Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp | 18 | Atco/Rhino
Videos by American Songwriter
3 out of 5 Stars
It may seem an unlikely combination at first, one that finds one of rock’s most iconic guitarists teamed with an acclaimed but controversial actor, musician, and member of the sometime supergroup known as the Hollywood Vampires. So it’s hardly surprising that the duo’s first effort, simply dubbed 18, often comes across as a mish-mash of conflicting sounds that are often decidedly at odds.
Jeff Beck is brilliant as always, his guitar being an elegiac expression of his verve and versatility. The tracks that find him dominating the spotlight, specifically, the instrumental covers of two Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds songs, “Caroline, No” and “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)”—soar with the grace and majesty that’s typified Beck’s efforts for the past 55 years. And while it might seem strange to find him referencing those particular songs, the co-headlining tour that Beck and The Beach Boys undertook together several years ago appeared to reinforce a bond that Beck embraced in his own career early on.
On the other hand, the connection shared between him and Johnny Depp is more difficult to discern. A meeting between the two in 2016 apparently found them clicking on a personal level over cars and guitars. So too, the fact that Depp is adept at an array of instrumentation and able to lend his lead vocals offered all the impetus needed to launch their first foray. Still, the tracks they chose are a schizophrenic selection at best, one that veers from a decidedly disturbing Beck/Depp original, “Sad Motherfuckin’ Parade,” to an eclectic array of covers that include not only the Beach Boys material, but an assortment of standbys of varying vintage as well. The pair’s takes on Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” pay due homage to the originals, albeit it with a flourish and frenzy culled from some outsized arrangements. A version of John Lennon’s anguished yet expressive “Isolation” emphasizes Lennon’s determination to renounce The Beatles and embrace his own independence. “Let It Be Me” on the other hand, retains the shimmer and glow reflected in the Everly Brothers’ seminal style.
Granted, the ambition is admirable, but a schizophrenic quality pervades the effort overall. The dramatic shift in sound makes it hard to get a handle in terms of either consistency or feel. Perhaps the two are merely feeling each other out and taking advantage of their options. Whatever the case, 18 still seems like an odd assortment of numbers at best.
Photo of Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp by Venla Shalin/Redferns