REVIEW: Aerosmith – Rock in a Hard Place (1982)

Be sure to check out Deke‘s loving review over at Arena Rock – Thunder Bay and Beyond by clicking here!

ROCK IN A HARD PLACE_0001

AEROSMITH – Rock in a Hard Place (1982 Columbia, 1993 Sony)

I sometimes wonder what it was like to be an Aerosmith fan in 1982.  Their last album, Night in the Ruts, showed signs of decay.  Then out came Rock in a Hard Place.  Joe Perry and Brad Whitford were both gone*, and in their places were Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay.  Both guys are good players and writers, but they are not Perry and Whitford, who were 2/5 of the Aerosmith sound.  Changing two guitar players in the space of an album, especially when you’re losing a guy like Joe Perry, is always risky.  It’s risky because you’re losing a very recognizable member (musically and visually), and you’re changing the creative chemistry of the band.  Whatever was special about the first six albums, there was no guarantee it would carry over to the seventh.  Add to that an unfortunate album cover featuring Stonehenge.  There was nothing wrong with that, until This Is Spinal Tap came out in 1984.  It was a movie that Steven Tyler took very personally. Rock in a Hard Place looked like a joke, now.

Thankfully the record opened with two great songs in a row. The frantic “Jailbait” immediately recalled previous high points like “Toys in the Attic”. New guitar players or not, Hamilton and Kramer were more than capable of laying down that speedy Aero-groove on their own. Unusually for a rhythm section, they have a signature sound together, which makes “Jailbait” naturally sound like Aerosmith. Tyler is a sassy as ever, singing from experience I’m sure. Incidentally “Jailbait” is the only song with a Rick Dufay writing credit. Jimmy Crespo on the other hand co-wrote seven tracks.

Richie Supa, co-writer of “Chip Away the Stone”, returned to help out on the single “Lightning Strikes”. Maybe that’s one factor that makes the song so classic to me. Brad Whitford was still with the band when it was recorded, so that’s him on rhythm guitar instead of Dufay. “Lightning Strikes” was accompanied by a cool music video featuring the new guys. It’s cool how they fit in with the band, looking right at home, smoking on cigs. In the video, the band double as greaser gang bangers, ready to rumble in the middle of the night…when the lightning strikes.

Unfortunately, album quality takes a dip after that!

“Bitch’s Brew” is OK but it’s easy to hear the fatigue. The groove is there and the riff is solid, but there aren’t enough hooks to go around. That’s Crespo on the backing vocals, by the way. “Bolivian Ragamuffin” features some sweet slide guitar and really harkens back to what I like about Aerosmith. It’s just not a good enough song!

“Cry Me a River” is the old Ella Fitzgerald classic, and who but Aerosmith are better at doing unusual classic covers? “Cry Me a River” isn’t one of their best, but it is good. They do it as a smokey, lounge number complete with electric guitars and a monster called Joey Kramer on the drum kit!

Skip “Prelude to Joanie”. What happened here? This song intro is pretty silly.  Did Tyler listen to The Elder and say, “Jeez I have to get more sci-fi and conceptual sounding in my music!” Skip it, and get to the much better “Joanie’s Butterfly”. This sounds fresher. In a way it foreshadows some of the more exotic textures that Aerosmith would try out 15 years later on Nine Lives. It starts acoustic, but when the electric part kicks in, it’s old Aerosmith all over again and it works. It was an ambitious song and for the most part, they pulled it off. It could stand a little more cohesion, but think about the drugs swimming in their veins at the time!

ROCK IN A HARD PLACE_0003“Rock in a Hard Place (Cheshire Cat)” again recalls the good ol’ days, sounding a bit like “Same Old Song and Dance”. Not as good, mind you, but in the ballpark.  “Jig is Up” is an attempt to get back to the funkier Aerosmith vibe, but it’s a completely forgettable track.  Truly filler, B-side material.  (Great guitar playing though.)  “Push Comes to Shove” ends the album on a slower, lounge-y note.  Once again I can’t help but hear the band burned out and running on fumes when I listen.

Aerosmith would tour around, in smaller venues, for the next few years.  Tyler was in some serious shit with his problems, falling down and passing out on stage.  Meanwhile as the band aimlessly toured the country, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford began to talk about what it would take to rejoin the band.  As if fated, Rick Dufay killed his own job with Aerosmith by suggesting to Steven Tyler that getting the other two guys back would be his best option.  Wheels were set in motion.

