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Class ?

Main Category: Hard Rock
Also applicable: Rhythm & Blues, Roots Rock, Arena Rock
Starting Period: The Interim Years
Also active in: The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties,

From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of an Aerosmith fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Aerosmith fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1973
Overall rating =

Plenty of sleaze, but hey, gotta know how to write songs, too.

Best song: SOMEBODY

Track listing: 1) Make It; 2) Somebody; 3) Dream On; 4) One Way Street; 5) Mama Kin; 6) Write Me A Letter; 7) Movin' Out; 8) Walkin' The Dog.

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.



Year Of Release: 1974
Overall rating =



Track listing: 1) Same Old Song And Dance; 2) Lord Of The Thighs; 3) Spaced; 4) Woman Of The World; 5) S.O.S. (Too Bad); 6) Train Kept A Rollin'; 7) Seasons Of Wither; 8) Pandora's Box.

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 wotrthwile 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.



Year Of Release: 1975
Overall rating =

Inspiration finally included - still too blunt on occasion, though.

Best song: WALK THIS WAY

Track listing: 1) Toys In The Attic; 2) Uncle Salty; 3) Adam's Apple; 4) Walk This Way; 5) Big Ten Inch Record; 6) Sweet Emotion; 7) No More No More; 8) Round And Round; 9) You See Me Crying.

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.



Year Of Release: 1976
Overall rating =

Yes it does. More than that, it actually REEKS - of these guys' bodily fluids.


Track listing: 1) Back In The Saddle; 2) Last Child; 3) Rats In The Cellar; 4) Combination; 5) Sick As A Dog; 6) Nobody's Fault; 7) Get The Lead Out; 8) Lick And A Promise; 9) Home Tonight.

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.



Year Of Release: 1977
Overall rating =

Too much noise, chaos, kings, and queens for me likin'.

Best song: DRAW THE LINE

Track listing: 1) Draw The Line; 2) I Wanna Know Why; 3) Critical Mass; 4) Get It Up; 5) Bright Light Fright; 6) Kings And Queens; 7) The Hand That Feeds; 8) Sight For Sore Eyes; 9) Milk Cow Blues.

If you're one of us 'theoretically thinking' guys and like to apply your theories to bands like Aerosmith instead of bands like Einsturzende Neubauten, feel free to throw on yet another point or two, as Draw The Line often draws comparisons (i.e. 'lines') with the Stones' Exile On Main Street. Granted, it's not as presumptuous as Joe Perry's own comparisons of this stuff with The White Album, but I'd rather steer clear of comparisons like these altogether, as they'd never work in favour of the 'Smiths.

I, for one, could never truly figure out the nature of that comparison. What's that we're talking about? Diversity? This record is not any more diverse than any of the band's preceding albums, in fact, it's just the same sloppy barroom boogie for most of the time (for comparison, Exile had barroom boogie, jazz-rock, country, gospel, psychedelia, piano balladeering, blues, etc., etc.). 'Grooviness'? These songs are just as 'groove-like' as anything else; besides, in that case, you'd better be off comparing the album to Black And Blue, which still beats it on the account of diversity and well-written melodies. Please cut that crap and take this stuff at face value.

And no, I'm not gonna pretend that I like this record much; unlike Rocks, Father Time never managed to convince me of its superior values, in spite of all the countless bottles of Jack Daniels he shared with me at the fireplace. To no avail: I still insist it's a crystal clear falldown from the relative heights of Toys In The Attic; no progress anywhere, just the same formulas recycled for the umpteenth time, and this time, there's no unquestionable masses of solid songwriting around, the kind of stuff that made Rocks so respectable. Perhaps we should take the traditional route and blame it on drugs and degradation; perhaps there were other factors at work, like, for instance, a desire to sound even louder, even more aggressive, even more chaotic than they used to in order to save face in the age of the punk revolution. In this way, you could say Draw The Line shares the flaws of so many punk records of its time (and beyond) - too much noise, too few musical ideas. (And by "few musical ideas" I don't mean "too few unpredictable chord changes" - I certainly wouldn't accuse, say, the Ramones' debut of having too few musical ideas.)

