Rating: *** 1/2
In the 1970s, there was a group of rock stars that would hang out every once in a while, trying to out-drink each other. They called themselves the Hollywood Vampires. The drinking club consisted of rock legends such as Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson and John Lennon The president of the group was shock rocker Alice Cooper. Nearly four decades later, Cooper is one of the few surviving members of the group. Now in 2015, Cooper and many of his musician friends such as Joe Perry, Dave Grohl, Paul McCartney, Brian Johnson, Slash, Joe Walsh and even actor Johnny Depp have teamed up to make a star-studded tribute album to the fallen Vampires, as well as other rock legends Cooper was friends with. The album, Hollywood Vampires, is a neat salute to his friends. While many of the songs on here are a little too faithful to the originals, Cooper and company have put a lot of work into this project.
The album opens with a narration by the late Christopher Lee, which leads into an original song “Raise the Dead.” It’s a great rocking tune with pretty good lyrics. Alice’s vocals are pretty solid too. From there on until the end, the album is a classic rock musical journey. Now let’s face it: cover albums are not very original. Given how Alice is known for making great conceptual albums, the idea to cover his fallen friends’ songs is pretty damn clever. Cover tunes can be done in two different ways: you can play the song faithfully or you can give your own take on the song (ex. Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends” or even X’s “Soul Kitchen”). For Hollywood Vampires, most of the songs follow along the lines of the former. Still, some of the covers here are worth listening to. “My Generation” follows the original but has this punk rock feel throughout while “Break On Through” has a cool twin lead guitar lick added to it. However, the covers of John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” don’t offer anything new.
Still, I can say I honestly like some of the covers here. Being a fan of Badfinger, the cover of “Come and Get It” featuring Alice and Paul McCartney (the song’s original writer) is good fun. While McCartney’s vocals do sound a little worn out, he gives a good performance of the song and it serves as a nice tribute to Pete Ham and Tom Evans (and even drummer Mike Gibbons). Alice’s take on T. Rex’s “Jeepster” is refreshing to hear and almost a different take on the song: the production on here is bigger and it’s played in a slightly different way. AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson shares lead vocals with Alice on “Whole Lotta Love” and “School’s Out/Another Brick in the Wall.” Both tracks are strong, the latter being a piece that Alice has played live in his recent shows. Hearing the two songs mesh together is nice. However, it’s the cover of the Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park” that I find to be the best of the covers. Why? It’s a completely different take on the song. While the original was a simple acoustic ditty, Alice and company have been able to transform it into a fast-paced modern sounding track. It really is impressive. The album ends with a comedic loungey number “Dead Drunk Friends.” It’s a great song and it’s very Alice: he takes a subject as dark as alcoholism and makes it humorous.”
Hollywood Vampires is simply a fun album. In all honesty, we really didn’t need to hear these songs re-recorded and could’ve stuck with the originals. Still, you can’t help but applaud Alice and company for putting so much work into an album like this. From now until the end of the year, Alice will be performing shows as the Hollywood Vampires with Joe Perry and Johnny Depp in the band. Could this lead to a tour or even a second album? It seems unlikely, given how long it took for this album to come out. For now, we can enjoy this new album.