Author: mikeladano

Metal, hard rock, rock and roll! LeBrain's Record Store Tales & Reviews!

REVIEW: Kathryn Ladano – Masked (2019 vinyl)

KATHRYN LADANO – Masked (2019 vinyl version – test pressing)

The new Dr. Kathryn Ladano album Masked will be out soon, and we just got our (very neat and clean) hands on a pristine test pressing of the vinyl LP.  We don’t have the sleeve, liner notes or CD bonus tracks.  However we can say, without any of the extras, that this is a remarkable sounding album.

You can hear Dr. Kathryn breathing, and you can hear the click of the key pads.  The album is completely solo improvisations.  What you hear is what was played in the moment, in the studio.  The fact you can hear the keys and the breathing makes it a very physical sounding album.

Isotope records did an excellent job with the actual cutting of the vinyl.  It will be interesting to hear a comparison with the eventual CD version (which will come with two more songs).  The bass clarinet is a diverse instrument, and it’s possible you won’t even know you’re listening to a wind instrument at times.  There are moments of dissonance that sound like an electric guitar.  Others sound like a broken theremin, Jason Voorhees, or a dog growling!  The second track is absolutely mental.  Ladano also goes full “Van Halen” with speed and frenzy in certain passages.  However it’s all executed with complete control and mastery of the instrument, and you can hear this.

The rich tones of the bass clarinet are evident in the more melodic material, which some listeners might find easier to digest.  The rhythms you can create with the bass clarinet are also pretty riveting.  Each track is different, which is good when you’re listening to instrumental music that is so far out in left field.  This album goes from left to right and all over the place, but rarely hangs around the middle.

As a whole, Masked plays out like the soundtrack to a science fiction film.  Something like THX-1138 or Blade Runner: 2049.  The only difference is that this is entirely performed on one acoustic instrument.  It sure sounds like many, though, because it’s hard to believe a woodwind can make this much noize.

4.5/5 stars

Here’s an interview with Dr. Kathryn by Ambush Schnauzer Paparazzi. She discusses the new album and artwork below.

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WTF Comments: Prisoners in Max’s Paradise edition

You gotta give Max [not The Axe, as far as we know] credit for this scorcher.  We don’t agree on Prisoners in Paradise by Europe, and that’s OK.  I was harsh on the album so Max was harsh on me.

I don’t know what the fuck this reviewer got stuck in his ears; a dead cat!?

Good one for sure.  Max goes on:

He complains about some songs being “pop” songs. Well what the fuck do you think this band is, Metallica??

Of course not, Max.  But have you heard of this album called Europe, by the band Europe?  Not a pop record, bud.  Not a pop record.

I don’t care. I like ’em. 

That’s cool Max.  I like ’em too.  Cool yer jets, bro!

For Max’s full comment click here.  Thanks for reading, anyway!

REVIEW: Kick Axe – “Reality is the Nightmate” (1981) – Kick Axe series Part One

Part One of a series on classic KICK AXE!

KICK AXE – “Reality is the Nightmare” (1981, from Playboy Street Rock on Nightlife Records)

They were originally called Hobbit.  Formed in Regina Saskatchewan, the core was Larry Gillstrom and the Langen brothers, Victor and Gary.  They were playing mostly covers, but by mid-1976 they changed their name to Kick Axe.  What is a “Kick Axe”?  The name represented rock band instruments – kick drums and axes.  Members came and went, including Gary Langen, until they settled on a five member lineup:  Larry Gillstrom (guitar), his brother Brian (drums), Victor Langen (bass), Raymond Harvey (guitar) and Charles McNary (vocals).

It was this lineup that recorded the first Kick Axe releases.  (Though not the very first Kick Axe recordings — an earlier album was scrapped and has never been heard.)  The first two records that were available were a single called “Weekend Ride” (to be reviewed next time) and a live song called “Reality is the Nightmare”.  This was recorded in Vancouver and released in April 1981 on a most peculiar LP.