The line is being drawn at once, starting with, well, 'Draw The Line'. It's a pretty good song, and, since it features by far the only memorable riff on the record (why does it remind me of 'one two three four five six seven', though?), my easiest pick for best song, but it's still a far cry from the blast of 'Toys In The Attic' or 'Back In The Saddle', and this is a bad omen. Yes, the raunchy slide guitars and the overall messy production certainly do hint at Exile as a major point of inspiration - but Aerosmith lack the musical vision and the grandness of the scope of the Stones, and 'Draw The Line' ain't no 'All Down The Line', no matter how hard it tries to be. It ain't even that funny.

This accent on loudness, unpretentiousness and mindless ass-kicking simply turns out to be excessive in most cases. There ain't even that much of Aerosmith's traditional sleaziness in here - for the first time since ever, Tyler's persona somehow steps back into the shade to make way for brawny guitar playing, and while those who are tired of Steven's endless Explorations In The Phallic World may find it a blessing (and I certainly understand them), it also deprives the band of personality. Instead, the guitars simply mesh together in an undistinguishable sloppy mess and the songs are pretty hard to separate from each other unless you play two air guitars to each one of them. The only definite thing I can say about most of this material is that about half of it is stuck in Blues and the other half is stuck in Funk, and the two halves rarely meet, but this time around, I have a hard time determining which one of the halves suits me better. The funk side, I guess; 'Get It Up', the latest update on 'Get The Lead Out', at least has some unpredictable transitions which bring me out of the "Rock'n'Roll Coma".

On the other hand, songs like 'I Wanna Know Why' and 'Critical Mass' go absolutely nowhere and could have been "written" and performed by just about any generic hard rock band of the time - these uninspired, uninventive, and grossly overproduced blues-rock shuffles are a very far cry from the slick, sexy bravado of 'Last Child' and the like. And when Joe Perry goes for a speedier delivery, probably wishing to capture that flashy angry sound all the kids now dig ('Bright Light Fright', reminiscent of the VU's 'White Light/White Heat' in certain ways), the results are acceptable, but hardly outstanding; the duelling lead guitars just don't seem to really pack any true 'crunch'. I'll take the classic Thin Lizzy sound over this any time of day.

Granted, the album's second side is slightly more diverse, but then it's a good case of diversity not necessarily standing up for quality. Being consistent and predictable, I am, of course, in no way going to speak up for the ridiculous 'Kings And Queens', although it might be one of the few tracks on here upon whose 'worthwhileness' I've actually witnessed some Aerosmith fans agree. What use do I have of an overblown power ballad along the lines of 'Dream On' which now has added elements of 'dungeons & dragons' in some of the band's cheesiest, most abysmal lyrics? ('Maidens dared to bare their wombs that bleed?' EH?). No use at all, thank you. If I want to hear Rainbow, I'll go straight to the source. If I want to hear Uriah Heep, I'll go straight to the doctor. And I'll certainly take a sentimental, but more or less adequate ballad like 'Home Tonight' over this stuff. Epic "progressive" anthems are about as compatible with Aerosmith as homosexual marriages are with the Republican party - whoever gave them that idea must have had less brains than whoever teamed Phil Collins up with Eric Clapton.

In fact, I'd much rather take 'The Hand That Feeds', much as it is despised by those same fans - but Tyler's screaming in that song is so hilarious, I don't see how it is possible to despise a song that goes 'DUAAAACTAR DUAAAAAAACTAR DUAAAAACTAR DOCTOR DOCTOR PLEEEEEAASE!' - it had me in stitches on the floor first time I heard it, gave me a headache the second time around, and now I'm ready to acknowledge it as Tyler's brief moment of vocal glory on the album. Unfortunately, it's the only memorable thing about the song, but at least it happens to rock sharper and edgier than 'I Wanna Know Why', for instance. Not all that overproduced.

