latest solo album, Sweetzerland Manifesto, released January 19th on
his own Roman Records label, adds to the impression that Aerosmith’s
co-founder, key composer and lead guitarist is a man who loves variety and
is having a lot of fun.
It is true that Perry suffered a heart attack while on stage in July 2016 but he has managed to turn that into a simple footnote of his life in recent years.
In 2014, for example, he published his autobiography Rocks: My Life in and Out of Aerosmith. He then followed that up by forming the Hollywood Vampires - with Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp, and others - who went on to release a well-received album of covers and originals in 2015.
When Perry talks about the recording of one of the tracks in Depp’s Hollywood Hills recording studio, for example, you can almost feel his child-like glee: "It's like an enclave that doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the world," he says. "It's like an artists' refuge – he's got writers up there, painters. There are comedians that come up. It's a place where creativity is probably the most important thing. It's a state of mind almost. I love to record. I love to be in the studio. I love to experiment," he says.
And experiment, he does. Co-produced with Bruce Witkin and long-time Aerosmith collaborator Jack Douglas, Perry involves his sons, Roman and Tony (on the instrumental ‘Spanish Sushi’); Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander, Terry Reid (a key player in the formation of Led Zeppelin) and The New York Dolls’ David Johansen.
The result is an album that is a bag of surprises, which kicks off with nothing other than some heavy African rhythms on ‘Rumble in the Jungle’. The tribal chanting on the track contrasts sharply with Perry’s electric guitar playing, presumably one of his favourite Gibson’s, such as his ES 335 or his Firebird, that occasionally takes the lead, but never seeks to dominate the song. Aerosmith, this is not.
Perry’s original plan was reportedly to make an instrumental album but he felt that this might be too dull for his audience. "I love rock & roll, and it's tough even for me to hear an instrumental version of the kind of music I like," he says. "Once in a while I'll do one. But people want to hear a singer, and I want to hear a singer."
And so he has collected together a number of his singer friends. The blues-based next track, “I’ll Do Happiness,” for example, features vocalist Terry Reid (who also sings on the rocking “Sick & Tired” and the closing track “Won’t Let Me Go”), but the songs fail to spark. Much better is the straight forward ’70s rock ’n’ roll number “Aye, Aye, Aye”, with Robin Zander on vocals, which will probably most please the many Aerosmith fans who are seeking to reminisce.
‘Eve of destruction’, featuring Perry’s lead vocals and cool guitar slide, as well as Johnny Depp on drums, is a cover of P.F. Sloan’s 1964 political anthem against the Vietnam war, but it has particular relevance as a protest song today. And not just that, in the same moment that saw a man in Hawaii press the button to warn the island of an imminent ballistic missile attack from North Korea, it makes your hairs stand on end to hear Perry singing: “if the button is pushed there’s no running away / there’ll be no-one to save with the whole world in a grave”.
Sweetzerland Manifesto is a mixed bag of rock and blues-based songs with a number of surprising African and Eastern touches along the way. "It's going to be interesting to see what songs people gravitate to, because there's such a wide variety of tunes," Perry says; and for those who come to this album with an open mind, this eclectic mix of songs means that there is something here for everyone.