Street Rock was a compilation by Playboy Magazine of new, unsigned bands.  Kick Axe were one of two Canadian bands to make the cut, the other being a group called The Remedials.  According to the back cover, which prominently features the “rabbit head” logo, these are the bands that won a Playboy “music poll talent search”.  It appears Kick Axe were the only group here who went on to bigger things.  I’ve never heard of Snake Rock.  Have you?  The singer’s name was Snake Rock (no relation to Kid or The), and he had a snake tattoo and a snakeskin vest.

Kick Axe clearly had talent even back in 1981.  “Reality is the Nightmare” boasts a solid riff and accompanying groove.  Charles McNary was a decent singer, too.  Kick Axe got lucky later on when they landed the golden pipes of George Criston, but McNary could hold his own.  He could scream and carry a melody.  The guitar soloing and drumming on this track is quite exceptional.  The track was written by McNary and Larry Gillstrom, and whadayaknow? — they could write a good song!  It’s a well constructed heavy rock song, not breaking any new ground, but doesn’t have to.  Listening to the individual instruments, it’s clear that Kick Axe could always play and always write melodically.  Victor Langen is a melodic bassist and combined with Brian Gillstrom’s almost tribal drums, you get a song that is more than the sum of its parts.  That’s pretty impressive for such early material.

With a quality track like this right from the start, Kick Axe were off to the races.

4/5 stars

 

 

VIDEO: A “Kick Axe” Weekend + next series preview!

The first weekend of August is a long weekend in Ontario.  It’s called the Civic holiday, but people in retail still have to work it.  I did, almost every single year at the Record Store.  This year we spent the holiday at the lake, where I secretly began work on the next review series here at mikeladano.com.  With the encouragement of my good buddy Superdekes, two posts were completed at the lake, on the front porch.  You couldn’t have asked for a better setting.

As usual I’ve assembled a video of some of our weekend fun, all to the tune of Max the Axe (“My Daddy Was A Murderin’ Man”, and “Call of the Wild”).  Check out crystal clear waters, mountains of food, and rock and roll.  And of course that sneak preview for our next review series!

NON-REVIEW: KISS – Hit Collection 2000 (Russian import)

kiss-logo – Hit Collection 2000 (E.S Records – Russian import)

I call this a “non-review” because I’ve never actually listened to this CD.  I’ve never even opened it.  This disc is one of dozens of Russian imports sold to us by a guy named Serge.  Ah, Serge — part time Russian CD distributor, part time male model.  And a total pain in the ass.  Most of what he tried to sell us was utter shit.  “This is really big in Europe”, he would say about just about every dance CD that I would pass on.  Because this CD is more a curiosity than anything else, I’d like to keep it sealed.  These compilations are so shady that Discogs won’t even allow them for sale.  Think of them as bootlegs.  It’s not the real Kiss logo at the top and that should be cautioning. Because I don’t want to open it, I’ll just listen to the songs on other albums, and review it that way.

The track “Psycho Circus” is a logical opener for a CD released in 2000.  The Psycho Circus album was Kiss’ most recent, and they opened their shows with the title track.  It’s the closest thing to a classic from that album.  Never mind that Ace Frehley and Peter Criss aren’t really on the song; that was typical for Kiss.  It just takes one play and you know it’s Kiss.  Nobody else sounds like this.  Kiss basically ripped themselves off on this song.

Off to a good start, but then things go a bit strange.  “Charisma” from 1979’s disco album Dynasty follows, and by contrast to “Psycho Circus”, the band has never played it live.  (The internet will tell you they played it in Mexico in 1981, but this was just miming for a TV performance.)  The Russians then dropped “Detrot Rock City” (yes, that’s how they spell it) in the third slot.  Then it’s “God of Thunder” which works really well immediately following “Detroit”.  Strangely, back to disco next.  It’s the hit “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”, before it gets even weirder.  Sandwiched between “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” and a slew of tracks from the Kiss solo albums is the ballad “Beth”.  Granted, “Beth” is pretty out of place no matter where she is placed.  It’s also strange that three of Kiss’ biggest hits are crammed together in a small group like this.  It’s even stranger when you look further down the tracklist and realize that one of the biggest hits (“Rock and Roll all Nite”) is completely absent in any form.

