When your humble reviewer received his copy of the newest Aerosmith release, Rockin’ the Joint, I was looking forward to it—initially.
Here I thought Aerosmith would pick up on the excellent 2004 tour coming off their best release in years, Honkin’ on Bobo, and would have a variety of great music to choose from. Yeah, Aerosmith has done live stuff before (most recently A Little South of Sanity, a Geffen contractual fulfillment), and to have it done in the smallish venue called The Joint inside Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Casino would make the intimacy and intensity go up several notches.
My bad… actually, no—their bad.
Unfortunately, the tour this release comes from a show that took place in 2002, right off the crappy Just Push Play album. The song selection is iffy at best. Oh, and to make matters even more enjoyable, I received one of those promotional CD’s that you can’t rip to your computer’s music library to transfer to my iPod.
Now, the general public doesn’t give a shit about this last complaint (rightfully so), but in all honesty, I must thank Columbia Records for this, because what they inadvertently did was to keep this steaming pile of crap out of my ear range by not letting me put it on my computer or iPod. So Columbia, thank you—I don’t think you realize what a favor you just did for me (and I’m sure countless other critics, too).
Let’s list the positives first. The sound is crystal clear, so the crispness of Messrs. Tyler, Perry, Whitford, Hamilton, and Kramer (with Russ Irwin assisting on keyboards) comes blasting through. Of course, as it has been the last four or five tours, Aerosmith’s live show is a tight performance with just enough raggedness to keep things interesting.
And a few of the songs, which can be found on other CDs in other live settings, still sound good. “Same Old Song and Dance”, “Season of Wither”, “Draw the Line”, and “Big Ten Inch Record” qualify as ear pleasers. The only two mammoth hits represented here are “Walk This Way” and “Train Kept a Rollin’ “, both fine.
The yin’s done—now for the yang. Twelve songs are listed here, but the opening thing is a 30-second piece of nothing called “Good Evening Las Vegas”. Does anyone really need to have “Beyond Beautiful”, “Light Inside”, or “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing” live? The sequencing stinks—go from “Draw the Line” to “Miss a Thing”, and you’ll understand why those new “Jack” radio stations are also lousy.
Again, technically, the album sounds great. But the fact that it wasn’t Aerosmith’s most recent tour, the haphazard song selection, and the inclusion of songs nobody really cares about (diehards excepted) makes me wonder just why this album came out in the first place. Was it contractual? Was it something to add to the collection? Was it a holiday coffers lifter? Why couldn’t they cull tapes from last year’s tour and take the time to put together a really great live album? Why don’t they put out two live albums, one of their rock stuff and the other of their ballads for the ladies?
The answers to these and other similar questions will probably never be known. But what is known is that Rockin’ the Joint will probably be one of the only albums I ever review that gets its low rating not from the way the songs sound (that deserves about an 8), but the reason this thing was ever released in the first place, and why certain songs appear on said release.
Aerosmith can do a lot better than this, and I certainly hope the band isn’t becoming a cash-cow wannabe. That remains to be seen—this album deserves to be hidden.
The eagerly anticipated Aerosmith blues outing ‘Honkin’ On Bobo’ (apparently bluespeak for playing the harmonica) is finally here and to my mind is their finest release since 1989’s ‘Pump’. As I’ve been asked to submit a review, I’ll spare y’all any pre-amble and cut to the chase:
Opener ‘Roadrunner’ is a classic hard-rock tip-of-the-hat to 60’s R’n’B. Fans of Van Halen’s ‘Pretty Woman’, DLR’s ‘Tobacco Road’ or even the Horslip’s ‘Shakin’ All Over’ will definitely enjoy this, which is probably the nearest Aerosmith have come to straight-ahead vintage RnR since Permanent Vacation’s ‘Im Down’.
Track 2 sees the ‘Smiths revisiting previously explored territory, as ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’ could pass as a modern reworking of ‘Big 10 inch Record’ from their classic ‘Toys In The Attic’, albeit benefiting from 21st Century production techniques.
