In the midst of the year which saw out the long eighties, and the year which demolished that decade’s peculiar form of pop-metal, L.A. Guns released Hollywood Vampires
to a soon-to-be disinterested public. The year was significant, as was the title; hematophagy sacrificed for firepower when naming the band in 1985. The dark, semi-gothic theme disguised the band’s most commercial outing to date, as the Guns sought to build on the success of 1989’s Cocked & Loaded
, which spawned the massively successful single ‘The Ballad of Jayne’. Much like Tracii Guns’ former band, Guns N’ Roses, whose bloated double-disc set was only two months from release at the time, Hollywood Vampires
simultaneously attempted to distance itself from the already exhausted Sunset Strip scene and embrace its unique relationship with MTV, spawning far too many formulaic ballads than absolutely necessary. The twin-attack of commercial ex-thrash and grunge would soon render such meddling futile, and leave L.A. Guns regretting their failure to leave a more substantial lasting impact on the scene pre-implosion.
In 1991, however, nobody was more convinced of the L.A. scene’s permanence than the constituents themselves and Hollywood Vampires
had potential MTV singles in abundance, boasting monster ballad ‘Crystal Eyes’, the criminally underachieving ‘It’s All Over Now’ and infectious mid-tempo rockers ‘Here It Comes’ and ‘Kiss My Love Goodbye’.
Yet Hollywood Vampires
starts from an entirely different perspective, with the haunting ‘Over The Edge,’ an eerily atmospheric blues boogie about the comedown from a drug high. The theme may be hackneyed, but the music marks a welcome departure for an L.A. band, as the band explores styles beyond itself, with an Indian percussion and vocal intro running seamlessly into a synth-string section, before launching into an Aerosmith-type blues boogie. Vocalist Phil Lewis is at the top of his game, spitting his lyrics with contempt while the synthesised strings subtly infuse themselves in the mix in a move which recalls goth-metal pioneers the Cult and Sisters of Mercy.
‘Some Lie 4 Love’ and ‘Dirty Luv’ are each catchy riff-driven rock songs with radio-friendly choruses, the latter bearing an odd similarity to U2’s 1995 hit ‘Hold Me. Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,’ though Lewis’ vocals are rooted firmly in the tradition of shouters like Robert Plant and Steven Tyler, and the resemblance with the Irish four-piece is shortlived. ‘Crystal Eyes’ could easily be viewed as the sequel to Cocked & Loaded
’s ‘The Ballad of Jayne,’ taking on the same story-telling line and acute intelligence. It’s Lewis’ vocals, though, which elevate this song above ‘just another power ballad,’ as he’s equal parts soulful and playful. ‘Crystal Eyes’ is the classic that never was.
The only hit from the album, ‘It’s Over Now,’ opens with a certain resemblance to Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth,’ and maintains the 60s rock feel, as Mick Cripp’s bluesy lead guitar compliments Phil Lewis’ laid-back but nonetheless sweet vocals. Unfortunately, the same level of quality is not maintained for the entire disc. ‘My Koo Ka Choo’ is a strange Prince-like mid-tempo rocker, complete with ear-splitting synth stabs but empty of the anticipated sexual innuendo. ‘Snake Eyes Boogie’ clocks in below three minutes, and it’s no loss, as the empty chorus and abused guitar riff make for an uncomfortable listen.
starts in the best possible fashion, with perhaps the band’s best achievement in ‘Over The Edge,’ yet they fail to build on the promise of that track. Disgarded are the gothic overtones presented by the opening track and promised by the title; in place of adventure is an easy, though excellently executed, collection of blues-rock tracks which hark back to the band’s 1970s influences: Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Free. Hollywood Vampires
had the potential to be another Appetite for Destruction – a classic within a dead genre, but experimentation was put aside in favour of radio-friendly pop songs and, when the scene collapsed, L.A. Guns were left with nothing for their achievements.