The only thing more jarring than hearing Gene Simmons’ solo track “Radioactive” immediately after “Beth” is when the painkillers start to wear off in the middle of a root canal.  Were the solo albums big in Russia?  All four solo albums get a track on this CD, though not all were singles like “Radioactive” was.  Frehley’s “Rip It Out” is arguably a better song than his single anyway (“New York Groove”).  “Rip It Out” is more than welcome here since it so rarely makes it onto compilations.  It’s only on two others:  Best of Solo Albums, and Ikons.  Stanley’s next with “Ain’t Quite Right”, an interesting choice since it’s such a laid back track.  His album has so many better songs for compiling.  Last of the solo tracks is Peter’s single “Don’t You Let Me Down”, a nice ballad, but as you’ll see this CD already has enough ballads.

Back to the mainstream Kiss songs, “Do You Love Me” works really well as a transition out of the solo stuff.  Then it’s time for some Elder.  “A World Without Heroes” isn’t shunned like it used to be.  It’s been on a few compilations, like Kiss 40, Icon 2, and the Box Set.  Another hit from the disco era, Frehley’s “2000 Man” (a Stones cover) is a welcome addition.  The only other compilation it’s been on was Ikons (not including live). Here’s a fact for you:  a Kiss compilation is only strengthened by more Ace.  Fortunately this isn’t the last.

As we get close to the end, “Shout It Out Loud” is rolled out, which makes up for the lack of “Rock and Roll all Nite”.  Then the Russians go full Chernobyl by including the weak ballad “I Finally Found My Way” as the last song in the set.  Why?  Was this a hit in the motherland?  Was it a hit anywhere?  Peter sings it, but he didn’t write it.  Paul did.  And Paul was writing a lot of shit ballads back then.

Russian imports usually had “bonus tracks”.  Sometimes they’d use tracks from live or solo albums.  They went live in this case, with three tracks from the Psycho Circus bonus CD.  Ace sings on “Into the Void”, one of those undeniable Frehley riffs.  “Into the Void” was a highlight from the disappointing Psycho Circus, and this live take swaggers.  “Black Diamond” is dramatic as ever, but where I give the Russians the most credit is closing the CD with “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll”.  Think back and realize, that’s how the original Kiss Alive ended too.

I’m not going to bother giving this CD a rating (what’s the point?) but I will point out that the Russians go all over the place, from genius to asinine, with this track list.  Sometimes it feels like they just threw a bunch of stuff to the wall and didn’t wait to see what stuck.  At others it sounds well thought-out.  It’s probably just random.

?/5 stars

Sunday Chuckle: A hairy situation

I’ve been known to do dumb things on a dare.  Here’s the most recent one.

 

#771: Just A Tribute

GETTING MORE TALE #771: Just A Tribute

I used to loathe tribute bands – those acts that get up on stage and play entire sets of another band.  There was “Runs N’ Your Hoses”, for example, a Guns N’ Roses tribute act.  In the late 80s and early 90s, these tribute bands plagued the Toronto music scene, chocking out acts playing original music.  M.E.A.T Magazine went on a holy crusade against these bands, and refused to give coverage to any of them.  I thought that was a good idea.  Eventually the Toronto scene flourished with band after band playing original songs.

Things have changed completely in the last 30 years and tribute acts are no longer a scourge like they once were.  They co-exist with original bands, sharing the scene.  However until recently, I still found tribute bands somewhat embarrassing.  Why would I want to go see four guys dressed as Kiss?  Sure, it’s cheaper than seeing the real band, and they would play songs that Kiss would not, but still:  it’s not Kiss.  Kiss tribute bands are a funny thing.  Usually the Genes look good, but the Pauls don’t look like Stanley and the Peters are pudgy.  I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to get into the act.  You’ll also see AC/DC tribute bands, with the guitarist wearing shorts and the singer sporting a train conductor hat.  That’s usually as far as it goes, with the rest of the band just showing up in the street clothes.  I guess if you are out with friends with nothing to do, you could catch a set of AC/DC tunes for a few bucks.

