Hollywood Vampires - Hollywood Vampires (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Hollywood Vampires

Hollywood Vampires (2015)


Rumors of the long awaited Alice Cooper covers album began when Alice made an offhand reference to the wonderfully titled My Dead Drunk Friends. Although Alice had stated an intention to center an entire album around his deceased drinking buddies, the idea seemed to drift away until the release of last year’s excellent Raise the Dead: Live from Wacken album. The climax of that album was a portion where the Coops tumbled around a graveyard and sang the tunes of his dead pals. It worked wonderfully within the context of the live performance and really gave the Coop’s live show a jolt. So it seemed that My Dead Drunk Friends was put to rest.

But then, with little fanfare comes the release of The Hollywood Vampires eponymous debut. In case you didn’t know, the real Hollywood Vampires was the L.A. drinking crew that included Alice, John Lennon, Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson, Micky Dolenz and Ringo. Now, they’re almost all dead, leaving Coop almost by himself.

Perhaps unhappy with the low profile release of Raise the Dead Alice assembled a band called The Hollywood Vampires, including the Coop himself, Joe Perry… and… uh… Johnny Depp. The release, which is essentially a studio, expanded version of Raise the Dead is packed with guest stars.

While an album “packed” with ringers usually falls flat because no one cares that much about it, here, the release is vibrant and snappy. The band rips through eleven or so covers like a garage rock band still in the garage. Instead of blowing these classic cuts up into cartoon versions of themselves, the band knows that to truly respect these jams, you simply have to rock hard and rock fast and they do just that.

T-Rex’s “Jeepster” is a little harder than the original, but Alice shows his true skill as he’s able to adopt Bolan’s soft cooing just as he snaps and snarl’s on The Who’s “My Generation.” Likewise, on the three-for-one Nilsson cover, the gang rip through “One,” “Jump in the Fire” and “Lime in the Coconut” and Alice is able to go from solemn to scary to silly in about three minutes. This is why the Alice Cooper “Act” remains one of the most interesting and complex characters in all of music.

Alice is clearly the star of the show here despite the all-star list, though the guests stars that do appear work surprisingly well. Alice and Brian Johnson of Ac/Dc covering Led Zeppelin could have been a disaster. But, it’s not. These two old rockers know how to rock and hot that sweet spot between energy, swing, and raw power. Not to mention, it is a complete blast to hear Alice team back up with original Alice Cooper bandmates Neil Smith and Dennis Dunaway and do a sharp re-cut of “School’s Out” which quite wry, morphs into a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.”

The Coop also does back off in a few places and this shows his skill of place. Sir Paul himself comes in to record a cover of the McCartney penned (but Badfinger recorded!) “Come and get It.” It’s electrifying.

What does hurt the release is the production. This album would have benefitted from retro, straight up grim and dirty production. Instead, every note is blown up in a shiny, plastic pop sound and tons of computer effects and hidden behind the riffs and vocals. It distracts from the true power of these recordings and likely will make the album sounded dated in a few years. Never the less, the production is a little over done, but the band has the skill and power to make the actual substance cut through.

The release is bookened with two originals. The intro track is some spoken word by Christopher Lee, who is now unfortunately also passed away. It walks the line between horror and parody like so much Coop-based work and is great kick off. The first actual tune, the Depp penned “Raise the Dead” falls limp after Lee’s build up. The song is a little too on the nose and is completely hookless. Here, the producers try to use studio tricks to supplement the lack of composition here and just end up with some bland noise.

By contrast, “My Dead Drunk Friends” is a classic Alice Cooper group style number that shifts between gothic spiraling and cocktail lounge blues unitl it rips apart at the end in a ghoulish cacophony. When the Coop is on, he is on and one wishes his more current albums had the jagged, spookiness heard here.

At the core, The Hollywood Vampires is a group of buddies having a good time- it just so happens that these buddies are some of the most talented rock musicians ever, and moreso, they have still got the goods. The title of the album might be a watered down version of the original, but these cover takes pack a punch. Instead of lamenting their dead pals, Coop and friends pay tribute in the best possible way. Reverent, but not wimpy, recordings of the best work of these dead, drunk icons.