Finally, the cover of the old blues standard 'Milk Cow Blues' (in its rock'n'rollified version) is fully acceptable as well - maybe they were guided by memories of 'Train Kept A-Rollin', which helped them rock down the house effectively and with no extra fuss. It's a doggone shame, I think, that Aerosmith only decided to try on the looks of an old blues/rock'n'roll cover band almost thirty years later, with Honkin' On Bobo - maybe that is exactly the kind of stuff they should have filled these thirty years up with instead of you-know-what. Although, to be fair, Draw The Line doesn't draw the final line - stylistically, it's still quintessential Seventies' Aerosmith with no true "sound problems" to worry about. Transition, yes. Beginning of the journey to the depths, yes. But there was some way to go.



Year Of Release: 1978
Overall rating =

Crap sound quality multiplied by crap style band = pretty cool listening experience!

Best song: on a "live bootleg"- could be anything!

Track listing: 1) Back In The Saddle; 2) Sweet Emotion; 3) Lord Of The Thighs; 4) Toys In The Attic; 5) Last Child; 6) Come Together; 7) Walk This Way; 8) Sick As A Dog; 9) Dream On; 10) Chip Away The Stone; 11) Sight For Sore Eyes; 12) Mama Kin; 13) S.O.S.; 14) I Ain't Got You; 15) Mother Popcorn; 16) The Train Kept A-Rollin'.

Logic is king, so here's a little logical reasoning. When you get down to the core of it, Aerosmith are - as befits their essence - quite a "shitty" band (although, if you take offense at that definition, you're free to scrape it and put "a derivative, thoroughly unimaginative hard rock band that never had a tenth part of the subtlety of Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones, not that it really mattered" instead). However, Aerosmith, at least in their 'prime' era, were not a "hopeless" band - which is to say, they were capable of delivering the goods from time to time, and when they were at their best (which didn't happen every day), the goods could include some tremendously kick-ass rock'n'roll. I'll be the first to admit that.

Therefore, Aerosmith is a band best heard on compilations - those that omit the dreck and capture the worthwhile stuff (I am, of course, not speaking of those all-including career overviews that can't do without a bunch of their awful late-period power ballads; rather of those compilations that concentrate on the pre-Run D.M.C. period). But since I don't usually review compilations and when I do, I never rate them, a perfect substitute for a solid compilation would be a solid live album. This here live album is quite solid and never really disappoints. Ergo, it gets this reasonably high rating - I actually used to consider it Aerosmith's best at one time, but apparently one of my drinks got spiked by Alicia Silverstone one day and somehow the highest rating went to Rocks instead. I'm still trying to figure out how the heck such a thing could happen; when I do figure it out, I'll let you know.

Anyway, I don't want to say that Live! Bootleg is problem-free or anything. The first thing you learn about this record is that its packaging and title were just a joke, bluntly referring to the uncontrolled flowing of unlicensed recordings at the time. (A rather derivative joke, too, as is almost everything connected with Aerosmith - the Who were the first to make an indication of the matter on Live At Leeds). However, it's one thing to make your record look like a bootleg, and quite a different matter to make it sound like a bootleg; that's carrying the joke a bit too far. It took me quite a bit of time to get used to the tinny sound of the album, and I swear I have heard real bootlegs of much better sound quality, ones where you could always hear the singer better than the cheering audience instead of vice versa. The only consolation I can offer is that repeated listens help, and who knows, maybe if you listen very hard, that'll work wonders for your sense of hearing.

Second, I am, of course, not entirely satisfied with the track listing. Wasn't I the guy in the front row yelling out for 'Nobody's Fault' and 'Uncle Salty'? And wasn't it the acme of rudeness on Steven Tyler's part to spit in my face and play 'Sick As A Dog' and 'Sight For Sore Eyes' instead? Well no, I wasn't, and he didn't, but since I did imagine this situation, and since our imagination doesn't just come from nowhere, you can be sure that in some faraway parallel world, I was, and he did. Not that there ever was such a thing as a perfect tracklisting on any live album for me (I'm hellishly picky for an amateur, and I don't even pay full price for any of that stuff), of course, and at least this album does have 'Toys In The Attic' on it - a track which is, by the way, mysteriously lacking on most of the recent 'best-of' Aerosmith compilations. Isn't that just mah-velous? The most ass-kicking Aerosmith song ever, and you can't even get it on a friggin' compilation. What next? Dropping 'Revolution No. 9' from classic rock radio playlists?

