Alice Cooper The Studio Albums 1969-1983 CD Box Set
2015, Rhino, 81277 95374
This box set was released in August 2015 and, as the title suggests, features every Alice Cooper studio album from 1969 through to 1983 (i.e. the whole Warner Brothers catalogue, from Pretties For You to Dada). That means that there are a total of 15 CD’s here, which include all the material from the original Group and some 10 years of solo Alice’s career.
The music presented is extremely diverse, from the glory days of School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies to the dark and highly experimental ‘Blackout’ years. This set really allows you to ride the rollercoaster of the Alice Cooper story with the music aligning nicely with the period focused on in the movie Super Duper Alice Cooper.
It is fair to say that 7 of these albums (i.e. the first 6 group albums plus Welcome To My Nightmare) have received extensive previous exposure, having been re-released numerous times before. The other 8 albums however, have received little or no recent focus so it’s great to see new offerings of these, especially Flush The Fashion, Special Forces, Zipper Catches Skin and Dada (which many casual fans may never have heard of, let alone discovered).
The CDs are contained in a good quality / sturdy clamshell box, the back of which includes details of all the albums and tracks. On initial inspection, it looks as though each album is almost identical to the recently released Japanese SHM 'Mini LP' albums. This must be too good to be true though as these cost the best part of £250 for just 12 albums whereas this set retails for only £50. And indeed it is, well sort of!
Things start well with Pretties For You, which is almost identical to the original vinyl and SHM version. It has the same faithfully reproduced gatefold sleeve as the original vinyl album and the CD is almost identical. In fact, the only real difference is that the sleeve is slightly smaller (see image below) plus there is no dust sleeve or obi strip. The same is applicable for Easy Action and Love It To Death. Killer, is almost identical but lacks the detachable 1972 calendar of the original vinyl and SHM version (the first indication of some of the cost-cutting measures that lie ahead).
Things start to take a notable turn for the worse when we get to School's Out. The wonderful opulence of the original vinyl and SHM version is ditched for a bargain basement card sleeve, which is almost identical to that offered in Rhino's previously released Original Album Series set. In fact, it's so basic that the track listings are only provided on the CD itself (which is obviously no use when you're actually listening to it).
Billion Dollar Babies is somewhat odd as, unlike School's Out, it attempts to match the lavish original vinyl and SHM version but falls well short in several areas. This includes the lack of texture on the wallet, no curved edges on the case and non-removable cards and bill clip. The billion dollar bill is included though and, unlike all the other albums so far, a single page lyric sheet and photo is also provided (this was originally the artwork used as the dust sleeve on the vinyl version).
The CDs for all the above albums are based on the original Warner Brothers green labels. This changes for the remaining albums.
As with School's Out, Muscle of Love completely abandons the iconic original vinyl and SHM version packaging in favour of a bargain basement card sleeve. A single page photo sheet is also provided (which again is from the original vinyl packaging) plus the CD has the more interesting 'tree design' rather than the green labels of the previous albums.
The same approach is then used for Welcome To My Nightmare, Goes To Hell and Lace And Whiskey (the latter of which has bespoke artwork on the CD).
From The Inside reverts to a gatefold design in an attempt to retain the beauty of the original vinyl and SHM version but again falls well short (the cover doesn't open from the centre and the doors on the inside and back do not open either, so no images of Alice).
Flush The Fashion, Special Forces, Zipper Catches Skin and Dada all follow the basic card sleeve approach with only Flush The Fashion containing a lyric sheet / photo. Understated presentation of understated albums but still great to see them included!
In terms of music quality, I'm no audiophile but believe that the recordings of Pretties For You through to From The Inside are the same re-mastered versions as the SHM versions whereas the last 4 albums are the original recordings. This would make sense seeing as the last 4 albums were never made available as SHM versions.
All-in-all this is a good set but one that is somewhat marred by an inconsistent approach to presentation. The biggest problem, however, is that it isn't particularly cheap and you have to question who will be interested in it. The answer is that it's probably either for completists (like me) or casual fans of solo Alice who want to explore his career from the pre-Trash period (where he found many new admirers). For the former it's an inexpensive 'nice-to-have' that allows them to have the first 15 albums stored in a very compact space and for the latter it's a very cheap way to discover the full history of early Alice.