Though Aerosmith has risen from the dead plenty of times before, whatever train kept the Boston classic-rock titans a-rollin’ for the better part of the last half-century seems to finally be grinding to a halt. Yet while the band’s other members busy themselves with country albums and coffee companies, Joe Perry still just wants to rock — and after his July 2016 onstage collapse, the mere fact that the guitarist is healthy enough to write and record a solo album feels like cause for gratitude. “Sweetzerland Manifesto” delivers pretty much exactly what you might expect from a new Joe Perry record, but it’s sure to satisfy his core audience.
While many guitar heroes stuff their solo albums with extended displays of Guitar Center-style showboating, Perry has always been more of a no-frills, serve-the-song kind of guy. “Sweetzerland Manifesto” is a lean, 10-song collection of bluesy hard rock, on which Perry shares the spotlight with a trio of guest singers. Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander gives a brash performance on the good-times rocker “Aye, Aye, Aye,” while the three songs featuring Terry Reid’s gritty, expressive vocals are among the album’s best. Former New York Dolls frontman David Johansen doesn’t fare quite as well, smothering “Haberdasher Blues” with his old-bluesman affectations. When Perry himself steps to the mic for a cover of “Eve of Destruction,” his rugged, understated cool proves far preferable to Johansen’s buffoonery.
Perry is one of the all-time great riff masters, and “Sweetzerland Manifesto” is at its most enjoyable when he puts his head down and digs into a groove, as on the swaggering “Sick & Tired” and the grungy “Won’t Let Me Go.” His soloing is predictably on-point throughout the album as well, though he rarely strays from his ’70s rock wheelhouse. That’s probably for the best; while the instrumentals “Rumble in the Jungle” and “Spanish Sushi” aim for an “exotic” feel, they end up just sounding corny. Meanwhile, the lyrics are almost uniformly generic, with only a few Johansen one-liners leaving any impression — though, let’s face it, you don’t put on a Joe Perry album hoping for poetry.
Like his other star-studded side project, Hollywood Vampires, “Sweetzerland Manifesto” seems to exist mainly because it gave Perry an excuse to get out of the house and jam with his friends. Heck, even that goofy album title sounds like an inside joke between Perry and his bassist or something. If the prospect of Aerosmith never recording another note of music makes you anxious, then “Sweetzerland Manifesto” should scratch the itch just fine. For the rest of us, however, this is a decisively inessential album.