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ALICE COOPER 

Dirty Diamonds

Since he never really left, Alice Cooper's 24th album can't be called a comeback. But it's definitely a return to form for the 57-year-old shock rocker who had become a caricature of himself through nearly two decades of steadily declining sales and irrelevant releases that tarnished the reputation he'd established in the '70s.

While there are no "Dead Babies"-styled epics, Cooper rediscovers his garage roots for such imaginatively titled, pedal-to-the-metal rockers as "Woman of Mass Distraction," "Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)" and "Your Own Worst Enemy." "Steal that Car" is a follow-up of sorts to "Under My Wheels" and would fit in just fine on 1972's School's Out, a compliment that couldn't be bestowed on many Cooper tracks from the past two decades.

A lovely and refreshingly un-ironic cover of the Left Banke's "Pretty Ballerina" and the John Lennon-ish "Six Hours" show that Cooper is as effective fronting ballads as the tougher material that dominates the album.

His current band is no Billion Dollar Babies, but carries the torch effectively as the guitars avoid the overblown nu-metal clichés that marred much of his '90s material.

Not everything works, though. "The Saga of Jesse Jane" sports juvenile lyrics about a cross-dressing truck driver, and the closing rap with Xzibit should have stayed an Internet-only track.

Yet for those who abandoned the Coop after the '70s, Dirty Diamonds offers more than a glimmer of hope for redemption.

Alice Cooper plays Chastain Park Amphitheatre, with Cheap Trick, Fri., Aug. 26, 8 p.m. $27.84-$57. 4469 Stella Drive. 404-733-5000. www.classicchastain.org.

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