A Fistful of Alice was released at a time when the sometimes maligned The Alice Cooper Show was the only official live Cooper album. As only the second live Alice record, Fistful didn’t receive the attention it deserved. That’s especially too bad, considering it had cool guests including Slash, Rob Zombie, and Sammy Hagar. There are lots of Alice Cooper live recordings to get today, but in ’99 that wasn’t quite the case. Fistful, recorded at Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina, came a full five years after Cooper’s last studio album, The Last Temptation, ending the long drought. The single new song, “Is Anyone Home?” was a pleasant acoustic rock keeper, but the main feature was the live stuff.
There are lots of versions of this album, but only the Japanese has the full 17 song track list. It took me 15 years to finally track one down at a decent price. The Japanese edition is worth the effort just for “Clones (We’re All)”, a song that was rarely played for a lot of Cooper’s career. It’s from near the start of Alice’s 80’s art-punk persona, but its robotic synth-pop was catchy enough for the Smashing Pumpkins to cover it. The other two bonus tracks are “Bed of Nails” from Trash, and the classic “No More Mr. Nice Guy”. One that wasn’t on the domestic edition, but was on the UK version is “Under My Wheels”. Cooper’s band at this time featured Reb Beach (Winger/Whitesnake) on guitar, and damn does he shred on “Under My Wheels”! The rest of the lineup consisted of Jimmy DeGrasso (Megadeth/Black Star Riders) on drums, guitarist Ryan Roxie (Slash), bassist Todd Jensen (David Lee Roth) and Beach’s old Winger bandmate Paul Taylor on keyboards. This was Taylor’s second stint with Cooper. His first stint in the mid-80’s eventually launched the band Winger, since Kip Winger was in the Cooper band at the time.
Besides “Clones”, other pleasant surprises in the set include “Desperado” (“a song I wrote for Jim Morrison a long time ago”), “Teenage Lament ’74” (dedicated to the glitter and glam rockers) and “I Never Cry”. “Welcome to My Nightmare” is preceded by an excerpt from the chilling classic “Steven”. Familiar concert perennials include “Feed My Frankenstein” with Rob Zombie, “Only Women Bleed” with Slash, and “Elected” featuring both. Slash also plays on the newer tune “Lost in America”, fitting right in there naturally. It’s quite a decent track list, and Cooper’s band is as professional as any other lineup. The sonics are great, and Fistful is a nice full recording without a lot of crowd noise. The Cabo Wabo is probably a great stage for capturing a live recording.
Finally, Alice self-produced the new song “Is Anyone Home?”, featuring a different set of musicians. Unexpectedly pop sounding and even featuring a Beatles-like string section, “Is Anyone Home?” was very unlike most of Alice’s stuff. Take acoustic rock a-la popular 90’s acts like Fastball or the Goo Goo Dolls, crank it up a notch, and add Alice Cooper’s unmistakable voice. It’s a good track to throw on as a bonus for a live album. It did not indicate at all where Cooper was going musically, which would prove to be the industro-metal of Brutal Planet. “Is Anyone Home?” then is an interesting sideline from the main trajectory, but worth having.
A Fistful of Alice was an important album in some ways. At the time, many fans wondered if Alice had quietly retired. He hadn’t. He was playing a lot of golf, but he was also touring regularly. I saw him play a similar set in Kitchener Ontario in 1997, with the lineup including Reb Beach. Like on Fistful, he played a few songs from his most recent album even though he technically wasn’t supporting it, and I liked that. Pick up A Fistful of Alice for a good single-disc summary of the Alice Cooper live experience, and a pretty decent new tune too.