Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp: 18 (rhino)
Verdict: Unlikely duo, uneven results
Mabel: About last night… (Polydor)
Verdict: Bypass the second-year slump
Johnny Depp’s first significant career move since winning his libel case against ex-wife Amber Heard isn’t the blockbuster many might have expected.
The controversial Hollywood star is instead indulging his passion for music by teaming up with legendary British rocker Jeff Beck on a cover-heavy duet album.
Three years in the making — and set in motion well before this year’s brutal courtroom drama — it’s not Depp’s first foray into music. Since 2012 he has been a member of LA supergroup The Hollywood Vampires alongside Alice Cooper and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. This band’s 2019 album, Rise, featured a guitar-playing cameo by Beck.
The unlikely couple also seems to be taking this project seriously. They met in 2016 and bonded over a shared love of cars and guitars. This collaboration was first teased when they released a lockdown-inspired cover of John Lennon’s Isolation in 2020.
“When Johnny and I started playing together, it sparked our youthful spirit and creativity,” says Beck, 78.
“We joked about how we felt when we were 18 again, so that became the album title. I just hope that people take him seriously as a musician because for some people it’s hard to accept that Johnny Depp can sing rock ‘n’ roll. Accepting him in any form after his undignified fight with Heard might prove even more difficult for some. Fans will enjoy this unexpected return and may even create new audiences for Beck in the process. Others, shocked by the ugly consequences of the process, will give it a wide berth.
Johnny Depp (right) at the Royal Albert Hall, London, performing alongside Jeff Beck (left) in May
Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp’s cover art for their LP “18”
In terms of artistic merit alone, it’s a mixed bag. Beck’s playing is as expressive and adaptable as you’d expect from a guitar hero who redefined the role of his chosen instrument – and pioneered the classic British rock star haircut to boot – after succeeding Eric Clapton in 1965’s The Yardbirds competed.
He uses atmospheric effects galore and shimmers majestically on the album’s three instrumentals, including two tracks from the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. As for Depp, 59, a capable singer and rhythm guitarist, attention will focus on his two original songs.
The first, This Is A Song For Miss Hedy Lamarr, is a ballad about the Vienna-born American screen goddess who, in an unusual double life, was also an inventor and helped develop a radio control system that paved the way for Bluetooth and GPS .
This cover picture released by Capitol Records features Mabel’s ‘About Last Night…’
The second Depp-penned number, Sad Motherf***in’ Parade, is a thoroughly uncomfortable tirade about a toxic relationship that has sparked the suspicion that it’s aimed at Heard. A meandering funk-rock jam, much of the lyrics to which are endlessly repeated titles as Depp mutters dark, barely-intelligible asides: “If I had a dime, it wouldn’t reach your hand,” he sneers. “You’re sitting there like a dog with a seven-year itch.”
Nowhere else is there anything quite as irritable or unsavory. Despite Beck’s best efforts, the duo’s cover of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On falls flat, though Depp goes well with the guitarist on a tender version of former beach boy Dennis Wilson’s Time.
The actor sings in subdued tones and is also confident enough to face his demons in Stars, a riveting 1974 song by Janis Ian about how fame doesn’t always bring happiness.
Swedish singer Mabel Alabama-Pearl McVey released her new album on July 15, 2022
It’s one of the more revealing moments in a sketchy affair. There are moments when this feels like more than just a vanity project for a troubled Hollywood star living out his pop fantasies — but it’s the presence of evergreen Beck that gives 18 its true rock ‘n’ roll credentials.
- For British pop sensation Mabel, the difficult second album became even more challenging after her debut High Expectations climbed into the top three and propelled her to a BRIT award in 2020, three decades after her mother, Stockholm-born Neneh Cherry, BRITs had won recognition as the best international artist.
But Mabel struggled to cope with fame, her confidence damaged by hateful online comments and a feeling that she wasn’t up to the job. The 2020 lockdown, a month after their BRIT triumph, came at an opportune time.
She moved back in with her parents (her father is All Saints producer Cameron McVey) and began sketching out ideas on the piano about making music “for myself again” rather than writing with one eye on the charts.
Mabel performs onstage at Capital’s Summertime Ball 2022 Capital’s Summertime Ball 2022
The result is a safe sequel that complements the throwback R&B of their debut with sleeker, more streamlined dance music. Unusually for a pop artist, “About Last Night…” is a concept album whose songs trace the course of an imaginary evening.
It starts with Mabel getting ready — “Nails shine like Christmas, heels at six inches” — and moves through good times at a nightclub before a few tears shed. The plot is a little chaotic… and all the more understandable for that.
This isn’t the first record based on a night on the town. Bastille took a similar path at Doom Days 2019. But Mabel, 26, puts her own spin on the idea, and the early numbers have a brassy confidence.
In the second half it gets more contemplative. There’s nocturnal regret on “When The Party’s Over” and heartache on “Let Love Go” and “Good Luck,” the latter of which sees the singer giving sisterly advice to an unfairly treated friend.
However, the beats remain dance floor friendly throughout. “I don’t need you and I love that for me,” she sings on LOL, heralding a spirited return in style.
Both albums are out today. Mabel is playing at Somerset House in London on Sunday (somersethouse.org.uk).