I took a bit of flack a few months ago when I saw an ad for an Oasis tribute band.  The picture showed two guys in Oasis haircuts, obviously meant to be the Liam and Noel of the band.  Something about that picture struck me as utterly ridiculous.  The haircuts – I mean, do you look like Liam and Noel on your days off?  Why not go up there and play the Oasis songs as yourselves?  It’s not like Oasis are an image-based band like Kiss (and Angus Young to a lesser degree).  You can do Oasis songs without the hair.

A guy who plays in a Queen tribute band chastised me for my blanket stance on tributes.  His own band worked hard on nailing the songs, practising until they were perfect.  He makes original music in his spare time, quite different from the Queen stuff.  He considered the tribute band a form of art, something you could do really poorly or work hard at it and do really well.  And it’s not like you can go and see Queen (or Oasis) whenever you want.  I didn’t mean to shit all over his livelihood.  Surely I couldn’t be the only one who saw the Oasis hair and thought it was a bit silly?  His Queen band look the part.  He wears a big curly Brian May wig, and his Freddie impersonator looks spot-on.  He’s a respectable progressive rock guitarist, and I have to consider that.  He knows his stuff and he does music for a living.  People love the Queen act, even if I don’t get it.

A little later down the road, I met a music nut named Tony.  He asked me if I played any instruments.  Alas, I do not.  “My brother plays in an Oasis tribute band,” he said.  My jaw dropped.  Holy shit.

His brother was in the Oasis band with the haircuts that I had been mocking earlier!

I laughed and confessed to him what I had been saying about the Oasis tribute.  We talked a bit.  I began to appreciate the tribute a bit more.  The band, called Supersonic, played all over the place in both Canada and the US.  They’ve done big gigs; they’ve played the Horseshoe tavern and all kinds of festivals.  Clearly, people at large don’t have a problem with tribute bands.  Just me.  I don’t hear anybody else complaining about them.

So what’s my problem?

I guess I’m starting to warm up to the idea of tribute bands.  I admit, I’d rather see a guitar player get up there as himself, and not wear a Brian May wig.  It reminds me a bit of highschool air bands.  But when you have a guy up there dressed to the nines like Freddie Mercury, it would seem silly not to have a Brian May lookalike standing next to him, right?

I need to rethink my position.  Perhaps they enrich the music scene and fill a demand that the original bands can’t?  Some, like The Iron Maidens, have even recorded albums!  Few things have changed as much as music has in the last 30 years, and we now seem to be living in a time when a tribute act is a legitimate enterprise.  The biggest tribute bands seem to have a gimmick beyond just doing the songs or the look.  Hayseed Dixie, for example, used to do bluegrass covers of AC/DC before they diversified to Kiss and other classic rockers.  Then there are all-female acts like AC/DShe, Hells Belles and the aforementioned Iron Maidens.  Like any kind of band, there are good and bad ones.  I think it might be time to stop overlooking the good.

#770: Encore!

GETTING MORE TALE #770: Encore!

I’ve been avoiding downtown Kitchener for the last couple years.  All that construction (five years’ worth) installing our new light-rail transit system…it’s been hellacious.  But that construction is now over, and the LRT train (called the ION) is running every 15 minutes.  Only two years behind schedule!  And guess where one of the stops is?  Right by legendary record store Encore Records.  Perfect!  No need to worry about parking.

