In later years there has been a trend for aging rock musicians to release cover albums “to show people their roots and where they come from musically”. Just like we haven’t figured that out – or read in countless of magazines – after 30 – 40 years in the business. And it seems like the older the artist, the more predictable and bland their choices of covers are. Not to mention a big lack of imagination. Ever so often the songs are performed close to the original and as dutiful as possible without any passion, fire or excitement. Countless are the covers albums that just passes us by with a big jawn, never to be played again. There are exceptions, of course, both Stryper and Tesla managed to release interesting and fun cover albums with at least some imagination and heart. That’s why I always feel very sceptic every time I hear the words “covers album” when an artist is about to release a new record. Besides, to me it always feels like the artist is suffering from writers block or something and that releasing a covers album is an easy way out when they need a new product out. The latest artist to record a covers album is Alice Cooper. It has been a long time coming as I heard the talk of such an album from The Coop a few years ago. But ole Coop has been promoting said album on his latest tours where he has been playing cover songs in his set. Now, the way I look at Alice is that he’s not the kind of artist that will make a covers album work. Even on his tours, the covers got much criticism and hardly anybody thought it was a good idea playing those over Alice own tunes. See, a Alice Cooper gig is more than just music, it’s just as much about theatrics and in Cooper’s horror show, covers do not fit the least. Same thing with his records, Cooper has a very special style when it comes to melodies and sound and for him to play a bunch of covers sounds like a very bad idea. However, as time went along, Cooper’s covers album turned into a band situation and that’s why the project is released under a band name instead of Cooper’s own name. Also, the name Hollywood Vampires comes from a bunch of hard-drinking rock stars that involved Alice himself in the 70’s that were called the Hollywood vampires because they were never awake during the day and all they did was drink. That means that all of the songs that are being covered here are by rock stars that drank themselves to death – or had serious drink and drug problems. They were also Alice’s friends and this is his tribute to them. The core of this band is beside Alice, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry (who actually played in Alice’s band for five minutes in the early 80’s) and actor / guitar player Johnny Depp. The fact that Perry is one of the spokesmen for this project is a bit weird as he only play on four of the album’s 14 tracks. Other musicians involved in this project are Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr’s son) on drums, Tommy Henriksen (Alice Cooper) on guitar, Joe Walsh (Eagles) on guitar, Kip Winger on bass, Robby Krieger (The Doors) on guitar, Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana) on drums and long time Alice Cooper producer Bob Ezrin (Kiss, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple) as the project’s producer, among others. There are other well-known names involved, but more of them later. All of this made this project a bit more interesting than it was in the first place. The fact that Alice made this a band project instead of his solo album also made it more interesting.
The album opens with a spoken word narration by the one and only Christopher Lee called “The Last Vampire”. He speaks over a spooky keyboard piece of music and it gets even spookier when you think about the fact that Lee died in June and this album was released after his death so this intro comes literary from the other side of the grave. Lee alone makes this record worth buying. Almost. “Listen to them, children of the night… What music they make”. Very effective, effectful and atmospheric. I give Lee 10/10. The first song on the album is a new one, an original, written by Coop, Depp, Ezrin, Henriksen, Bruce Witkin and Rob Klonel and that one is clearly one of the most memorable tunes on this record. Sounds like an upgraded version of Alice Cooper’s 80’s – and a better version of that, really! The Who’s “My Generation” is up next and they make a really good cover of it. It stays true to the original, but they still bring their own style to it. My first acquaintance with that song was when The Sweet covered it for their 1974 album Desolation Boulevard and I have liked the song ever since then. Russian melodic rockers Gorky Park also covered it but their version really wasn’t all that. Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” starts out really cool, a bit slower with a huge 70’s Alice Cooper feel and I believe it should have been kept that way. But the song turns into a cover that’s closer in style to the original, but with a fatter sound. But the groove is big and the fact that Alice brings in AC/DC singer Brian Johnson to duet with him gives the song a different vibe. On Spirit’s “I Got A Line On You” Cooper is guested by Jane’s Addiction vocalist Perry Farrell, but he gets to play second fiddle to Cooper and isn’t noticed that much. The song has a cool groove and it’s rocking, but at the same time forgettable. The band takes on two The Doors songs in one when they medley “Five To One” and “Break On Through”. Now, the latter is a predictable choice and quite boring, to tell you the truth. The band should have stayed with only “Five To One”, a very underrated track that the band did justice to. Next up is another medley, this time a Harry Nilsson one, also with Farrell sharing the mike with Coop, made up by “One” (also covered by Dokken on their Erase The Slate (1999)) and “Jump Into The Fire”. “One” sounds great and the arrangement reminds me of Bigelf (yes, that Bigelf!) with some old Alice, but “Jump Into The Fire” gets lost. The tiff has a cool Keith Richards sound, but it doesn’t help as the song is pretty bland. Badfinger’s “Come And Get It” is next, written by one Paul McCartney it’s only proper that Macca himself appear on the song, playing bass and singing. It’s a great song and the vamps make a killer cover of it. I can’t figure out why no one hasn’t covered it before. Also, to have Coop, Macca and Joe Perry on the same song is cooler than cool. “Jeepster” is a T.Rex tune, written by Marc Bolan, but to tell you the truth, this is a song that has passed me by completely. Sure, I’ve heard it, but it have never stuck. This one doesn’t stick either. It has a good groove, but it’s a throwaway. John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey”, however, is magnificent. I have always loved that song and Coop and the boys makes a brilliant cover of it. It’s hard, powerful and it kicks butt, just like it should.
Dead rock stars? Well, of course, no such compilation is complete without a Jimi Hendrix cover and here it is: “Manic Depression”. This is a very good song, but the choice is so predictable and dull and I could do without this one. Maybe another Hendrix choice, a less obvious one, would have done the trick? The Small Faces “Itchycoo Park” (earlier covered by both John Sykes’ Blue Murder and Quiet Riot) is much better. I admit that the song have never done much for me, but I really, really like this version – for some reason the whole approach makes sense to me. Then Alice decides to cover himself and re-record “School’s Out” (Krokus did also cover this tune). Wow. Thing is, I don’t like this song at all – never have and probably never will and this version, which sounds just like the original, won’t change that. The addition of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall Pt 2” over “School’s Out” rhythm is pretty cool, but this is a thing Alice has done live for years and years, but I guess this way, we get it as a studio version as well. To put Brian Johnson (AC/DC) on it to share lead vocal duties on it at least makes it a little bit different and interesting. That his old band mates, drummer Neal Smith and bassist Dennis Dunaway appears on the track is a cool footnote, but it’s not exactly as you can hear that it is them playing. Also, Slash is guesting on guitar here. But the band has saved the best for last, a newie called “Dead Drunk Friends”. Written by Coop, Ezrin, Depp, Witkin and Henriksen, this dirty and sleazy blues rocker makes me wish for an album full of originals – this tune is a real killer! The chanting ““We drink and we fight and we fight and we puke and we puke and we fight and we drink!” kinda gives away what it was all about for those guys back in the day. Glamorous, huh?
Is this album worth the green then? Well, to be honest, I’m not sure. Both yes and no, I guess. First, I think that there are too many obvious and predictable choices song wise here and if that isn’t enough, too many of them are played too true the originals and not much new life has been given them. But when they do rise to the occasion, it sounds terrific. The whole deal with a band called Hollywood Vampires that pays tribute to the dead rock icons that had that couple of drinks too many or took them pills by the pound way too often kind of appeals to me, especailly as the musicians involved are who they are. Besides, to have Alice as a band member again instead of a solo artist is also very appealing. I’m not so sure this album is the killer it could have been but the band itself really are. The two new songs are the most interesting on the album and they make me wish for a continuation, not as a cover band, but as a real one – the thought of a cool band featuring Cooper, Perry and Depp releasing an album full of originals is thrilling. This album, however, ends up somewhere in the middle.
1. The Last Vampire
2. Raise The Dead
3. My Generation
4. Whole Lotta Love
5. I Got A Line On You
6. Five to One/Break On Through
7. One/Jump Into The Fire
8. Come And Get It
10. Cold Turkey
11. Manic Depression
12. Itchycoo Park
13. School’s Out/Another Brick in The Wall pt.2
14. Dead Drunk Friends