Some things look great on paper, and when they actually reach fruition they aren’t half-bad, but they’re not as good as expected either. The disappointment is hard to identify. Are you put off by the notion things didn’t rise to the level you thought they would, or that the whole is just good enough so that you can’t give an unqualified yea or nay to it? That’s where I sadly sit with the supergroup project Hollywood Vampires.
Some background: The Hollywood Vampires was a loose configuration of famous male rock stars in the 1970s. This gang of sorts had the expected initiation rites of having to outdrink all the members. Sometimes these hard-partying binges resulted in late night jam sessions at L.A. clubs like the Roxy. Sometimes they didn’t. But the overall tale has lapsed into quasi-legend. I say quasi because the first I’d heard of the ’70s Vampires was in conjunction with the marketing of the new Vampires. I know I lead a sheltered life so this could be more of my ignorance than of someone’s elevation of an anecdote to iconic status.
The new Vampires is led by the duo of Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp, proprietor of the Viper Room club. It includes Joe Perry, Sir Paul McCartney, Brian Johnson, Perry Farrell, Slash, Dave Grohl and on. The album is produced by longtime Cooper cohort Bob Ezrin, who knows a thing or two about making a sleazy-sounding hard rock record.In other words, the effort isn’t lacking pedigree, and just maybe is being hindered by the same.
Covering tracks from rock royalty like Lennon, Zeppelin, Badfinger by way of McCartney, The Who, the Alice Cooper Band, and so forth, there is a fun and entertaining live show in here somewhere. Created in studio, however, it all feels airless, quantitized to a fault, precise. Now, if you reflect upon the levels of excess that went on at an original Vampires gathering, precision likely wasn’t the goal. It might not even have been physiologically possible at that stage. But all that sloppy soul likely came through before the copious puking and passings out.
This CD sounds less like polished chrome than a CGI algorithm for polished chrome. It works well if you don’t think about it, but just try not thinking about. That’s not an easy remit. I expect that this was recorded with all the latest and greatest technology we have, but if any configuration of musicians required the unforgiving honesty of full analog recording, it is this one. I wanted to feel the danger of a bunch of rock royalty teetering on the edge and making it across. That’s nigh impossible with such a carefully plotted and directed path, such as these songs sound.
I don’t mean to suggest that these individuals, all who have fought hard for levels of sobriety in past decades, should have sloughed it all off for a drooling good jam session. I do think that everyone should have been in the room at the same time, and I do not believe for an instant that that is the case here.
Some of the things that the disc does right — and it does a lot of them right — is that nobody embarrasses themselves. These are genuinely professional musicians, Depp included. While I would ordinarily complain this is another variation of a covers album, which it certainly is, that would have been true of any original jam the forebears had, after draining the whiskey bottles, of course. Nobody was going to write ten new songs for the occasion of getting wasted. In that, the disc actually has a purpose for what is on it, rather than having a crafted excuse for lazy misappropriation.
If you disconnect your logic sensors and turn it up loud, you will likely forget a lot of the disagreements one could have with Hollywood Vampires the album. It’s simply that nagging reminder that it could have been a lot more fun if was a little more loose, but these bloodsuckers wind up feeling a little more anemic than they should.