Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp and Joe Perry have made a 'supergroup' in Hollywood Vampires. More passion project than band, the trio's mission statement for the Vampires was clear – take the moniker Cooper and his esteemed drinking buddies (one of which was John Lennon) acquired in the 70s, and create a musical time capsule in it...but this is very much yer da's music. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and Hollywood Vampires are more a greatest hits of half-heard rock classics than they are a new take on the genre.
Rise is an anomaly in their discography. While their self-titled debut was, fittingly, an album almost entirely made up of covers – with three original songs - Rise tips the balance in the entirely opposite direction, with three covers and thirteen original songs. It is an album that starts competently enough, but quickly becomes uninspiring, then downright insulting to the point where I'm entirely convinced they have to be joking. You'll see why as we go.
‘I Want My Now’ is the album's opener and, awkward phrasing aside (phrasing which makes the chorus unintentionally hilarious every single time you hear it) – the song is a surprisingly convincing analogue for early Velvet Revolver. The problem is that Velvet Revolver's guitarist was none other than Slash, and even Joe Perry can't compete with that. It's rock 'n roll, that's for sure, but it doesn't rock as hard as it should – at least not in the studio version. The blown-out vocal effect on Cooper's voice throughout is unnecessary too, because his voice has a clarity that defies his seventy plus years on Earth – almost as though it was surely interfered with after the initial recording. That's a baseless accusation, I acknowledge that, but I suspect treachery. Treachery or witchcraft, anyway.
‘Good People Are Hard To Find’ is the first of a series of interludes that can only be described as "very GCSE". There's a cash register sound, a distorted answering machine message, ominous laughter – the message even gets conveniently stuck on the word "lies" over and over again. Real subtle stuff. The track to follow this then - literally being called "Who's Laughing Now" - feels like an overt troll. The song kicks in with a wah pedal intro straight out of Bon Jovi's playbook – with surprisingly capable vocals from Depp. I have to say, Depp really does shine here, giving you a reprieve from the sandpaper snarls of Cooper, which grate after a while. ‘Who's Laughing Now’ is a song that they clearly thought was clever enough lyrically to warrant a lyric video, but come on: "all alone with his tweets/recycled from the pageantry of forever creeps."
‘Who's Laughing Now’, then, is a Johnny Depp-penned retort to his critics which... Considering the allegations made against him... Oof. The less said about that, the better.
‘The Boogieman Surprise’ is less tedious than ‘Who's Laughing Now’, and tighter overall than ‘I Want My Now’, but fails to make a meaningful impression. ‘Welcome To Bushwhackers’ brings Jeff Beck and John Waters in for some much-needed variation. It's a road trip song, if I ever heard one. But also one of the album's most painfully “yer da” songs. It is a damned sight more interesting than anything else on the album up to this point, but that doesn't mean it's interesting in the grand scheme of things.
‘You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory’ puts the Vampires back in their stride as a cover band, with Perry stepping up to sing a Johnny Thunder original. Much like Depp, Perry is significantly easier to listen to than Cooper – and the song overall is a nice melodic change of pace. Plus, speaking strictly in terms of pacing for the wider album, it comes at the perfect time – exactly halfway through proceedings. It's a tight, competent cover that adds little to the original. But then again, the Guns 'N Roses cover of the same song fell short in the same way.
Judging by the intro to ‘Git From Round Me’, somebody certainly likes ‘Enter Sandman’. This is a song seemingly built for a drunken chant, and maybe the occasional (and wildly misjudged – read the room, people) pumped fist. This is a song destined for a wrestling pay-per-view, which is either a cutting insult, or glowing praise depending on your purview.
Then - brace yourselves - Johnny Depp's done a Bowie cover. I know. I winced too, but fear not. It's entirely competent. To his credit, Depp has the good grace not to try and outdo Bowie – but the quiet reverence that he clearly performs the piece with does beg the question "why cover it at all?". ‘New Threat’ is a song destined for an American dive bar filled with huge bikers with matted hair and questionable tattoos. ‘Mr Spider’ might just be the best song on the album, filled with pomp and circumstance entirely lacking from the rest of the album.
And now, things take a turn for the worst. ‘We Gotta Rise’. You've got to hear it for yourself, it's transcendentally stupid. It's ‘Vindaloo’. Honest to God, it's ‘Vindaloo’. It has to be heard to be believed. And then Dignitas has to be contacted immediately afterwards because I do not want to be part of a world where this is allowed. They have got to be churning this one out with their tongues in their cheeks, they just have to be.
For a band fronted by the godfather of shock rock, there is nothing remotely shocking about Rise, and maybe that is its greatest offence. Instead, there is a numbing inevitability to its sound. Even without listening to it, I can tell you that Johnny Depp has a band with Alice Cooper and Joe Perry and whatever you're imagining, it's exactly that. This is not challenging listening. This is not subverting the genre. This is a bit of fun for a band whose photos resemble the try-hard goth stages of man, whose photos show the complete map of how Johnny Depp will age from here on in. Hollywood Vampires make music to get drunk to, and there's a certain honesty to that. If you own a Jack Daniels t-shirt or vest top without a hint of irony, this one's for you.
Rise is released on 21 June 2019 via earMUSIC.