The Hollywood Vampires were born in the upstairs bar of LA’s Rainbow Bar & Grill circa 1972. But while membership was restricted to musicians and songwriters, they didn’t record or release anything. Hollywood Vampires was actually the name of a drinking club; a hangout for rock stars living in or passing through LA, with that sozzled snakecharmer Alice Cooper at the helm.
The raison d’etre of the Hollywood Vampires was simple: everyone had to outdrink everyone else. And so, legend has it, the likes of Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Mickey Dolenz, Harry Nilsson, Bernie Taupin et al did exactly that.
Three years ago, Alice and his friend, actor/sometime rocker Johnny Depp, decided to assemble a group of modern-day Vampires and record a tribute to the original boozers of the Sunset Strip. Back story out of the way, a 14-track album of (mostly) cover versions has finally emerged, featuring an impressive all-star cast. With all profits going to MusiCares, it’s a worthy effort – if not an entirely worthwhile one.
Covers albums are notoriously uneven, and this one is more patchy than the denim jacket of a 1980s Saxon obsessive. On the plus side, Alice is singing remarkably well for a 67-year-old, his Killer sneer and Billion Dollar snarl remaining very much intact. Bob Ezrin’s earth-trembling production sandblasts the wax from your ears, and Depp acquits himself admirably on guitar (let’s not forget he was once a member of Rock City Angels, once touted as the new Guns N’ Roses).
The album begins disappointingly with a spoken-word introduction by a clearly ailing Christopher Lee. Recorded just prior to his death, it’s chilling for all the wrong reasons. Next comes new song Raise The Dead, and a workaday run-through of The Who’s My Generation. Just as you’re fearing the worst, the pace picks up with a surprisingly successful romp through Led Zep’s Whole Lotta Love with some fine vocals by AC/DC’s Brian Johnson.
Other highlights include The Doors’ Five To One/Break On Through, riotous renditions of Harry Nilsson’s One and Jump Into The Fire, and the surprisingly successful amalgam of Alice’s School’s Out with Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall – you can barely hear the join.
As for Jeepster, Cold Turkey, Itchycoo Park… well, we can only assume the studio was full of garlic at the time of recording. And the album finishes on a downbeat note with the stalking blues of Dead Drunk Friends, Alice lamenting the fact that he’s ‘standing all alone here in a tavern full of ghosts’.