Overall, though, I guess the setlist could be much worse, so let's stop whining and concentrate on the positive instead. The positive is predictable: Tyler screams, hollers, and howls the way he's supposed to, the rhythm section chugs along professionally and steadily, and the guitarists tear. The guitarists are, in fact, awesome. You can't always count on Tyler - watch him butcher some of the extreme pharyngeal lines on 'Back In The Saddle', for instance - but you can always count on the guitarists. From time to time, Joe Perry switches on his 'talk box' effect, and while some may be disappointed with the respective drastic changes in 'Walk This Way', I like the "grunting" effect just fine. Elsewhere, the big stuff like 'Toys In The Attic', 'Last Child' and the closing 'Train Kept A-Rollin' goes off like firecrackers, and believe it or not, this is the first time I have really felt some potential in 'Dream On' - that ascending riff in the chorus is blissful indeed! The rest of the song still sucks, though.

Now let's look for surprises, since a live album just ain't a proper live album without a couple jack-in-a-boxes. Surprise #1 is a rendition of the Beatles' 'Come Together', very close to the live version we hear John Lennon perform on Live In New York City. Funny how the song really smokes on stage - wasn't it so quiet and unpresumptuous on Abbey Road? Proof immaculate that the Beatles' songs have even more undisclosed potential in them than we actually perceive while listening to the original versions.

Surprise #2 is that near the end the band has included a couple very old performances, back from the early dusty smelly days of 1973 clublife - the covers of 'I Ain't Got You' and 'Mother Popcorn', with David Woodford supporting the band on sax. They aren't all that special - unless you really love the idea of Steve Tyler impersonating the likes of Janis Joplin, which is exactly what happens on the 'Mother Popcorn' extended jam (actually, it isn't quite as horrendous as you could imagine). However, for some reason, the sound quality is much clearer on those recordings - so go figure!

Surprise #3 - 'Draw The Line' is present (and it's a great rendition, with the pounding one-two-three-four-five-six-seven riff even better pronounced and more maniacal than in the studio), but is not marked in the track listing; one more 'oblique hint' at the 'bootleg' nature of the album, I presume?

Surprise #4: Joe Perry does a few guitar fireworks, imitating Jimi Hendrix, at the end of 'Train Kept A-Rollin'. All right, so that last one might not be a thoroughly pleasant surprise (not to mention an effective one). Still, it's hardly sufficient to spoil the general picture.

So... I like it. I've heard from people who hate it. They're entitled to their hatred, but I can't help stopping myself from thinking that if one thinks of himself as an Aerosmith "fan" or, to put it more intelligently, as somebody who "gets" Aerosmith, and yet hates Live! Bootleg, apparently likes Aerosmith for something different from the things they're supposed to be liked for. Because Live! Bootleg is as messy, dirty, greasy, sleazy, soily, juicy (stop me before I spill my libido!) as can be, and if you want to have your Aerosmith without the grease and dirt, well, I know a nice little tune called 'I Don't Want To Miss A Thing' that will be just right up your alley, mister. What, chickening out already? Can't stand a little cassette-recorder quality? [In true salt-of-the-earth fashion, I should insert some sloppy homophobic insult here, but apparently Aerosmith can't get me that wound up. You'll just have to wait until I review G. G. Allin.]



Year Of Release: 1979

They lost Joe Perry in the middle of the sessions for this one, replacing him with Jim Crespo or whatchamacallit. As far as I know, though, the majority of the guitar parts are still played by Joe, with Jim only featured on a few tracks - I don't know which ones but it really takes a seasoned pro to tell the difference anyway. I mean, they both know how to crank out a mean Chuck Berry chord and use the effects backpack, so how can you tell?