Next up, Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Eyesight to the Blind’ allows Tyler to show off his blues-harp prowess: a tall order, given the former’s legendary status as ‘King of the Blues Harp’. However, ST proves yet again that he’s no slouch in this department either, and is aided and abetted by the swamp-blues guitar of Perry and Whitford.
‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ needs no introduction to fans of Rock or Blues. This standard saw its entrée to the rock arena via Van Morrison’s Them in the mid-60’s and since has been covered by the likes of Budgie and AC/DC. This version breathes new life into the old tour de force, and for me is one of the standout covers of the rock era. Notable are Joey Kramer’s drum fills- simple yet highly effective. Additionally, Tom Hamilton’s bass work here is exceptional, holding down a walking bass line until the climax of the guitar solo, when he finally runs off on a freewheelin’ fret-fest that had me hanging on to the speakers!
‘Never Loved A Girl’ is crying out for a single release. This is a typical soul number, but its definitely Stax Studios Memphis, as opposed to Tamla Motown Detroit. It’s a game musician who’ll take on a vocal popularized by Aretha Franklin, but No Surprise (sic) that Steven Tyler is well up to the task.
The first half of the album ends with the first of three songs penned by Mississippi Fred McDowell (cousin of Carnhill Titch?) and sees Joe Perry capably take the lead vocal. Hearing this track hints at the possible influence behind the likes of former Aero-classics such as ‘Hang Man Jury’ and ‘Voodoo Medicine Man’. Tracey Bonham, who delivers in a style similar to Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks or even Bonnie Raitt, joins Joe on vocals, for what is possibly Perry’s best-ever outing behind the microphone.
Track 7 is another McDowell tune, ‘You Gotta Move’. Previously covered by the Rolling Stones in swamp blues fashion, Aerosmith instead prefer to sidestep potential Stones comparisons by applying the patented Bo Diddly riff and beat. This thereby gives the song an entirely different flavour- and no bad thing following 30+ plus years of unfavourable and meaningless Stones comparisons, which do neither band justice.
The only self-penned track is ‘The Grind’, which is a slow 12-bar, probably written as a single release. Typical latter-day ‘Smith-stuff, this is 21st Century Aero-blues, as opposed to the early nineties country pastiche of ‘Get A Grip’s ‘Crazy’ or ‘Cryin’.
Willy Dixon’s spooky-blues workout ‘Im ready’ will give Quentin Tarantino something to think about if he’s ever considering remaking The Adams Family and needs some inspired soundtrack material. This track may fit the bill.
The Jewish-blues of ‘Temperature’ sees Tyler’s vocal at its most affected. This type of material is reminiscent of the style and spirit of the ‘Unplugged and Seated’ retro-Faces set, recorded by Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood over 10 years ago. Fans of this album could do worse than check The Faces out if they require more of the same.
It’s nice to see Aerosmith acknowledge the blues influence from 4000 miles east of the Mississippi, with the penultimate track, Peter Green’s ‘Stop Messin Around’. Again Joe’s on vocals and while this has been an ad-libbed live staple for quite some time, on this occasion the band give it the full studio treatment, featuring a stunning dual lead break from Perry and the criminally underrated Brad Whitford.
‘Jesus Is On The Main Line’ is an acoustic gospel chant lifted straight from the Delta cotton fields. Again, additional vocals are capably provided by Tracey Bonham for a song that wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack of ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou’. It really doesn’t get anymore organic than this, and it’s a nice touch that the band should end this outing right back at the roots of the blues, musically, culturally and spiritually.
For me then, a five star rating, and I’d be very surprised if this album isn’t a huge success. I hope that I can come across a better album this year, but I seriously doubt it, given its many strengths and highlights. Few of the so-called ‘Greatest Rock Bands in-the-World’ could manage to pull this off: certainly not the likes of REM or the Chillis. Possibly Fleetwood Mac, if they can pull in both Peter Green and a revitalized David Lee Roth (!) or maybe even Van Halen, if they can travel back in time to hire James Brown circa-1967.
