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Twilight rockers

Cooper (left) and Frehley (Photo illustration by Krieg Barrie)

Music

Twilight rockers

Two legends aren't letting age stop them

And the cover versions keep on coming.

On the latest albums by Alice Cooper and the former KISS lead guitarist Ace Frehley, you’ll encounter fresh takes on hits and deep cuts by (in alphabetical order) the Animals, the Beatles, Cream, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Humble Pie, the Kinks, KISS, Led Zeppelin, MC5, Mountain, Outrageous Cherry, Lou Reed, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and the Rolling Stones—blasts from the past guaranteed to inflict PTSD on listeners conditioned exclusively by 21st-century pop.

Assuming that such listeners ever hear these blasts. At an average age of 71, the rockers doing the detonating aren’t exactly trending on youth-oriented social media.

And why should they be? In 1978—the last year in which Frehley and Cooper both hit the Top 40—the only noteworthy 71-year-old musicians still living were Gene Autry (long retired) and Elva “Mrs.” Miller (who sang so badly that her albums were marketed as comedy). Songs as old as most of the covers on Frehley’s and Cooper’s new albums would’ve dated back to the Roaring Twenties.

In other words, these guys have their work cut out for them.

Not that they sound daunted. Frehley and his fellow musicians on the all-covers Origins Vol. 2 (SPV) approach their task like blacksmiths, boldly hammering songs such as “Manic Depression,” “Space Truckin’,” “Kicks,” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” into molten shape and knocking the dust off the originals’ dated production values in the process.

The playing could do with more groove (hard rock doesn’t have to be inflexible) and “Jumping Jack Flash” with less profanity (from guest vocalist Lita Ford). But especially at high volumes, sparks fly, illuminating a slowly dying but once highly influential popular art form as it refuses to go gentle (or quiet) into that good night.  

A similar bygone-era vibe characterizes Alice Cooper’s Bob Ezrin–produced Detroit Stories (earMUSIC). Amid raucous accompaniment from MC5’s Wayne Kramer, Grand Funk’s Mark Farner, the Mitch Ryder alumni Steve Hunter and Johnny “Bee” Badanjek, and the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper group, Cooper pays full-throttle tribute to the songs and sounds of his hometown.

Only four of its 15 songs are covers (or in the case of Cooper’s version of Mitch Ryder’s version of Lou Reed’s “Rock & Roll,” a cover of a cover), but they’re the highlights. He tosses millennials a bone by doing Outrageous Cherry’s latter-day sunshine-pop classic “Our Love Will Change the World” irony free.    

Praising the Doors’ Morrison Hotel, the late Hunter S. Thompson once wrote: “Crank it all the way up on one of those huge obsolete wire-burning MacIntosh amps and 80 custom-built speakers. Then stand back somewhere on the mainbeams of a big log house and feel the music come up through your femurs … after that you can always say … that you once knew what it was like to hear men play rock ’n’ roll music.”

Old men though they are, Frehley and Cooper obviously still want in on that action.

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  •  Cavanaugh's picture
    Cavanaugh
    Posted: Sun, 04/04/2021 10:40 am

    Readers might be interested in how Cooper handles his faith against his performing image 

    [last I knew attended a great church in my hometown and, with his wife, runs a serious program for youth]

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Mon, 04/05/2021 04:51 am

    I was thinking about the same thing, "Cavanaugh." This is an interesting article but to not mention Cooper's conversion makes this ageing rock star piece one dimensional. His very public confession of faith, close friendship with RC Sproul (now deceased), juxtaposed with his Rock Star persona, should have been at the very least an aside to this piece.