Classic Rock Review

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Aerosmith Toys In The Attic (1975)


I have definitely softened towards Aerosmith over a certain period of time, so it came as a little surprise that upon relistening to Toys In The Attic since having last proclaimed it to be the highest point this band ever had the hope of reaching, I no longer felt it to be that way.

But nevertheless, there is still a great big gap between Toys and whatever preceded it – by their thid release, Aerosmith really sounded like a band intent of occupying first place in something at least, even if that ‘something’ be the musical equivalent of jacking off to a copy of your local porn magazine in the bathroom. (Hey, not that there’s anything sexually unhealthy about that!). And Toys In The Attic finally qualifies.

Not that it’s just a “naughty schoolboy” kind of record; it also improves drastically in the darkness department, pushing into Zeppelin territory a bit and certainly – by now – edging the Stones off the turf. Were I in a particularly lofty disposition, I probably could have tried to hang the “visionary” tag on Aerosmith at the time: there’s certainly quite a bit of artistic pretense on the album, and some of it actually works, making Toys In The Attic the one Aerosmith album that’s the least likely to make you cringe.

The big difference is, in fact, obvious from the very first seconds of the album: with no signs of an intro and no hints at any kind of build-up, the title track attacks you instantaneously with almost punkish rage, drive, anger, and above all, a thing we hadn’t seen from these guys yet – masterful precision, as Joe Perry hammers out the caveman riff in an almost AC/DC-esque robotic manner.

Tyler’s vocals, though, are naturally more reminiscent of Jagger’s than Bon Scott’s, and this helps add a real sense of danger, loneliness and desperation to this lament for all your long lost years, all culminating in the masterful gloomy refrain – ‘toys, toys, toys… in the attic toys, toys, toys…’. Fast, utterly convincing, Goth-coloured nostalgia? Heck, why not take it, along with the classic guitar solo.

‘Toys In The Attic’ is an undeniable classic and one of this band’s best moments, but the honour of “best song”, after consideration, still goes to ‘Walk This Way’, and it’d be the exact same way even if I weren’t aware of the “rejuvenated” hit version that helped Run-D.M.C. establish the long-awaited bridge between rock and rap and so on and so on (and for a long time I have not been aware of it indeed).

Fact is, ‘Walk This Way’ is simply Aerosmith’s brief shining moment of genius. Even a bad band, let alone a passably competent one like these guys, can occasionally tap into something mysterious and sacral, and that’s what the main riff of ‘Walk This Way’ is – mysterious and sacral, in the vaginal sense of both words, of course.

It’s almost unbelievable how a band that was so firmly stuck in routine blues-rock could suddenly crank out something that funky, that raw, that groovy, but it happened, and turning back to Run-D.M.C., their choice of ‘Walk This Way’ as the white-guy song to cover was perfectly understandable. If there’s one song Mick Jagger and Co. could envy their followers, it’s this one.

The record never really lives up to the punch of these two undeniable classics, but truth is, it rarely lets the listener down either. The BIG plus is that it mostly spares you the necessity of engulfing the formerly obligatory power ballad or two. Well, there is one, to be frank – it’s the closing number ‘You See Me Crying’, yet it ain’t even a power ballad in the true sense of the word. It doesn’t actually try to be heavy, instead relying on simple piano and massive orchestration.

Naturally, I don’t like it much: as I like to reiterate, Steven Tyler’s emotions affect me about as much as the speeches of Slobodan Milosewicz, and essentially he is just copping the style of Plant (or Jagger in songs such as ‘Moonlight Mile’) without any positive results. But it’s the last song and it’s at least seriously melodic, with a hint at creativity, unlike whatever followed years later in the same style.

Yet I far prefer ‘Uncle Salty’, which has far less lyrical and vocal bathos – a laid-back countryish rocker spiced with a bit of socio-psychological critique. Disregarding the fact that lines like ‘when she cried at night, went insane’ are defyingly ungrammatical, let’s just notice that generally the lyrical matter hits hard, and the song produces an overall creepy effect. (Dig the ‘ooh it’s a sunny day outside my window’ intermission – that line is almost steeped in mid-Sixties garage psychedelia and thus contrasts rather ironically with the ‘went insane’ part.

Well, thank God Aerosmith do have a sense of irony, even if it’s a kinkily twisted one). ‘Adam’s Apple’ is this band’s exercise in popular theology, as Tyler’s lyrics leave little doubt about what exactly is the “apple” a metaphor of – too bad the main melody feels so ordinary and pedestrian next to the truly inspired riffs of the two big ones. ‘Big Ten Inch Record’, then, is a sly little retro rocker, almost a tribute to Gene Vincent and the like, with even more sleazy, but hilarious analogies and wordgames for your pleasure; I particularly like how the verses work if you treat them separately, without the chorus (‘whip out your big ten inch!’) and how they work differently when viewed in sequence (‘whip out your big ten inch… record of a band that plays those blues…’). And is it just me, or does Tyler intentionally pronounce ‘except for my big ten inch…’ like ‘suck on my big ten inch’? Huh huh. What a punk. Ho ho. Funny!

It’s not one hundred percent true, but the second side of the LP is primarily “Dark” where the first side of it was primarily “Raunchy”, with most of the heavily produced, thickly-instrumentated, psychically disturbing numbers collected in one tight heap. ‘Sweet Emotion’, arguably the third best known song off the album, is cleverly underpinned by the synth-processed “talkbox” guitar style (the same that was earlier used by Ten Years After on Watt and later used by David Gilmour for ‘Pigs’ and by Peter Frampton on every number that he wanted to make a hit of) and manages to be funky (verse riff), metallic (main riff), psychedelic (‘swe-e-e-et emo-o-o-o-tion!’ – am I alone in hearing echoes of the Stones’ ‘Child Of The Moon’ on here?), and bluesy (the solo) at once, and ‘Round And Round’ is one of the band’s heaviest and grittiest tunes.

It’s not that strong melodically, but it’s pretty convincing in its mighty drive. Almost like a Sabbath song with a cockier vocalist, except that Iommi would probably bother to come up with a more intricate riff. Then again – maybe by 1975 he wouldn’t necessarily come up with a more intricate riff.

Basically, I don’t need to tell you that this is the Aerosmith record to buy if you only buy one, as everybody around will tell you the same. Rocks may be more consistent overall, but nobody’s record collection is perfect without ‘Toys In The Attic’ and ‘Walk This Way’ in it, and since Aerosmith hit collections without ‘Crazy’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ on them are presumably rare to come by in these unhappy days of ours, the choice is pretty clear cut.

As far as “general critical opinion” goes, I think that Toys In The Attic is overrated, mainly due to the fact that in 1975, Aerosmith’s brand of hard rock had little competition in the States (errr… Grand Funk Railroad? Nah, didn’t think so), which pretty much is bound to streamline any particular school of thought. But hey, maybe it ain’t a classic, but it’s a darn fine chunk of a hard rock record. Just a, you know, big ten inch record of a band that plays those blues. So whip it out and suck on it.

May 28, 2013 Posted by | Aerosmith Toys In The Attic | | Leave a comment