe hanging heavy over a lot of the material. A killer(!) version of ‘School’s Out’ recorded at a festival in Puerto Rico also shows off a looser feel, the band’s extended jamming perfectly encapsulating the musical aesthetics of the era. But, however, much of an Alice Cooper fan you are, is there any need to own tracks like the somewhat pointless ‘Kid’s Session School’s Out’? Hearing Alice joking around with a load of kids and then hearing their session take for the backing track may be worth a giggle once but it isn’t the type of thing you’ll ever put on your iPod playlist. The radio ads are also a little chucklesome but unless you’re a completest or a historian there’s very little point in hearing them more than once.
So is “Old School: Special Edition” worth parting with your hard-earned cash for? That all depends on your standing as an Alice Cooper fan. Much like James Bond, Alice Cooper has different eras for different fans, and if you’re one of those fans who only listens to the latter-day stuff then you’ll probably not get a lot from this collection as the music is more in line with the stripped-back garage rock of Iggy & The Stooges and The MC5 than the polished, industrial-tinged pop metal of the last decade or so. However, if you’re into the early stuff but want to delve a little deeper than the obvious singles then you’ll likely find more than a few treasures worth digging up, and if you’re a real Alice Cooper geek then you’ll probably love all the ads and interview stuff as well, but on a purely musical level this set represents the interesting and the curious rather than the essential.