Record deal with Columbia now done, the label were free to issue live albums and outtakes.  Even as Aerosmith were on tour behind a brand new studio album for Geffen (Done With Mirrors), Columbia ensured there was also a live album on the shelves.  That’s what we’ll be looking at next time.

3/5 stars for Rock in a Hard Place.

* Be sure to check out the Joe Perry Project, and Whitford/St. Holmes.

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE review series:

BOX OF FIRE THUMBDisc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)
Disc 3: Toys in the Attic (1975)
Disc 4: Rocks (1976)
Disc 5: Draw the Line (1977)
Disc 6: Live! Bootleg (1978)
Disc 7: Night in the Ruts (1979)
Disc 8: Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits (1980)
Disc 9: Rock in a Hard Place (1982)

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28 comments

  1. Being in the midst of 1982 on my own blog, I was going to post about this album in the near future. I thought about simply reblogging this one as you seem to hit the nail on the head here but that would deprive me of the opportunity of listening to it. This was one album that passed me by for many reasons, one was the being in the service. So, I will wait a few weeks for memories of this post to dim. Good write.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an album that has sailed right over my head every time I’ve listened to it. So… ooga booga! And hopefully one day it will register. A fun read though, a few details I didn’t know. And you’ve got to love Dufay’s (I think?) jumper in the band photo. I bet his gran bought him it so he’d look nice on his first record sleeve!

    Liked by 3 people

        1. Sounds about right! I’m sure Gran wasn’t pleased with Ricky at the time. Funny how Crespo and Dufay never re-emerged in anything significant after being in Aerosmith.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Strangely enough I thought of This Is Spinal Tap the minute I looked at the cover there. Had a wee chuckle, too. Really seems strange to think that Joe Perry wasn’t in Aerosmith for a bit – even as someone who’s only familiar with a couple of albums, I identify him along with Tyler as Mr Aerosmith.

    … and yeah, what a jumper!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting! I appreciate your thoughts on this, since I never heard it at all. It’s weird to have two main players leave and still use the same name. I get why, but it also just doesn’t feel right. Anyway, long live the Lebrain Aero Series, a true service to the rawk! This is great fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No kidding. An album a year, recorded in a blizzard of snow and awash in booze, didn’t contribute much to quality control. Crazy times, indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Okay, Mike. I humbly request an entry that ranks—in order of your preference—Aerosmith’s entire discography. I would love to see where you’d place albums like Rock in Hard Place and Night in the Ruts when lined up against the likes of Just Push Play, Nine Lives, Get A Grip, etc. Or maybe you can just reply here. Either way, I’m curious! :D

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Fair enough Mikey….great all round comments but for me this album dropped in the stores when I was in grade 10 and considering Aero had no press at the time I just always gravitated to this bad boy! I dunno you do make valid points about some of the songs but I still would punch this a 4.5! Hahahaha…..

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mike, these Aerosmith reviews are awesome and taking me back! Even though I still listen to Aerosmith. Again I was too young to really care about things like band personnel changes although I did notice the absences. I wrote once and stand by it that, Bolivian Ragamuffin is one of the most Aerosmith sounding Aerosmith songs of all time. Maybe In the way that Kingdome Come sounds LIKE Led Zeppelin….just an imitation of.

    Funny I always thought The Spinal Tap references were jabs at Judas Priest, Maiden, Dios of the day. Never even thought about Aerosmith.

    Another great review…looking forward to Done With Mirrors next. Hopefully I wasn’t the only one who liked it…although not a super strong effort from the boys.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah Mike, I am sorry. No Done With Mirrors in this series. It is not in the Box of Fire because it’s on a different label (Geffen) instead of Columbia.

      However I have Done With Mirrors and I will review that one soon enough. Not right away as I have some other reviews to clear off the decks first! But stay tuned and I will get ‘er done!

      Like

  8. I didn’t become a Aerosmith fan until Permanent Vacation. Never listened to them before that album but with MTV, Aerosmith was all over the place. So I went backwards and found their 70’s stuff. But just like with Nights In The Ruts, I have never heard a note from this album except for Lightning Strikes, a song that wouldn’t even manage as a b-side when Aerosmith were on top. But I dunno, 3/5 isn’t that bad. Would you recommend it, Mike? I mean, I could always “borrow” it an see what I think. Ruts?

    Like

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