There are supergroups and then there is Alice Cooper’s Hollywood Vampires. Named after celebrity drinking club ‘Godfather of Shock Rock’ formed in the 70s, the band was formed this year to honour the music of rock stars who died of excess in the same decade. Comprising Cooper, actor/guitarist Johnny Depp and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, the band’s first record features the who’s who of rock and roll. Paul McCartney, Slash, Joe Walsh — the list of featured musicians is really a star-studded affair. As a record with all these veteran musicians should, it sounds like vintage classic rock, albeit slickly produced. The album has three two-song medleys and a number of covers of classic rock acts such as The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Pink Floyd, T-Rex and Jimi Hendrix.
It kicks off with a spoken intro paying ode to the departed rock stars. Narrated by the late Sir Christopher Lee, it sets the tone for what is to come: a greasy platter of groovy riffs, pounding rhythm and throaty vocals. The album’s second track, Raise the Dead, is one of the originals on the album. Written by Cooper and Depp with Bob Ezrin, it’s typical Cooper, who still seems to be in his element even after years of debauchery. He bears testament to the fact that if you’re a talented musician and not dead at 27, you’ll probably live as long as Keith Richards.
A driving cover of The Who’s My Generation comes next. Bruce Witkin’s bass tone is pretty close to John Entwistle’s low end rumble and the thick, creamy guitars make for a cleaned up, suited version of the 1965 classic. Look elsewhere if you’re one of the stiff necked ones who cling to the grit of the original. But if modern tones and close miking make your boat float, this cover is definitely not going to put you down. Whole Lotta Love, on the other hand, is a whole different story. Starting with an ambient staccato synth riff, the iconic distorted guitar riff makes an entry after the first verse. AC/DC’s Brian Johnson belts out the lyrics with Cooper, lending the song his frantic bellow.
Spirit’s I Got a Line on You gets a rocking makeover in Hollywood Vampires, while The Doors’ medley of Five to One/Break on Through features the man Robby Krieger himself. There’s something about listening to Kreiger on this record that makes one want to punch the air. With the music over for half of the band already, Kreiger refuses to turn off the lights. And it’s still incredibly beautiful. The medley of Three Dog Night’s One and Harry Nilsson’s Jump into the Fire features Perry Farrel, Kreiger and Dave Grohl among others, but even so, is one of the flatter tracks in the record. Perhaps, a case of too many cooks spoiling the rocket sauce.
Hollywood Vampires’ version of The Beatles’ Come and Get it features Sir Paul McCartney on piano, bass and vocals. Needless to say, McCartney’s still got it. So, when he sings “But you better hurry ‘cause it’s going fast”, you know it’s not his mojo that he’s talking about. Hendrix’s Manic Depression gets a nod by Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, while other standout tracks include T-Rex’s Jeepster and the closing original track, My Dead Drunk Friends, a fitting close to a record dedicated to a booze-soaked era of excess. The medley of School’s Out and Another Brick in the Wall is a strange though fun marriage — the kind that takes place on a weekend in Las Vegas after a night of binge drinking and ends on a Monday.
Hollywood Vampires’ self-titled debut record takes no prisoners; either you’ll love the covers and the few originals or you’ll miss the point. It won’t change your life, but it will make you remember the songs that did.
Ali Haider Habib is a senior subeditor on the magazine desk. He tweets @haiderhabib
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 8th, 2015.
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