Part one of a two part review
The first Hollywood Vampires was a covers album with a few originals. The second is an originals album with a few covers! It’s a little strange and kind of sounds exactly how you think it would. Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, Johnny Depp and pals obviously set out to have fun, which is audible, but there’s also a weird bent that runs through. Interestingly some of the best songs are the ones that sound like Aerosmith riffs, done up far better than Aerosmith would have lately.
At the outset, the Aerosmith flavour dominates the stew that is “I Want My Now”. It’s “Draw The Line” meets Alice Cooper. You can hear what it would have been like with Joey Kramer on drums, Tom Hamilton on bass and Steven Tyler shrieking up front, but instead it’s Alice, who has had a much more consistent output of late than Aerosmith. In other words, Perry’s riffs are in good hands and the guy deserves to have a lil’ fun. His guitar work has the looseness that Aerosmith shed years ago.
“Who’s Laughing Now” is psychedelic Alice, which could be the Depp influence. It’s a really good tune accented by 8-string bass (by Tommy Henriksen) and Joe Perry’s unmistakable guitar expertise. It’s also bookended by two weird instrumentals that appear to be Depp creations. Unfortunately all this lead-up ends at the slow and stodgy “The Boogieman Surprise”, probably the weakest tune. This starts a lull. A farcicle “Welcome to Bushwackers”, featuring Jeff Beck, is a token hillbilly country tune that doesn’t live up to its promise. The highlight, obviously, is Jeff Beck.
Course is corrected on Joe Perry’s lead vocal, a surprising “You Can’t Put Your Arm Around A Memory”, the Johnny Thunders song previously covered by Duff McKagan. Joe’s version is poignant and wise. “Git From Round Me” is a pulsing, hypnotic charge through the gates with Johnny Depp sharing vocal duties with Alice and Tommy. Depp takes one by himself on the Bowie cover “Heroes”, a surprisingly outstanding version. According to Cooper, Johnny Depp (who is currently fighting an acrimonious divorce battle with two-way accusations of domestic violence) had a lot of emotion to put into Rise. Perhaps that’s what gives “Heroes” its weight, though it’s not a heavy song.
The best of the brief instrumentals is by second bassist Chris Wyse, called “A Pityful Beauty”. The song it precedes, “New Threat”, is OK. It is not up to the better material, sounding a bit like a stock riff & rhythm. Fortunately “Mr. Spider” has a classic Cooper atmosphere, brimming with drama and horror. Also sounding like classic Alice, but a different kind, is “We Gotta Rise”. It’s “Elected” all over again with a Billion Dollar Babies mold, starring “President” Alice Cooper. Alice isn’t political, but it’s hard to read these lyrics as anything but:
“We gotta rise, let’s rise,
We gotta rise, let’s rise above the lies,
It’s you and I, it’s do or die,
We gotta rise, let’s rise above the lies.”
Maybe that’s reading too much into it, but it sure does sound like a call to arms. Regardless, “We Gotta Rise” is the best original song on the album. Depp’s next lead vocal, the Jim Carroll cover “People Who Died” is just about its equal. A rockabilly punk rocker, “People Who Died” is catchy as the flu, but better for you.
Rise concludes with an interesting spoken word track called “Congratulations”. It works because Alice, Johnny and Joe have rich speaking voices. Tommy Henriksen gets a spoken word portion too, using his more like a beat poet. What you’d think would be a boring slog turns out to be an album highlight.
It’s hard to fathom where Rise will sit in six months time or a year. It has moments less than stellar, where fat could have been cut, but the weirder escapades could warrant many returns. Bad press aside, Johnny Depp is charismatic on record. Joe Perry sounds like he’s having fun playing rock and roll away from Aerosmith. And Alice? When has he ever sounded like he wasn’t having fun?
Rise will probably have more longevity than the Hollywood Vampires’ covers album, it just needs to lose some dead weight.
Come back tomorrow for a look at the Japanese exclusive Discs 2 and 3: Hollywood Vampires Live.