Classic Rock Review

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Aerosmith Rocks (1976)

Aerosmith - RocksFrom

Whenever a solid, but not particularly ambitious hard rock band (hell, soft rock as well) makes it big with a really good album, the natural next move is to make a carbon copy of its predecessor – for both commercial (‘if it sold once, it’ll sell again’) and artistic (‘if it ain’t broke…’) purposes. The question, then, is whether the follow-up is able to stand up to its predecessor and/or actually beat it in the only respect possible – which, of course, is consistency.

Such is our situation here. Rocks is Aerosmith’s second really good album in a row – not too shabby for these bastardly Stones rip-offs, eh? – and a frequent fans’ pick for their absolute best. It’s really hard for me to tell: it differs so little from Toys in the overall style and quality of the tunes that it all depends on which way the wind happens to be a-blowin’ today rather than on some firmly constituent notion or belief.

So smell the wind of today and take it this way: Rocks is a bit less ‘original’, whatever that particular epithet might mean for this particular band, plus it’s less diverse than its predecessor, lacking amusing breathers like ‘Big Ten Inch Record’. Yet Rocks is also much more consistent, with nary a weaker spot among its nine numbers, and much ‘grander’ on ‘basic ear-level’, with the boys fully and finally mastering the wall-of-sound approach and applying it to their straightforward ass-kicking vibe.

And if you’re talking about kicking ass, how about employing a stallion of a song for that purpose? ‘Back In The Saddle’ should be considered the quintessential Aerosmith tune, along with ‘Toys In The Attic’ and ‘Walk This Way’. But ‘Toys In The Attic’ was a bit too dark and mystical to hit the bullseye with these boys, and ‘Walk This Way’ rocked in a cunning, almost ‘subtle’ way, without letting you feel the power. ‘Back In The Saddle’, then, is power epitomized – the power of you-know-what. The amazing thing about the song is that it doesn’t even feature a killer riff like the other two: instead, it just pounds you into a pulp with multiple guitar overdubs and, of course, that amazing guttural assault from Mr Tyler which I personally wouldn’t recommend repeating as it could be dangerous for one’s ability to control one’s vocal cords for quite a long period. Not so for Mr Tyler, though, whose throat by 1976 was well-coated with numerous layers of alcohol and, er, “medication” sediments.

I do admit that the screaming on ‘Back In The Saddle’ can force some people up close to the toilet seat, but isn’t that the very aim of the song? Isn’t that what an old drunk sleazy cowboy would prob’ly be strongly associated with in the first place? Aerosmith are about dirt, sleaze, sex, hooliganry, you name it, and no other Aerosmith song holds all these things in such a tight vice as ‘Back In The Saddle’. And don’t forget the crowning touch – that rhythmic horse neighin’ once the main body of the song kicks in. And the awesomely rambunctious jam after the last ‘riding hi-i-i-i-igh!’, with Joe Perry using his guitar in a way just as phallocentric as Tyler used his voice in.

Tough is the right word here: Rocks as a whole is extremely tough, tougher than everything these guys recorded before (so it lives up to its title), and that helps you tolerate even those numbers that aren’t instantly memorable. Most of them are, though, even if not the least factor is their occasionally being written under the obvious influence of… Toys In The Attic! ‘Rats In The Cellar’, for instance, is an obvious re-write of ‘Toys In The Attic’ without the cool pseudo-mystical atmosphere, but with a funny harmonica passage instead and a lengthier closing jam that gives you the possibility of enjoying the song to its natural conclusion, whereas ‘Toys’ were fading away just after three minutes with you still clinging to their tail. With its lyrics about NYC losers, it is, both musically and lyrically, the closest these guys ever came to true, genuine punk rock. Even the MC5 and the New York Dolls never yielded anything like ‘Rats In The Cellar’.

Once again, a heavy funk influence is seen here, with bouncy, jerky rhythms that Joe Perry can handle well, particularly on ‘Last Child’ and ‘Get The Lead Out’ (the latter is kinda way too generic to be truly impressive, though – reminding me a bit of Zeppelin missteps like ‘The Crunge’; ‘Last Child’ is salvaged by being almost insanely catchy). However, the band doesn’t entirely neglect pop elements as well – what do you do with those funny faux-falsetto ‘pleeeeeeeease’ on ‘Sick As A Dog’? Stuff like that could be met on a Hollies record, and it’s really groovy to encounter pop harmonies on a presumably vintage hard rock tune.

But pop or no pop, the record also has ‘Nobody’s Fault’, unquestionably the heaviest tune recorded by Aerosmith so far: the guitars and vocals on that one are prime heavy metal that must have thoroughly inspired Eighties’ poodle guitarists (although the song itself could have been easily influenced by Black Sabbath’s newly found “dense” metallic style on 1975’s Sabotage). As much as I detest generic heavy metal, this particular tune is easily salvaged by yet another groovy poppy chorus (‘sorry, you’re so sorry’) that comes in at a totally unexpected (but perfectly right) moment and for a little bit of time relieves you of the monotonous pounding of the main riff. The production on the song – as well as on most other ones – is far from perfect, with all the guitar overdubs uncomfortably intertwining with each other, but if I ever get a signed confirmation of this having been an intentional decision with the aim of making Rocks even more murky, heck, I’ll drop the suit.

The good news is that Aerosmith traditionally closes things with a suckjob of a power ballad, but ‘Home Tonight’ is actually better than anything they did before in that department. Proof? A great vocal workout from Mr Tyler, plus they limit the song’s length to just three minutes which is soooo very soothing I can’t help but raise all of my thumbs up. Although, to be frank, he strains so much that it’s clear he doesn’t have the chords to pull it off in a truly soulful way. He tries, though, very much, and must be given credit for that. Oh, and perhaps what woos me so much is that the song actually isn’t a power ballad by definition – sure, the lyrics and intonations are pathetic and sentimental, but the actual melody is more that of a rocker, isn’t it? The guitar solos rock, they aren’t pseudo-romantic or cathartic or anything. Or maybe I’m just trying to sound smart here. Good song. Good song. Good song. Jeff Lynne. Where is Jeff Lynne? Jeff Lynne, we need you to sing this one.

Let’s recapitulate. Rocks is Aerosmith at the top of their game. No generic blues which they ain’t good at. Punk rock they’re good at because it’s about kicking ass. Heavy metal they’re good at because it’s about getting ass. Funk they’re pretty decent at because it’s about getting ass and then kicking it. Balladry they’re not so good at because they’re no use to anybody once the ass has been kicked, but Rocks makes an exception in that direction. Don’t play this to your modest Christ-loving friend – it’ll get him more embarrassed than AC/DC. Don’t pay much attention to the fact that Motley Crue probably spent most of their career worshipping at the altar of this album; what was good in the mid-Seventies could easily turn to horror in the mid-Eighties.

This is the standard by which Aerosmith should be remembered – and the ultimate in sarcastic cock-rock before the share of sarcasm started seriously decreasing in favour of the share of cock.

May 12, 2013 Posted by | Aerosmith Rocks | | 1 Comment