Acoustic Sounds

Alice Cooper

Killer [Deluxe Edition]

Music

Sound

Rhino's "Killer" 50th Anniversary Reissue

Label: Rhino/Warner Records

Produced By: Bob Ezrin

Engineered By: Brian Christian

Mastered By: Dan Hersch & Bill Inglot (D2 Mastering)

Lacquers Cut By: Chris Bellman (Bernie Grundman Mastering)

By: Dylan Peggin

July 2nd, 2023

Genre:

Rock

Format:

Vinyl

Rhino Offers a “Killer” Deluxe Edition from Alice Cooper

One of shock rock’s beloved albums gets remastered with extra studio/live material

Alice Cooper

1971 was a mammoth year for the Alice Cooper group (not to be confused with the group’s frontman who would eventually go solo). After delving into Los Angeles-tinged  psychedelic freakouts with their first two albums, Pretties for You and Easy Action, the group relocated to the Metro Detroit city of Pontiac, Michigan. Within the area that embraced the harder driving sounds of The Stooges and MC5, the band was able to hone in on a straightforward hard rock sound. This shift in style, along with more concise songwriting, was instigated by producer Bob Ezrin. Once the two parties joined forces, a hit single emerged with “I’m Eighteen,” an anthem about burgeoning adulthood that is still as relevant to today’s standards. With the success of the single under their belt, Warner Brothers spearheaded the release of Alice Cooper’s next album Love It to Death. Tracks like “Caught in a Dream,” “Long Way to Go” and “Is It My Body” established the fresh sound the group now embraced. Elements of the band’s shock rock theatrics found their way onto the hypnotic “Black Juju” and “The Ballad of Dwight Fry,” with Alice singing on stage in a straight jacket just as he recorded the vocal on the album. The success found with Love It to Death served as the foundation of the fortunes Alice Cooper would come to find in the years that laid ahead of them until the band’s demise in 1974.


Released eight months after Love It to Death, Killer didn’t serve as a rehash of what had been done prior. Bob Ezrin’s involvement in the producer’s chair enabled Alice Cooper’s sound to become more embellished with string/horn arrangements and Moog synthesizer flourishes. The album’s opener, “Under My Wheels,” tells a tale of anticipated fun with the twist being the woman gets run over. A raucous ballad comes in the form of “Be My Lover,” where a question that alludes to some of the group’s hair-raising antics was asked with the lyric, “She asked me why the singer’s name was Alice.” One of the album’s biggest highlights is the eight minute epic “Halo of Flies.” The arrangement, consisting of various riffs and segments that had yet to be developed, was a rather progressive approach compared to the common territory of three minute simplicity. The Western themes found on “Desperado” also serve as a nod to Alice’s recently deceased friend, Doors frontman Jim Morrison. The Detroit/motor city wordplay is clever on a song title like “You Drive Me Crazy,” which serves as a complement to “I’m Eighteen” with lyrics pertaining to an adolescent having controlling parents. The group taps into their roots with the Yardbirds inspired “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” which features a rare harmonica solo performed by Alice himself. The awareness of child neglect in the lyrics of “Dead Babies” went past the public’s ears so quick for them to assume that Alice Cooper was singing about killing babies. This misconception only lent itself to the stage show when Alice chopped up baby doll parts. The album’s title track cements Alice’s portrayal as rock’s heinous villain. Like the preceding song, this song came to life during the stage show where the organ driven death march leads Alice to a gallows to be hanged and executed. 


Recently, Warner Records and Rhino have released deluxe editions of two albums from the Alice Cooper canon, Killer and School’s Out. 50th anniversaries having passed since these albums have been released and given how lauded they are by fans, they are seminal contenders to be given this type of treatment. Rhino has had a solid track record generating deluxe editions of beloved albums and they knocked it out of the park with Killer.

Alice Cooper "Killer"
The first LP consists of the newly remastered original album. Alice Cooper’s fresh sound is exemplified by the guitar work of Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce, who provide a rich “wall of sound” texture to most of the album’s arrangements. The two also allow for some contrast with more cleaner tones on tracks like “Halo of Flies” and “Desperado.” Dennis Dunaway’s bass guitar tone is so distinctively percussive to the point where it provides a melodic counterpoint to the main vocal melody. A prime example is “Be My Lover,” where for the first time, I found myself analyzing the song’s arrangement rather than getting lost in the enjoyment of the composition. While Alice Cooper’s live show provided a visual spectacle, they were able to provide a theatrical atmosphere on record. The one found on “Dead Babies” is spine chilling with its upfront vocals, eerie bass line and flanged guitars soaked in reverb, all coupled with the sound of a crying baby. 


