You will be forgiven if you don’t know the new kids on the rock block, Hollywood Vampires, but the band’s components will certainly ring bells. The main moving parts are rock God Alice Cooper/lead vocal, Aerosmith’s axe-shredder Joe Perry, and superstar Hollywood actor/bad boy Johnny Depp brandishing his guitar on this their 2nd LP, Rise (June 21, 2019)
According to Cooper the band was put together to honour their “dead drunk friends” like “the Hendrixs, the Morrisons, the John Lennons…”, and play mostly covers as they did on their self-titled 2015 debut release. But here they focus on their own material, searching for their voice and sound. Coop says they are just a bar band but did not want to sound anything like their former selves: the Alice Cooper of old, or Aerosmith. Other band members include Tommy Henriksen (Warlock) on lead and rhythm guitars, Glen Sobel (Mötley Crüe, Rick Sambora) on drums, Chris Wyse (The Cult, Ozzy Osbourne…) playing bass and singing backup vocals, and Buck Johnson (Aerosmith) on keyboards. They are essentially a supergroup of talent bent on delivering something new. And they seem to have found their footing with a vigorous setlist of rock ‘n rollers.
The Hollywood Vampires was initially an elite drinking club set up by Cooper in the 70s to pay homage to “the drop” (alcohol) where they all tried to outdrink one another, some of the gilded members include or included Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Bernie Taupin, Elton John, Mickey Dolenz, John Lennon, and Harry Nilsson to name a few. So the name carries on to this coterie of bad boys to keep the ‘tradition’ alive in a rock ‘n roll fashion.
The album blows open with I Want My Now, a vigorous metal mash up where Cooper carries the number on a snarling vocal over a band that certainly connects here for a promising start. The rest of this 16-song collection offers some very well-structured rock arrangements such as the wicked Get From Around Me, the Pink Floydish Mr.Spider, and the old-school boogie of Welcome to Bushwackers, a number hailing the benefits of smoking, drinking, chasing women and all that alpha dog behavior they’re so accustomed to, with some handy help from two lads called Jeff Beck and John Waters.
With Cooper at 71, Perry 68 and Depp a young 56, the material is surprisingly raw and you can see they really lean into it with youthful enthusiasm. Cooper goes on, “Getting my teeth into a song like ‘I Want My Now’ or ‘The Boogeyman Surprise,’ those are the kind of songs that Alice can eat right up. ‘We Gotta Rise’ sounds to me like a song they would sing at a soccer match in England. It sounds like the most comical song on the whole album, but it does give the audience a reason to stand up and cheer.” So, as far as trying to escape their past, well, you can’t teach an old dog completely new tricks, (or licks).
The band does a few covers, like Heroes by David Bowie, sung by Depp with some trepidation by the look on his face, but he pulls it off nicely as well as kicking in on his ‘56 Fender Telecaster. Then a head-banging rendition of the Jim Carroll Band’s number People Who Died, a tribute to all lost rockers, even the original vampire Christopher Lee, and then the sweet Johnny Thunders tune You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory, ‘sung’ by Perry with his unique atonal vocal approach, which works to remarkable effect.
All in all, this is a pretty solid effort by a group of boys who have absolutely nothing to prove, nothing to gain or lose, they’re just out for some rock ‘n roll fun, hit the road and live it up, or “Rise to the occasion” as Cooper says all vampires always do.