In short then, if you like rock, blues, or Blues-rock then check this out and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. If not, stand clear! The only gripe for me, is that at less than 44 minutes, this album is too short; then again, I’d probably say the same if it was twice as long. Grammy nominations writ large? – Lets wait and see.
Let’s face it – we will never get another A+ Aerosmith album like “Rocks” or “Pump.” The band is too fractured for that, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that after years of failed attempts we saw a new album at all. And with the possible exception of Rush, it’s damn near impossible to find a band who makes music 40+ years into their career that ranks among their very best work.
That being said, “Music From Another Dimension” has a 45-minute album’s worth of material that ranks from pretty good to quite good. What does the remaining 25 minutes suffer from? Overwrought balladry and Joe Perry’s lead vocals. And while much of the album rocks hard, there’s also an unfortunate lack of big rock hooks, which is really what prevents this album from ranking among the band’s best. But this didn’t need to be their best to still be pretty damn good.
“LUV XXX” starts things off right. It’s pure sexy rock with a great groove and one of the album’s better hooks, and would be a welcome set opener for the supporting tour. It’s likely no coincidence that the writing credits read simply “Tyler/Perry,” and one can only help wonder what kind of album this may have been if all songs carried similar credits.
“Oh Yeah”, penned solely by Joe Perry, continues the rock & roll party, and let’s all thank Steven Tyler for insisting that he sing the lead vocals instead of Joe (more on that later). On “Beautiful”, it’s evident that the band came to the table with the verses while an outside writer brought in the chorus, but it works. And “Tell Me”, penned entirely by bassist Tom Hamilton and carrying a noticeable Beatles influence, has the distinction of being one of the album’s only enjoyable ballads.
Over the next six tracks, we see the blend of near-greatness and mediocrity that modern-day Aerosmith has become known for. “Out Go the Lights” and “Legendary Child” share not only a melody but also a sense of raw rock & roll fun, and rank as two of the album’s best tracks (sadly, the latter is an outtake from nearly 20 years ago). “Street Jesus” and “Lover A Lot” are right up there, too, with the former serving as one of the band’s most energetic blasts of rock boogie since the 70’s.
But then we have “What Could Have Been Love”, a largely outside-written melodramatic ballad that’s basically a rewrite of “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” mixed with Jourey’s “Open Arms”, and “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You”, a country-fied duet with Carrie Underwood. The songs are practically interchangeable in their mediocrity, making you yearn for ballads that actually felt genuine (“What It Takes”, “Cryin”).
Unfortunately, the album never really recovers after this. Ballads “We All Fall Down” and “Another Last Goodbye” should have been shelved or saved for other projects, while Joe Perry’s rocking “Freedom Fighter” and psychedelic “Something” both suffer from his lead vocals.
Of the album’s last five tracks, only the mid-tempo “Closer” (with a rare songwriting credit to drummer Joey Kramer) is worthy of inclusion on the album. Oh, and deluxe-version bonus track “Sunny Side of Love” is much better than any of these songs. Couldn’t have one of the album’s many producers fought for its inclusion?
All its flaws considered, “Music From Another Dimension” is still a 3.5/5, B-grade album simply because there’s enough good material to latch onto, especially for anyone who didn’t want the lackluster “Just Push Play” or covers-only album “Honkin’ On Bobo” to be known as the band’s latest work. Overall this is a step back up for the band and one worth checking out.
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.
“We believed anything worth doing was worth overdoing.”
Those words are spoken from the famous mouth of the ever talkative, ever charismatic Steven Tyler, frontman of the East Coast rock band, Aerosmith. Indeed, that seems to be the underlying current of thought running through the pages of the recently released autobiography, Walk This Way. Overindulgence is an understatement for these Boston Bad Boys. Why then, should their ever faithful “Blue Army” of fans be any different? Aerosmith is a potent drug themselves.