This is still standard fare Aerosmith, though, no better and no worse than your average Aerosmith. No experimentation whatsoever, and that's a good thing (I mean, there's only one "Kings And Queens" on the planet, and so much for the better). Lots of the songs are unmemorable, but some aren't, and coupled with the drive which is still present throughout, this makes up for solid listening... in places. One good thing, I guess, is that they have somewhat learned to make their 'messy' numbers more enjoyable on this record. Take 'Chiquita', for instance; on first listen, the ridiculous distortion abuse on both guitars might give you a headache, but then the riff actually steps out, and it's a good driving freight-train riff, emphasized by a few well-placed sax lines on both sides. Plus, the vocal melody is actually discernible as well. Funny enough, the verse melody reminds me of the Rolling Stones' 'Child Of The Moon' - much as this song has nothing to do with starry eyed late Sixties' psychedelia, of course. But rip-off or not, the actual vocal hook is placed to different use. The song cooks.

I also kinda favour the album opener, 'No Surprize'. It sure ain't no 'Back In The Saddle' or 'Toys In The Attic', and it ain't even no 'Draw The Line', but if you really want my non-fan opinion, 'No Surprize' is as close as Aerosmith ever came to capturing the Stones' Exile spirit. It's just a nice drivin' groovy rocker where nothing particularly stands out, but the guitars are so obviously Berryesque and there's so much of this primal rock'n'roll fury it's hard to resist temptation even if you're Billy Graham. Maybe it's a bit hypocritic of me to bash all those stale rockers on Draw The Line and then sing praises to 'No Surprize', but I guess it's just Aerosmith's deliberate "tribute mood" that does it for me this time.

Surprisingly, there's also a couple of good ballads on here. Aerosmith's cover of the Shangri-La's 'Remember (Walking In The Sand)' is hardly remembered as their best achievement in that department, but it's hardly bad at all! They master the signature changes quite nicely, and Tyler's pleading vocal workout is actually quite convincing. The song definitely could be seen as a logical predecessor to the nightmarishly cheesy power ballads of the Eighties, but guess what? It hasn't been penned by Aerosmith members. That's the key to the problem. However, the other ballad, which has been penned by Steve - 'Mia', a touching ode to his little daughter (not that daughter, though, the other daughter) - is also surprisingly warm and almost McCartneyesque in quality. (More precisely, I think McCartney has penned a few songs in that style for Driving Rain, which either shows you how high the pitiful has risen or how low the venerable has fallen). Nice echoey piano, decent vocal melody and a real feel. Perhaps Tyler should consider doing little odes like these to his beloved ones more often?

But back to trouble. In between the first three good songs and the last disturbing ballad is sandwiched a bunch of standard sub-standard Aerosmith rockers and random crap, including even a generic blues cover, 'Reefer Head Woman', with a wah wah solo that's definitely played by Joe Perry (as Steve goes 'Go Mr Perry' or something right before the axeman in question locks in overdrive) but nothing much else of interest. There's yet another cover, this time of the Yardbirds' 'Think About It', but I personally think they could have chosen something more interesting than this unattractive rocker from the Jimmy Page period. 'Come On Baby I Wish You Would' for instance. Now that was a cute song.

'Cheese Cake' is a novelty number redeemable by some creative slide work, and 'Bone To Bone' should have been slightly sped up, I think, because the riff is good and with a little more care they could have ended up with 'Toys In The Attic Part 2'. But essentially, well, hmm, this is okayish rock'n'roll. Not very tight either. Clearly, tensions were high within the band at the time, and I'm not even speaking of all the drugs inhaled/injected/imbibed whatever. Still, I think the general critical opinion is a bit too hard on that one - by no means is Night In The Ruts significantly worse than your standard "classic period" Aerosmith album. Worse than some, better than some; pretty hard to spot the difference. Unless, of course, you happen to be the sharp-eyed ratingmaster of the All-Music Guide, who gave Toys In The Attic and Rocks five stars and Night In The Ruts only one. Now that's what I call an untrivial, innovative approach to the evaluation of artistic statements. You can't beat the man!


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