The bulk of the unreleased material on the supplementary two LPs consists of the band’s live performance at the Mar Y Sol Festival in Puerto Rico on April 5, 1972. Bootlegged for many years, this fresh remix offers a new breath of life to a rather exceptional live performance despite the band hitting the stage at the unorthodox time of 5:00 AM. While the dynamics of a live performance in the open air tends to get lost, the artificial atmosphere in this live recording is exceptional and provides plenty of air. The middle solo section of “Halo of Flies” is a solid spotlight for the band’s rhythm section of bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith. A sign of what was to come can be heard in the middle section of “Long Way to Go,” with the band vamping on the main riff of what would become the yet-to-be-released “School’s Out.”


The bonus studio tracks serve as a nice companion to the ones the public knows and loves from the original album. The loose alternate take of “You Drive Me Nervous” is a raw, natural sounding version that rids itself of the phasing effects found on Neal Smith’s drums. The alternate version of “Under My Wheels” shows how this early Cooper classic evolved. This version takes away Bob Ezrin’ horn arrangement and utilizes alternate guitar & vocal takes backed against the original backing track. It shows how the song got whipped into shape from this embryonic rendering. “Dead Babies” appears as an alternate mix with some interesting EQ adjustments and more emphasis on the background vocals. 


Over recent years, mastering maestro Chris Bellman has overseen the vinyl mastering for a good bulk of vinyl reissues Rhino has released of the Alice Cooper catalog. Upon seeing the “CB” in the deadwax of this deluxe edition, I knew I was in for an aural treat. Even though Bellman can work some sonic wonders, it all falls down to the source material. The digital remastering for both the original album and bonus material was overseen by Dan Hersch & Bill Inglot. The original album has a brightness to it that doesn’t take too much away from the well pronounced bottom end. There is a tightness to the arrangements that allows for the guitars to be more prominent and upfront. Whether it falls down to compression or EQ preferences, it lends itself to be an overall good remastering. The only gripe I had was some of the shrill and sibilance found within the cymbal hits, particularly the phased hi-hat in “You Drive Me Nervous.” Beyond the original album, the Mar Y Sol live performance is very in-your-face and some of the more natural sounding studio outtakes allow for more detailed separation of the instrumentation.


This isn’t the first time Chris Bellman approached Killer. He also had a crack at mastering the Rhino pressing from 2012, which was cut ALL ANALOG. While comparing the two, some of the auxiliary elements in the mix, particularly the organs and horns, have more detail as opposed to the guitars sounding less grittier. However, the soundstage is impressive with plenty of separation and clarity. If you’re seeking an “audiophile” experience with this record, the 2012 cut may be the way to go. If you want to let your hair down and rock out, this deluxe edition will still suffice nicely. 


The 3LP set is packaged in a triple gatefold jacket with track-by-track analyses of every song by the surviving members of the group and Bob Ezrin. Reading these testimonials provide some solid context behind how these songs came together and shines a light on the influences the group paid homage to. If you bought this album when it came out in 1971, you’ll be delighted to know that the most memorable aspect of the original artwork, being the 1972 calendar featuring a photo of Alice hanging from the gallows, is replicated and featured. The flipside of the calendar includes additional liner notes by former Creem editor Bill Holdship, who offers a fan’s eye view of what it was to be a fan of Alice Cooper during this timeframe. 

With Killer featuring both career highlights and theatrical stage standouts, it is an album that’s worthy of being re-examined and re-appreciated 50 years on from its initial release with this deluxe reissue.


Music Specifications

Catalog No: R1 681028/603497841011

Pressing Plant: Memphis Record Pressing (MRP)

Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 140 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Presentation: Multi LP

Comments

  • 2023-07-02 02:03:43 PM

    Silk Dome Mid wrote:

    Alice wore a "straitjacket". Sorry to nitpick ya...I can't help it.

  • 2023-07-03 08:16:56 AM

    Mtglass wrote:

    According to Chris Bellman both of the original albums from these reissues were all analog cuts from the 1/4” master tape.

  • 2023-07-03 03:00:29 PM

    Georges wrote:

    School's out has also been reissued only on 2 CD for the moment. The Mar y sol concert was briefly available on british label easy action.