They keep you wheedling for more, whether it be a dying thirst for their exciting, blues-influenced brand of rock, to the ache of withdrawal you feel when they’re not breezing into your nearest town with one of their awesome live shows. Once you get hooked, you can’t even pick up their massive autobiography and be able to put it down, even when going back for seconds.
Walk This Way is a surprising expose from five guys who knew the story best — Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton, and Joey Kramer — the guys who lived through it. To fill in the gaps of consciousness are wives, ex-wives, managers, roadies, friends, and peers from the entertainment field.
The journey of Walk This Way takes you back to Tallahassee, sort to speak. It starts where it should: from the beginning, from the childhood years of all five guys in the band, their family background, and their influences that helped pave the way for their musical direction. It portrays their struggles, their frustrations, their hopes and ambitions, and even their starry-eyed dreams. Even Steven Tyler, as a young lad, had his idols as he sat for hours in front of hotels to meet the members of The Rolling Stones — much like his fans do today. The journey called Aerosmith is one full of clouds, full of bumps, full of fights, full of brotherhood, full of triumph, and full of ideals and goals.
The book takes you through the pages of history when Aerosmith got their first record deal with their self titled album, and through their second, Get Your Wings, as a band trying to make their mark in the rock and roll universe. It takes you through their countless determination in building a following by playing club after club, and being persistent. It takes you through their first big taste of success when their next two albums, Toys In The Attic and Rocks hit the public smack in the head. Suddenly they were somebody and success, money and fame walked right into their door.
Along with that fame and success came a slow destruction that was caused by the excesses of life: drugs, drinking, women, and endless touring and being on the road. The devil of drugs started to play puppet master with the band, causing what appeared to be a slow and imminent death of a band that had the chance to be destined for greatness. This cancer took hold when Draw The Line was made, and escalated during the making of Night In The Ruts. A wedge was finally driven between the two soul brothers of the band, Steven Tyler, and guitarist Joe Perry. Joe left in the middle of recording NITR. The fighting, the drugs, and the band members significant others, pried the band apart, leaving their fans wondering if rock and roll would ever be the same.
Joe Perry branched out on his own, forming the Joe Perry Project, and releasing two cult hit records, Let The Music Do The Talking and I’ve Got The Rock `N’ Rolls Again. Aerosmith plunged on and started recording Rock In A Hard Place when Brad Whitford decided to leave the fold. The band continued to crash and burn, losing money, cars, their homes, and their relationships.
Aerosmith hit bottom and seemed to be continuing on their path of destruction when the members of the band seemed to get brought together again. Joe Perry and Brad Whitford returned, along with a new manager, Tim Collins. Trying to clean up their act, they recorded their next album, Done With Mirrors, which didn’t make as much noise as it should have.
It wasn’t until the release of Permanent Vacation and a commitment to a sober lifestyle by all parties involved that caused Aerosmith to rise from the ashes. They were back with a vengeance with the biggest album of their career, and continued thereafter to hit the concert trails and reach even higher numbers on the charts with the release of their next two albums, Pump and Get A Grip. There was a new Aerosmith on the rise, and they were going to steamroll anyone who got in their way. The born-again Boston Bad Boys were newly sober and loving life, and the world embraced them. The last chapter winds up at the present, with their current tour and release of Nine Lives, as they continue their successful jaunt.
This book is more than a book about the drugs and the women. It is more than a book about the fame, the money, and losing it all. It digs deeper than the tantrums, the in-fighting, the “business” part of the entertainment field, and the distrust. This book covers all of that, but it has a deeper message. The pain, the struggle, the love for music that brought these five very different personalities together like brothers, and the inspirations that drove them first to the top of the world, and then to the bottom of hell, then back up to an even higher plateau . . . all of that is here in black and white. It’s a frank, honest, sometimes amusing, and sometimes painful story about how each member thinks and what makes each of them tick. It is written in such a way that their personalities burn through each page. It lets you peek in on their hopes and dreams. Most of all, it is a book about survival.
