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Joe Perry - The Sweetzerland Manifesto (Album Review)

Monday, 05 February 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

There are few things scarier than an Aerosmith song with Joe Perry on lead vocals, which makes the prospect of him fronting an entire album decidedly terrifying. But, let’s assuage those fears early. On ‘The Sweetzerland Manifesto’, as with most of the guitarist’s solo offerings, he’s roped in some guest singers to deliver exactly the kind of record you’d expect from such an old school gunslinger.

Unlike his toxic twin Steven Tyler, this die-hard rocker wasn’t going to go commercial country on his first solo effort since 2009’s ‘Have Guitar, Will Travel’. Although nowhere near the calibre of the Boston bad boys’ early releases, ‘The Sweetzerland Manifesto’ is an exercise in streetwise rock ‘n’ roll and gritty blues that’s much closer to ‘70s Aerosmith than Tyler’s ‘We're All Somebody From Somewhere’.   

It is by no means a masterpiece, but it does feature tunes that are solid and entertaining. They were either penned solely by Perry or in cahoots with esteemed vocalists Robin Zander (Cheap Trick), David Johansen (New York Dolls) and Terry Reid (whom rock myth says turned down the chance to front Led Zeppelin).

Johansen’s devilish drawl hypnotises on the trancey acoustic blues of I Wanna Roll and traditional harmonica grinder Haberdasher Blues. Reid’s gravelly rasp, meanwhile, is as weathered as sun-baked tar on Sick and Tired. An effortlessly cool, choppy riff swaggers around him, mimicking Zeppelin’s Kashmir in a fun twist.

The singers do a decent job but, given they aren’t in their prime, it would have been interesting to hear modern vocalists like Rival Sons’ Jay Buchanan and Lzzy Hale inject a youthful energy into these songs. Perry does sing on one track and, despite of his flat mumbling, it’s a fascinating cover of P.F. Sloan’s acoustic protest song Eve of Destruction. Reworked here as apocalyptic delta blues, it feels disconcertingly prescient.

Elsewhere, snaking licks and eye-jabbing bass lay down loose-limbed rhythms on I’ll Do Happiness, Aye Aye Aye cranks out a banging chunk of classic rock ‘n’ roll topped off with an insanely catchy hook and I’m Going Crazy’s ramshackle lasciviousness is begging to have Tyler wrap his lips around it.  

With his unorthodox, sloppy and instinctively expressive self-taught style, Perry certainly isn’t the best guitarist in the world. Some might say he’s not even the best in Aerosmith. But his fretwork still possesses a dark, raw power courtesy of testosterone-soaked, fuck you grooves and edgy lead work. Although this record was initially meant to be a full instrumental affair, enjoyable detours in the shamanic blues of Rumble In The Jungle and Spanish Sushi’s sinister aura suggest that a whole vocal-free album wouldn’t have held the attention.  

Perry may remain the finger-flipping embodiment of rock ‘n’ roll’s primal rebellious spirit, but much like Tyler’s solo effort, ‘The Sweetzerland Manifesto’ ultimately feels incomplete. Listening to both you can hear how their respective talents combined to produce some of the greatest rock music ever made. The phrase stronger together feels appropriate, so let’s hope the next time the pair release something new it’s under the Aerosmith banner.

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