Mrs. LeBrain and I hopped on a bus to the mall, and a few minutes later the train pulled in.  Using the free Wi-fi, I live-streamed myself making goofy faces on our new train.  The ride was quiet and fast since it only stopped a handful of times.  These new trains are lovely!  Now that they are finally running, I can see that the headaches will be worth it.  Clean and quick – I’d use the ION again.  It’s a shame but there are still people who hate the train so much that they would actually like to spend taxpayer money on ripping up the tracks!  What a waste that would be.  Let’s give this LRT a fair shake.

We disembarked the train at the City Hall stop, only a brief walk from Encore.  Not only was this my first ride on the train, but also my first visit to Encore since they moved from their old Queen St. location.  The new store, though not wheelchair accessible, seemed bigger and cleaner.  Old pal Al “The” King was there, happily still slinging the rock for us patrons.

We chatted a bit.  Al really enjoyed working at Encore.  There was a guy that I trained at my old Record Store about 15 years ago.  He left shortly after to work at Encore, and he’s still there!  When you find a place you enjoy working, I guess you stay!

Time to go look at music….

It didn’t take long for me to exceed my budget for the day.  First snag was from the new release rack:  The Beaches’ excellent new EP The Professional, $9.99.  A great recording; it will be getting a few spins this summer.  Next:  the used CD racks.  Plenty of stock as usual.  I came looking for old Styx, but there was no used Styx that I needed.  Instead I grabbed three Scorpions remasters:  World Wide Live (with DVD), Savage Amusement (with DVD), and Animal Magnetism.  $20 each.

Whoops!  I already owned Animal Magnetism.  No big deal; looks like some lucky person will be getting a free copy from me.  I really have to keep track of reissues better.  This is happening more and more frequently as my collection grows.

I still wanted some more classic Styx.  I’ve been playing my Styx albums repeatedly.  I needed some more classics to throw in the shuffle, so I moved on to the new CD racks.  There I picked up Pieces of Eight and Crystal Ball.  $9.99 each.  One by one and I’ll get them all.

Continuing through the racks of new stock, I spied two Kick Axe remasters by Rock Candy.  I’ve wanted both these albums for a long time:  Vices and Welcome to the Club, $22.99 each.  I’ve spun through both twice and was impressed with both the music and liner notes.  What an underrated singer George Criston is.  This sparked more Kick Axe purchases later on Discogs and Amazon.  The third album, Rock the World, is coming in the form of another Rock Candy remaster.  And thanks to the excellent liner notes inside Vices, I also tracked down some early Kick Axe on Discogs.  Debut single “Week-End Ride” / “One More Time” from 1981 is inbound!  Also coming, from the same year, is a compilation LP called Playboy Street Rock.  Kick Axe have a live track on that called “Reality is the Nightmare”.  It’s going to be cool hearing those early songs, which had a different singer.

It’s funny about Kick Axe.  One of the first buttons I ever bought for my jacket was Vices.  It only took close to 40 years to finally get the album.

Finally we closed the Encore trip with some vinyl.  A lovely reissue of Alice Cooper’s Zipper Catches Skin, on clear “black smoke” vinyl.  It looks and sounds great, and now I finally have all the Alice Cooper studio albums.

We bid farewell to Al and headed home again on the ION.  Now that the train is up and running, I do believe I’ll be making Encore a fairly regular weekend stop.

5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Hollywood Vampires – Rise (2019 3 CD Japanese edition) Part 2 – Live

Part two of a two part review

Check out part one, the studio album Rise, by clicking here.


HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES – Rise (2019 Edel Japanese edition) – Discs 2 & 3 Live

How do you do a Japanese edition up right?  How about including 21 bonus tracks in the form of a double live album?  Get your credit cards out, folks.

Hollywood Vampires Live unfortunately lacks any English documentation, but Japanese readers might know when and where this show was recorded.  It focuses on the covers with a handful of originals, the basis of the first Hollywood Vampires album.  Unfortunately a few more fallen heroes have been added to the list of rock casualties, and so Lemmy and Bowie are among the stars honoured.