Aerosmith survived when others didn’t. While they indeed fell as many of their peers had, it wasn’t a final fall for them, and they got back up. Today, they are still standing, while others didn’t get a second chance once they fell. That, I believe, is the crux of what makes Aerosmith tick. Not many lived through what they have and still be around to tell their story. With a nod of thanks in having nine lives, these five men are still on their journey, meeting their destinations a little at a time, but never stopping too long to miss the train. May they continue down that road of magic called music for a long time to come, continuing to win the smiles of millions along the way who have felt some happiness because of them.
Back in 1973, the band’s debut album often induced comparisons with the Rolling Stones. Oh sure, the influence is right there from beginning to end, but as far as I can see, the only really exclusive motive – and the most obvious one – was that Aerosmith ended the album with a cover of ‘Walking The Dog’, thus repeating the same move that the Stones had employed for their debut nine years ago.
Whether it was intentional and symbolic (Aerosmith announcing themselves as the new incarnation of the “withered” Stones who’d just released their last ‘epochal’ album) or just a weird coincidence, is left overboard. The fact is, the album as a whole does pretty little to justify the “claim” if there ever was one.
What we basically have here is eight hard rock pieces, highly derivative (goes without saying – not that anybody would hold this against any debut album) and, frankly speaking, not too exciting. Of course, these guys made a good job of capturing the American youth spirit of the Seventies, but hey, let’s face it, that spirit, when captured properly and correctly, without any extra purification or exaggeration, actually sucked. In addition, the tone of the record is at least ten times as monotonous as that of the Stones’ debut album – just your standard hard rock sludge driven in mid-tempo by two guitarists that don’t as of yet seem to understand what a proper riff should sound like and a hoarse screamin’ guy that never had any real “rock’n’roll mystique” in his strong, but annoying voice.
Their style would certainly get perfected later on, but for the most part, all the bad trademarks are already here as well. Yes, even including Aerosmith’s rotten approach to “power ballads”: I know everyone and their grandma will take me to court for that one, but I still find ‘Dream On’ pretty much abysmal, the ultimate in bad taste (okay, pen-ultimate, considering what was to follow twenty years later), its only interesting quality being the stately ascending riff (the one where Tyler shouts ‘dream on, dream on, dream on’) that the band ripped-off of Big Brother And The Holding Company’s ‘I Need A Man To Love’. Otherwise, it’s just a lot of overemoted screaming, bland guitar chords and a bleak, undistinguishable (but jangly!) melody that’s not at all compensated by the song’s overbloated pretentions; in brief, everything that defines the wretched genre of ‘power ballad’.
It may so be, though, that I’m just psychologically unprepared to grant Tyler any possible right to exercising ‘spiritual catharsis’. I could take it even off the hands of some greasy-sleazy rockers, provided they demonstrate a bit of ‘stylishness’ and psychological depth throughout their career (and yes, Mick Jagger definitely qualifies in that respect). But a guy like Steve Tyler is so firmly associated in my mind with the basic, undiluted, unrefined concept of “I’m only here to get me some” that falling for any kind of lyricism emanating from the ‘gentleman’ and his bandmates is absolutely out of the question.
“So”, asks the nitpicking inquisitive reader, “maybe if the Rolling Stones sang ‘Dream On’, you’d like it, Mr Self-Contradictory Reviewer?’ Hmm. No idea. Would have to hear it, I guess. Let me ask you a counter-question, Mr Nitpicking Inquisitive Reader: which one would you rather take on a desert island? ‘Dream On’ or ‘Shine A Light’? Whichever answer you prefer, the crucial thing is the subtle – and at the same time endless – distance between the two. (Actually, it seems more reasonable to think of ‘Dream On’ as Aerosmith’s “reply” to ‘Stairway To Heaven’ – both songs share the same kind of mystique, have similar build-ups and serve similar purposes, but this doesn’t change things much. There’s giants and midgets in every branch of business).
