Style: Hard Rock
Release Date: 21 Jun 2019
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Clearly the Hollywood Vampires are trying with their second album to define themselves as a real band rather than just a bunch of wealthy celebs having fun playing covers. I found their debut from 2015 a mixed bag and had little interest in diving into a similar follow up but, thank goodness, this isn't that. In fact, it's a pretty enjoyable album, even though I'm not sure what they're really trying to be.
Certainly the best aspect here is the songs, especially the originals, and I should clarify that. There were only three original songs on the debut, the rest of that album taken up with cover versions of timeless classics that we all know backwards and which often felt unnecessary and awkward. This time, there are three covers, I think, and only one of those seems recognisable.
I Want My Now, the opener, and Who's Laughing Now, the single, are a pair of up tempo rockers that feel vibrant and purposeful. I'd argue that those two tracks alone make this album more worthy than its predecessor, but there's a lot more to come, much of which sounds very much like a young band of punks just itching to let the world know what they sound like.
I should emphasise here that the average age of band members is just above pretty scary. Alice Cooper is 71 years old and Joe Perry is 68. Johnny Depp isn't exactly young at 56. That this trio sounds urgent and hungry is the biggest surprise here and it's a very welcome one.
It's mostly Alice's show. Once he opens his mouth on I Want My Now to snarl about the instant gratification generation, he takes ownership of the album and many of the highlights are his, starting with his sarcastic need for a diamond selfie stick. Oddly, Perry and Depp, who are primarily here to play guitars, are most notable as vocalists themselves, even if their voices are far from as memorable as Cooper's.
Perry gets the first shot at the mike, to cover Johnny Thunders's You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory. It's not a bad song and it gets better with repeat listens, but it feels completely out of place here and Perry sounds like the bastard son of Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer who can't compare to either. Depp takes on David Bowie's Heroes and, while it's a surprisingly good cover, it has little purpose either. To be fair, he does a lot better with People Who Died later on but I'll get to that.
The worst thing about the album is the songs that aren't. There are sixteen tracks here but four of them are short and apparently pointless experiments. Good People are Hard to Find is a collage of sounds. How the Glass Fell is thirty seconds of harpsichord. The Wrong Bandage is a rainy piano interlude. A Pitiful Beauty is a minute and a half of some space age industrial band auditioning for Ming the Merciless. If there's a point to any of these, I'm unable to find it. They all get in the way and detract from the coherence of the album.
The actual songs don't need that crap. Who's Laughing Now starts out with a T Rex riff but gets grungy and gothic. Who's guesting here? That sounds like a vocal line from a Bauhaus song. The Boogieman Surprise is quintessential Cooper and, like him, it stalks and swaggers. Welcome to Bushwackers, with guest appearances from Jeff Beck and John Waters, is sardonic Cooper at his best, explaining how he's still the man (and a bad one) at 71, even against a musical backdrop that could have been stolen from a square dance. This is the sort of thing that most artists couldn't sell but Cooper can nail as it plays to his subversive nature.
The worthy experimentation is on songs like Git from Round Me, which matches an old school seventies riff with electronic manipulation, a rock rap and alternative nineties grooves. It's varied and impressive. Tell me again why we have frickin' harpsichord interludes?
And things get darker. New Threat is vitriolic Cooper over driving guitar. Mr. Spider is a dense and atmospheric Cooper song. We Gotta Rise is a rare political song from him, maybe because he didn't write much of this album. Depp and Perry wrote most of it and Cooper has spoken about how odd it is to be singing Depp's vitriol. This is a marching campaign song, fighting for truth: "Let's rise above the lies." Vote Alice.
Then Depp steps up to sing People Who Died, a faster and heavier cover of a punk obscurity from the Jim Carroll Band, before a spoken word poetry slam from multiple voices explaining why we should stay alive. These are surely takes on the cautionary tale that is the original Hollywood Vampires, and I think they're a better tribute than the entire debut album.
And, with all that said, I still have no idea what this band is now. I can happily say that they're a real band, one that spits venom at thoughts that they're old and past it. They're vehement and angry and blistering. They're relevant. They're risen. I just wish they'd ditch the pointless covers and the interludes. Bring on album three and just frickin' blister at us. I'm ready now.