18 is seen by many as the age where one truly feels free. You may have felt hopeful, maybe a little bit scared when you were around that age, but I guarantee you were also ready to take on the world and show them what you’re made of. Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp have made it no secret that this feeling dominated their recent recording sessions, with the both of them naming this album as such due to how youthful and daring they felt playing together. The result is an album of mostly covers, with two originals penned by the pair, but before the usual groans and moans about covers begin let me assure you this: there are plenty of surprises here that are well worth your time, and I guarantee you are underestimating these two.
Overall the album can be easily split into three sections: the covers that are decently faithful to the originals, the covers where the duo takes more liberties, and the aforementioned originals by the pair. For the faithful covers we have familiar faces, namely Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, The Beach Boys and John Lennon. For Gaye and The Beach Boys, these tracks act as mostly instrumental covers of the songs, with Beck playing his guitar in place of the vocals. His playing is immaculate and the occasional backup singing from Depp is much appreciated, but overall these instrumentals feel more like interludes than fully formed covers. The Smokey Robinson and Lennon covers are pretty good too, but my only note is that I wish Depp leaned a little more into his vocal stylings. Robinson’s needed a little more sorrow (though Depp’s backup singing is perfect), and Lennon’s needed just a little more rawness and teeth.
The next section, where the duo plays a little more with their food, is truly where the album shines like a diamond. Their cover of The Killing Joke’s The Death and Resurrection Show is a blistering firecracker of a song, tuning the intensity and drive of the original into a cover with more industrial flair. I cannot stress how perfectly Beck and Depp play to their strengths on this song, and there’s no doubt that it’s one of the highlights of this album. The same energy and ethos is brought to their cover of The Velvet Underground’s Venus in Furs, wherein Beck’s mountainous guitar playing matches wonderfully with Depp’s understated and gravelly vocals. Purists for the Underground may snub their nose at how ‘well produced’ this version is, but at least it’s faithful to the tone of the original and not squished through a modern commercial pop lens (I’m looking at you, other Beck).
The highlights in this section continue with the duo’s renditions of Let It Be Me by The Everly Brothers and Stars by Janis Ian. The crystalline and ephemeral backdrops of these songs are a far cry from the previous tracks, but they in no way suffer from these changes. In fact, Depp’s sincere delivery matched with Beck’s expressive playing style make these songs unexpected gems, fully showcasing the duo’s flexibility and attention to detail.
Lastly, we have the original songs by the pair. I had planned to praise their song Big Time Motherfucker, due to its smarmy swagger and early Ween-ish leanings, but unfortunately it has been revealed that a majority of the lyrics here were plagiarized from lewd poet Slim Wilson (also known as Willie Davis). According to The New York Post, Wilson’s son is currently in the process of exploring legal action against the two, with the pair declining to comment to Rolling Stone on the situation. It’s truly a shame that this occurred, since with proper credit this song could’ve been appreciated for the hell of a good time it is. The other song, titled This Is A Song For Miss Hedy Lamarr, has no controversy surrounding it, so luckily we can be morally sound in loving it to death. I’ll be honest, when I first heard it I genuinely thought it was a cover, just because of how fully formed and expansive it is. Grand 60’s theatricality is rampant on this song, with shades of Nilsson in the verses and Oasis in the chorus sending Beck’s guitar straight into the stratosphere. I could go on about this song for pages upon pages more, but, briefly put, I want to extend a mountain of praise to the duo, not only for having an original stand equally next to covers of the greats, but also for surpassing them and taking the spot as the best song on the album.
Many other publications have called this album a mixed bag, but I genuinely think they were a bit too cynical in their grading. Sure, some of the songs don’t work to the best of their ability, but there’s no denying that this is an intensely interesting listen and one that showcases two artists having a blast playing off each other. I had an incredible time listening to Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp at 18, and I’d love to hear them again when they turn 21.
Written by Nick Snow