Okay, we’re back in business. The best material on Aerosmith’s debut album is all on the first side, together with the worst (‘Dream On’): both ‘Make It’ and ‘Somebody’ are fairly catchy and decent rockers, with nice vocal hooks and eminent danceable/headbanging potential, and the latter is even interesting in its instrumentation – I like the weeping solo that goes along with Tyler’s doo-doo-doos. But it also features the seven-minute long ‘One Way Street’ to which I have very mixed feelings. It starts out as another pretty attractive, harmonica-driven rocker, with lots of self-assurance, steady beats, and “cool staying power”, whatever that means.
But it goes on and on and on, with a lengthy guitar solo that doesn’t do anything interesting, not to mention original, and the simplistic melody really gets tedious towards the third minute or so. If we should continue the silly Stones comparison and say this is the band’s take on ‘Goin’ Home’, it’s a very poorly thought-out take: where Jagger was able to hook the listener with his never ending, mighty inventive vocal improvisation, and Keith Richards would always throw in an unpredictable guitar line now, Aerosmith just plunder on through the same predictable power chords and the same shouts and screams. Although it’s somewhat interesting to examine the contents of Steve’s trachea at the end of each verse.
But then the second side is just plain dull. ‘Walking The Dog’ adds nothing to the Stones’ version… okay, so it sure sounds different, with a more metallic touch, but Tyler ruins the song with his screechy vocals, and I sure miss the cool whistling. And the other three rockers? Okay, so it’s good party music, for sure, but hardly anything more; after the more or less acceptable vocal hooks on the first side, these songs just don’t do anything for me.
‘Mama Kin’ is an inferior version of ‘Make It’; ‘Write Me A Letter’ plods along in stupid mid-tempo again, but doesn’t even have the harmonica punch of ‘One Way Street’; and ‘Movin’ Out’ shows that the boys better not mess around with generic blues… In short, there’s nothing to separate Aerosmith from zillions of long-haired young punks roaming neighbourhood bars in hopes of getting a record contract, and it’s little wonder that the record flopped; it actually took them some careful career-building to make the public aware of the hit potential of ‘Dream On’ which they ran up the charts in 1976, if I’m not mistaken.
The only saving grace here is that the lyrics are… not awful. At least, not as awful as you’d expect from a mid-Seventies heavy metal band. Sure ain’t no Kiss.
Just the standard ‘girl don’t mess around with me’ themes, rendered so as not to offend the good taste of those who prefer ‘parking lots’ to ‘vaginas’, or even a little bit of harmless social critique around the way, never too prominent and even with a couple wonderful lines lying around, if there’s anybody to pick ’em up, of course. But who the hell listens to mid-Seventies heavy metal bands for the lyrics, anyway? Certainly not Lou Reed fans.
371 pages of text, 3 page “Semiprologue”, 32 pages of color and b&w photos throughout Tyler’s life. Take the dust jacket off and there are wrap-around photos of Tyler in full regalia and mic stand. The inside front and back pages have the same series of photos.
In a nutshell-if you like Steven Tyler/Aerosmith (originally spelled Arrowsmith for about 5 seconds-Tyler wanted Hookers, but changed the spelling to A-E-R-O) you’ll like this book. With the help of David Dalton, a long time Rolling Stone Magazine contributor, Tyler tells his tale in much the same style as he would in a conversation. His comments are sometimes off the wall and colorful, but somehow seem to help tell his life story. A quick glance at the chapter headings will prove my point. But Tyler writes in a very straightforward, in your face, no-holds barred style. Throughout the book Tyler constantly lays things out, no matter the subject matter, which helps paint a better, fuller picture of both his music, and himself.
Beginning with his birth, we learn about his parents and their strong influence on his adult outlook , his early formative years, friends and acquaintances, and his discovery of music. There’s a lot of background details that help fill in Tyler’s early life-a boyhood in many respects like other kids of the era, and how he found his way to music, and his decision to make music his life. Tyler talks about the comparisons between Mick Jagger and himself, and how the press played up their similarities. But Tyler makes no bones about Jagger/The Stones-he idolized them, along with other r’n’r stars of the day. We also learn about the many personal and band escapades-involving sex/drugs/r’n’r during the many years when the band was touring hard-and partying just as hard. If you’ve ever wondered about the highs and lows of a r’n’r band, this portion of the book will give you a good look into what it’s all about. But Tyler tells his story with both great insight and humor, using that Tyler way with words, and that peculiar turn of a phrase that never seems to fail him.
