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Vinyl Cave: Battle Axe by Billion Dollar Babies
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At one time, the moniker Alice Cooper referred to an entire band and not just singer Vincent Furnier, who eventually appropriated the name as part of the group's genius knack for marketing. By the time of their seventh studio album, Muscle of Love, Alice Cooper was collectively worn out after years of heavy touring with their increasingly unwieldy stage show, and arguing about their future direction. A hiatus turned permanent after the first Alice Cooper solo album emerged in 1975.

However, there's a bit more to the story for the original band, who apparently thought turnabout was fair play. They appropriated the name of a previous album -- Billion Dollar Babies -- for their own group, and soldiered on. Along with losing the services of frontman Furnier/Cooper, lead guitarist Glen Buxton was not part of Billion Dollar Babies, with Mike Marconi taking over his role. Former touring keyboardist Bob Dolin was also added to the group, and rhythm guitarist Michael Bruce took over on lead vocals.

Their resulting 1977 album, Battle Axe, is a more than solid chunk of late '70s rock, thankfully (to my ears) a bit out of step with the times; there's no disco beats and a relatively non-overwhelming keyboard sound. For fans of the earlier Alice Cooper albums, it's well worth a listen. Overall, Battle Axe comes across like a slightly more pop vision of the band's music, and less focused on spectacle. The trashy sly humor remains, but without the horror cliches and overwhelming theatricality that made them superstars -- though the last third of the album does return to the idea of a ending an album with a conceptually-tied semi-suite, referenced by the album's title.

Unfortunately for Billion Dollar Babies, Furnier's weird charisma really is missed here. Without him they end up sounding somewhat generic at times, especially on a pair of ballad attempts. Bruce's vocals occasionally seem to be trying a bit too much to sound like their ex-lead singer. But these are still the same guys who wrote the earlier songs, and the old raunchy rock sound of the "Love it to Death" era returns to great effect on "Too Young" and "Rock n' Roll Radio" (both released as singles) and "Shine Your Love." After a solid start, the album bogs down when the concept is trundled out on side two.

Following the release of Battle Axe, plans for a full tour were reportedly scrapped after only a few shows due to lawsuit threats from their former management. The group broke up, and the album quickly disappeared. Since then it's only resurfaced briefly as an unauthorized import CD, so interested listeners should keep their eyes on the used LP bins. (Polydor, 1977)

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