The original tune “Raise the Dead” (featuring an intro by the late Sir Christopher Lee) opens the show, but it’s just preamble for the better known covers.  “I Got A Line On You” is the first track where you realize you’re listening to Matt Sorum (Guns N’ Roses, The Cult) on drums.  He’s unmistakable.  The big surprise is that the bassist is Robert DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots)!  Alice first covered this tune back in ’88 and it sounds like it’s one of his own songs now.  “20th Century Boy” has bite, a little more than the studio cut.

Alice pauses to explain the concept of the band.  “We are the Hollywood Vampires,” he asserts.  “We pay homage to all of our dead drunk friends.  And here comes one now.”  It’s Keith Moon and “Pinball Wizard”, a Who cover that was not on the Hollywood Vampires’ debut album.  “My Generation” was however, and here it’s injected with the live fire of the sweaty concert stage.  Jimi Hendrix is honoured next with “Manic Depression”.  Joe Perry playing Jimi Hendrix.  Cool.   Alice Cooper has no problem jumping from style to style, expert performer that he is.

“This one’s for John,” states Alice.  That would be John Lennon, with both “Cold Turkey” and “Come Together”.  Joe Perry, of course, is no stranger to “Come Together” which Aerosmith scored a hit with themselves.  “Come Together” is another nice bonus because it wasn’t on the Vampires album.  It has a different feel from Aerosmith’s take even though it’s the same guitar player.

“Seven and Seven Is” (by Arthur Lee and Love) goes next, which is a late addition to the canon.  The Vampires recorded it as an iTunes bonus track for the debut album where it remains an exclusive.  The live version is a blitz; Matt Sorum’s sticks must have caught fire.  Contrasting that is the band’s interpretation of “Whole Lotta Love”, with Alice and Tommy Henriksen singing lead instead of Brian Johnson.

“I met these guys in 1968.  They were my best friends.  And I drank a little bit with Jim Morrison…”  The Doors are next to be saluted.  “Five to One” and “Break On Through” kick ass; Alice really gives ‘er.  David Bowie gets the nod on “Rebel Rebel” and “Suffragette City”.  It all sounds natural to the Hollywood Vampires.

“As Bad As I Am” is an original song about Johnny Depp, and another track that was only on the iTunes version of Hollywood Vampires.  It sounds a bit like “Reckless Life” by Guns N’ Roses.  Joe Perry takes the next lead vocal on “Stop Messin’ Around”, the old Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac blues number.  It’s an obvious choice since Aerosmith covered it on their 2004 blues album Honkin’ on Bobo.  This one is an extended jam, far beyond what Aerosmith did with it.

“My Dead Drunk Friends” is a Vampires original, sort of their raison d’etre, that being paying tribute to Alice’s deceased drinking buddies.  It pales in comparison to “Ace of Spades” (lead vocals by Henriksen), easily the heaviest song that Joe Perry’s ever played on.  Possibly Alice too.  Check out DeLeo on bass, doing his best Lemmy.  It’s sad that Lemmy Kilmister joined the list of Rainbow regulars who didn’t make it, but holy shit, what a version!

Only now, at the end of the concert, do the Vampires roll out their own past hits.  “I’m Eighteen”, “Sweet Emotion”, “Train Kept A Rollin'” and “School’s Out” sound brilliant.  In particular, to hear “I’m Eighteen” with Joe Fucking Perry playing guitar?  “Sweet Emotion” with Alice Cooper singing?  Sweet Jesus Murphy, is this a fever dream?  As usual, Alice melds “Another Brick in the Wall” to “School’s Out” pretty much making it the definitive “school” song.

Closing the show, Alice reminds us:  “And remember, give blood!  To us!”

If the Vampires keep putting out quality releases, then that’s a distinct possibility.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Hollywood Vampires – Rise (2019 3 CD Japanese edition) Part 1

Part one of a two part review


HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES – Rise (2019 Edel Japanese edition) – Disc 1

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.

3.5/5 stars

Come back tomorrow for a look at the Japanese exclusive Discs 2 and 3:  Hollywood Vampires Live.