For fans of the band, the book gets really interesting when the original band (with guitarist Ray Tabano), decided to try and “make it”, by moving to Boston. This portion of the book really has the flavor of AEROSMITH-the song choices, the small clubs, trying to get by, and the beginning of their recording career, and the recording of various albums, and Tyler’s on-going feud with guitarist Joe Perry The many details are what make this book worth reading-all the trials and tribulations that Tyler and the band went through in order to make music, and persevere in the music business.
Tyler also talks about his family-especially his four children. This is where he opens himself up and shows that underneath all that bravado, he’s a caring, sensitive man. Tyler also talks about his stints in rehab, and the many physical maladies that have plagued him for a number of years, a number of which were caused by his r’n’r lifestyle. The book is also a cautionary tale of how excess can lead to ruin-his marriages and divorces, his troubles with his band mates, his regrets when looking back at parts of his life when the conflict of home life and his band made life almost intolerable, and so on. But in the end, Tyler (now a judge on American Idol) has adjusted to his sixth decade, living in Laurel Canyon, where many of his idols once lived, able to look back at a lifetime of music making.
For anyone who wonders if Steven Tyler is for real-this book will amply prove that point. His jive-talking, flavorful, sometimes off-color word usage, sometimes semi-nonsense style of writing keeps the interest up throughout this book. At times you get the feeling that Tyler is telling you his tales one on one, which is very effective, and sometimes visceral, but always interesting. The combination of small details throughout gives added depth to his story. It’s an honest (as he sees it) look at a man, his music, his life in and outside of music, and how they all intertwine. And for all the jive bravado, you get the feeling, that underneath is someone who wants to let people know that, in many respects, he’s just like us-an example-the book is dedicated to his mother. If you’ve ever wondered (as I have) if the persona he throws out is all there is, this book will help you see past all that. You may be surprised.
If you’re interested in the other side of the r’n’r coin, so to speak, check out the book “And On Piano Nicky Hopkins: The Extraordinary Life of Rock’s Greatest Session Man”. As much as Tyler ultimately “made it” in music, Hopkins story (truly perhaps the greatest session man in r’n’r) is altogether something different. This book is a window into the r’n’r lifestyle of a man few could match.
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.
An entirely different matter already – this is vintage Seventies hard rock at its most glaring and obvious, dude. Dark, sleazy, no respect for the authorities, let alone all them fuckmachines of the female sex.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to go crazy all over it, and I’m absolutely not crazy about the average vibe of most (heck, all) of these songs. Aerosmith’s image as that of an offensive cock rock band had now been firmly established – just compare the black album cover of the album with the innocent sky tones of the debut – and the singing, lyrics and melodies all tend to confirm to that image as close as possible. Even that could be forgettable if they’d bothered to come up with better melodies. On the average, they did not.
About the only exception from the rule this time around is the power ballad ‘Seasons Of Wither’, basically ‘Dream On Take 2’ but without the riff stolen from Big Brother. A lot of people like it, but I find it as melodically trivial as a pumpkin and, moreover, completely lacking any convincing emotion. (And whoever believed that Aerosmith, at that point, could really sound emotional even if they wanted to? Sure they were no AC/DC, but wouldn’t it be better if they had given up on ballads altogether? Not only would it manage to solidify their image at the time, it would also spare us the grief of having to contemplate an endless run of Alicia Silverstones on our MTV screen). No, scrap that, emotion it actually got.
