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