To pay tribute to old friends and musicians that succumbed to hard living with alcohol and drugs, singer Alice Cooper brought his buddies Joe Perry (Aerosmith) and actor Johnny Depp out on the road to play some covers in their honor. They called the band Hollywood Vampires because back when, Alice was a part of that gang that included a bunch of 60’s and 70’s celebrities that had a drinking club called The Hollywood Vampires because, well, they hung around in Hollywood and they only came out at night. As guest musicians people like Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses), Brad Whitford (Aerosmith), Matt Sorum (The Cult, Guns N’ Roses) and Robert DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots) showed up for the gigs. As time went by – and as Alice was about to release a cover album himself – the guys decided to make a band out of it and while they were at it, make Alice’s covers album a band album instead.
The album featured songs by The Who, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, T. Rex and Jimi Hendrix – and also three originals – and was ok but it didn’t exactly set the world on fire, something cover-albums seldom do. But that mattered very little for The Coop, Perry and Depp as this band was all about having fun and something like a safe haven for the guys away from the musts and can’ts of their day jobs. The guys actually had so much fun that they decided on a follow-up, this time all but three songs out of sixteen being originals co-written by the three of them, with some outside helping hands on some tracks. Today, the band consists of Cooper, Perry, Depp, Tommy Henriksen (Alice Cooper, rhythm guitar), Glen Sobel (Alice Cooper, drums), Chris Wyse (Ace Frehley, bass) and Buck Johnson (keyboards, rhythm guitar). Johnson was also one of the guys who helped out on the song-writing for this album.
The three originals on the debut were good without leaving a lasting impression so it was interesting to hear if the guys had upped the quality on the thirteen original tunes on this one. The seven minute Classic Rock tune “I Want My Now” brings on a honky-tonk piano below some gritty guitars, a bouncy and kicking rhythm and a groove reminiscent of The Coop’s own material. It’s a really raunchy rocker that ends up with a jam. A good song but maybe a few minutes too long. “Good People Are Hard To Find” is a spoken-word interlude with a spooky vibe, some eerie voices and an ominous laughter. Why this had to be a “song” of its own instead of being just waved into the next track is really beyond me. The next track is called “Who’s Laughing Now” and it holds some dark vibes and slight alternative twists over crunchy Classic Rock riffs. The tune has a rhythmic stomp but why it was chosen as the first single is a bit puzzling as the chorus is completely lost on me. An ok tune, though.
We get another interlude with “How The Glass Fell”. Child voices over a harpsichord melody takes us to the next track “The Boogieman Surprise” and again, why even bother to give that intermission a name? What we’re given here is a slower in pace and heavy tune with a dark and sinister atmosphere complete with a slight symphonic arrangement. It’s a rowdy bumper with a total Alice Cooper vocal-melody and a sleazy refrain that hits exactly where it should. Great stuff. “Welcome To Bushwackers” features Jeff Beck on guitar and comes across as a hillbilly, rockabilly influenced stomper with an intense groove. We also get a talk-box. Just thought you should know that. It’s a fun-loving, drinking tune but at the same time it’s quite insignificant which makes it pretty forgettable without being directly bad. “The Wrong Bandage” is another interlude that don’t need a name. With a piano-melody this bagatelle takes us into the album first cover.
Which is a version of Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory”, sung by Perry. I have no probs admitting that I was never a fan of Thunders and even though I can understand peoples worship of his brittle and fragile vocals, it’s not for me. Yes, it is a great song originally but it’s badly produced and played and that’s why I totally embrace this cover. It’s an emotional ballad with lots of emotion and soulful vocals. Great. “Git From Around Me” holds a co-lead vocals from Depp and Henriksen and is an edgy, raw and rowdy garage-rocker, very in-your-face and stripped and while all is well there, the song lacks a real chorus and the hooks are nowhere to be found. It’s ok but it fails to grab me. Depp takes the mike again for a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes”, the latest single. It’s a brilliant song originally and I must say that that the guys – and especially Deep – do justice to the tune. They stay true to the original but at the same time, they make it their own. Good job.
You can use the skip-button for the next intermission, the electronica fueled “A Pitiful Beauty” and go right into the next track “New Threat”, a raw, crunchy Classic Rock tune with a Glam Rock nod. But to me, this one’s forgettable without anything to make it stand out and just like “Git Around Me”, I search for the hooks and a refrain that grabs – without result. “Mr Spider” is dark and spooky, slow in tempo and with a heavy outlook – and very Alice Cooper sounding. This could easily have fitted one of his later records. Very good. “We Gotta Rise” might just be Fat Les’ “Vindaloo” rewritten but it also bears resemblance to Cooper’s 70’s. Think parade-music or a doped up marching band going Rock and you’re pretty close. And while that might sound silly and even ridiculous, these vampires has pomped it up and added über-cacthy melodies which, at least for me, makes it hard to resist. I dig it.
Cover number three is “People Who Died”, originally by the Jim Carroll Band, is uptempo, cocky, in-your-face and steamy rock and roll with influences from both Pop and Punk. It’s a simple track, of course, but with a refrain almost annoyingly catchy and so many hooks it hurts. The chorus is reminiscent of Cooper’s own “Rats” – well, it’s the other way around really – from his latest album so if you dig that one, you won’t have a problem getting into this stomper. Very good. The album ends with “Congratulations”, an acoustic based ballad with only some keyboards behind it. The verses are spoken-word and a sung refrain. It’s not bad at all but in all honesty, it doesn’t feel like much of song – it’s more of an outtro of sorts. In my book, an album like this needs a rocker as a closer.
While this album certainly is better than I thought it would be, it do come with some flaws. First of all, all those interludes – most certainly there to create some sort of ambience – are totally pointless. There are also some fillers too many and the shortage of hooks and spot-on refrains takes away a couple of points. On the good side, it sure sounds like the guys are having fun and that they have found a creative spark together and this record comes across as genuine and honest. While you get a whole lot of music here, sixteen songs are at least four too many so had they shortened the album to ten tracks, the record surely had benefited from that. As for now, the record will work as good, upbeat party music and it will probably have more longevity than the debut but will I still be giving this lots of spins in a year to come? I think a sporadically spin is more likely.
More Hollywood Vampire reviews:
1. I Want My Now
2. Good People Are Hard To Find
3. Who’s Laughing Now
4. How The Glass Fell
5. The Boogieman Surprise
6. Welcome To Bushwackers
7. The Wrong Bandage
8. You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory
9. Git From Round Me
11. A Pitiful Beauty
12. New Threat
13. Mr. Spider
14. We Gotta Rise
15. People Who Died