It just doesn’t care to wrap it up in an interesting or less than trivial form. Anyway, even when taken on a purely objective level, the remaining seven rockers are very much hit and miss. I count one great original song on the album, the magic opener ‘Same Old Song And Dance’ which is Mark Prindle’s famous Aerosmith song and rightly so (that’s his only excuse for digging derivative offensive cock rock so much). Two reasons prompt me to highlight it. First, it features the only good riff on the entire record, with Joe Perry giving it his all; on most of the other songs, he either indulges in standard boogie or relies way too heavily on power chords. Second, it’s one of those select few Aerosmith classics where Tyler sounds really interesting – with that weird tremolo on his voice, it seems as if he were intentionally imitating Marc Bolan, and indeed, the song doesn’t stray too far away from T-Rex’s trashy, but fascinating glam formula. The saxes add some depth, too. And some glam-rock flavouring, very much of the times… although maybe just a wee bit behind the times, actually. Well now, everybody needs time to adjust to reality, even Aerosmith.
Elsewhere, nearly every song has something going for it, but has also something going against it. ‘Lord Of The Thighs’ is the best bet for good old silver: it has a solid drive, but sounds way too dumb and obnoxious without compensating for it with a memorable riff – like a perfunctory anthem to the Great God of Cock Rock. I’d be more pleased if it were an instrumental, with that fast keyboard rhythm being the song’s basis during all of its length, not just during the instrumental interludes. Still, credit must be given – it’s multi-part and quite experimental (for the Aerosmith level, of course), and its dumbness may be easily passed off for humour if you want it.
Their famous cover of ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’ used to leave me cold – most probably because I was quite familiar with the somewhat more exciting Yardbirds version (later inherited by Led Zeppelin who often performed it live, and from Led Zeppelin it supposedly came over to Aerosmith). But the decision to convert it into a two-part format, exploring both its “slower” and “faster” possibilities, was a good one, and where the Yardbirds used it essentially as a vehicle to see what unusual things could be done with a basic blues-rocker, such as their ‘irregular’ vocalizing and Beck’s fiery, but restrained and relatively “academic-style” solos, Aerosmith just milk its ass-kickin’ potential for all its worth. So both versions are about equally, but differently worthy.
Things get somewhat less stimulating after you’ve acknowledged the merits of these three songs and moved on, though. ‘S.O.S. (Too Bad)’ is decent, but passable – for some reason, the song highly resembles all those corny Rod Stewart synth rockers recorded in his worst period, only without the sometimes saving benefit of Rod’s voice (yeah, I know ‘Too Bad’ has no synths, but believe me, the problem doesn’t lie within the instrumentation); ‘Woman Of The World’ simply got to be one of the dumbest and (what’s much worse) yawn-inducing piece of cocky shit ever commited to tape; and ‘Pandora’s Box’ has about the same reason for existence as your average KISS song, except it’s longer than the average KISS song by two minutes at least. Okay, the chorus is mildly catchy (because it’s so repetitive). But it doesn’t even sound real sexy or anything. At least they’re familiar with Greek mythology.
The only thing on here that even vaguely approaches ‘experimental’ is the minor dark epic ‘Spaced’, opening with forty minutes of chaotic noise and continuing on a pretentious, self-elevating note. That said, it’s just as melodically primitive as most of the other stuff on here, and Tyler’s fits of vomit after each verse seem to hint that the state of being “spaced” is really quite a down-to-earth sort of procedure, if you follow me. An unfittable “climax” to an unfittable, if not completely senseless, album. As with every cock-rock album put out by a half-talented cock-rock band, its material could have been put to better use in somebody else’s hands, but ‘Same Old Song And Dance’ and maybe a couple other tracks still make it a worthwhile purchase for a price of ten cents total. The rest is… eh… why don’t you go out and buy some Stones instead. (There, I couldn’t help myself).
PS. After careful consideration, I still ended up giving this a 10. After all, three real good songs out of eight ain’t that bad, and only a couple other tracks can be labelled as ‘offensive’. Besides, there really is no super-amazing wide gap between this one and Toys In The Attic: the latter is simply more refined when it comes to displaying sexual aggression, and has Perry finally coming up with awesome riffs on a regular rather than severely occasional basis.