ALICE COOPER has been making albums for 36 years now, and it's amazing that he's still serving up listenable, better-than-average fare while most of his contemporaries have lost their muse completely or are content to flog the old hits over and over again. COOPER has certainly had his ups and downs over his recording history, but he seems to have at long last embraced his Detroit garage-rock origins, as evidenced by 2003's "The Eyes of Alice Cooper" and the new "Dirty Diamonds", his 24th studio release.
COOPER recorded "Dirty Diamonds" in 13 days and the effect he was going for is clear: this is an unabashed throwback to the sound that he first pioneered with the BILLION DOLLAR BABIES band during his early Seventies peak. While "Dirty Diamonds" doesn't quite capture the exuberance, theatricality and macabre joy of discs like "Killer" and "Love It to Death", this is a minimalist rock 'n' roll album with a warm, live sound and flashes of the eerie atmosphere that made those early records so memorable. The songwriting here, for the most part, also retains COOPER's way with a catchy pop melody even when he's at his most snarling, as on the anthemic "Steal That Car" and the distortion-heavy title track.
Meanwhile, "The Saga of Jesse Jane" is a bizarro COOPER ballad sung in a faux Johnny Cash voice, while another slow tune, "Six Hours", is a creepy companion piece to '70s gems like "Only Women Bleed" and "Ballad of Dwight Frye", featuring a haunting climactic guitar solo. And while tunes like "My Own Worst Enemy" and "Perfect" feature bare bones riffs that seem a little too much like rehashed classic COOP — or even KISS in one or two instances — the songs are infectious and COOPER himself gives solid performances on each one. Only bonus track "Stand", with its completely out of place appearance by rapper XZIBIT, utterly falls flat.
"Dirty Diamonds" breaks no new ground and will disappoint anyone who liked COOPER's metallic "Brutal Planet" phase of the mid-Nineties. But for fans of his classic style, this record offers a number of pleasurable memories and some diverse, decent rock 'n' roll as well.