AEROSMITH – Honkin’ On Bobo (2014 Columbia)
Sometimes we take one for the team. For no reason other than to get it done, we take out albums we strongly dislike just for the sake of writing them up. Sometimes there are pleasant surprises and time has been kinder than our memories have been. And sometimes you’re just Honkin’ on Bobo, whatever the fuck that means. It could be code for Sucking the Big One.
Necessary background: After 2001’s putrid Just Push Play, Aerosmith were eager to strip it back to basics and record an album live in the studio. They returned to producer Jack Douglas and picked an album’s worth of blues covers to Aero-fy. This is a formula that rarely works out well for rock bands, and Aerosmith fell into the blues cover trap with both feet.
The only exception is one new original, a ballady blues called “The Grind”. It happens to be one of the best tracks, though firmly within that Aerosmith bluesy ballad niche that they carved out for themselves in the early 90s with “Cryin'” and “Blind Man”. That this is an album highlight is a warning as sure as a watchman yelling “iceberg dead ahead!” We’re about to take on water, and there aren’t enough lifeboats.
One of Aerosmith’s issues since the mid to late 90s is how they’ve become a caricature of themselves. Bob Diddley’s “Road Runner” is thick with Aerosmith clichés to the point that it sounds like an Aerosmith covers band filling their set out with standards. “Road Runner” isn’t limber, it’s thick in the thighs with thuddy rock tropes. Joey Kramer injects some life into “Shame, Shame, Shame” but it only makes you wish Aerosmith had tackled the track in 1974 instead of 2004 so it wouldn’t sound so contrived. “Eyesight to the Blind” (Sonny Boy Williamson) isn’t convincing, as Tyler huffs through the song like a burlesque singer. “Baby Please Don’t Go” makes you crave AC/DC’s superior version, although the groove on this one is positively unearthly. It’s an unbelievable groove that perhaps should have been made into an Aerosmith original rather than a throwaway cover.
Aretha’s “Never Loved a Man” is transformed into “Never Loved a Girl”, and with the Memphis Horns on board there’s some value to it, but compared to Aretha they sound like rookies. Like an amateur artist copying a master with crayons. “Back Back Train” is actually OK, and it might be that Joe Perry is a more appropriate vocalist for a blues classic. Tyler’s histrionics wear thin on this album, but Perry’s laid back singing works better. Tyler surely doesn’t aid the sluggish “You Gotta Move”.
A dreary “I’m Ready” (Muddy Waters) is still a long way from the end. “Temperature” also drags along, Tyler turning it into a parody. Fleetwood Mac get the Aero treatment on “Stop Messin’ Around”, at least the second Mac cover that Aerosmith have done after “Rattlesnake Shake”. Please welcome Joe Perry back to the microphone on “Stop Messin’ Around”, and please keep Tyler away! Unfortunately it’s a boring tune (blazing fretwork aside), and so is the closer “Jesus is on the Main Line”.
Even the most stalwart defender must concede that Honkin’ On Bobo isn’t a blues album for a blues lover. It’s a blues-rock forgery that occasionally captures the odd highlight for posterity, but is otherwise expendable. In other words if you’re in a Zombie apocalypse looking for CDs to chuck at the undead, Honkin’ On Bobo can be flung guilt-free.
And once again, it’s the return of the dreaded flaming turd!
- Aerosmith (1973)
- Get Your Wings (1974)
- Toys in the Attic (1975)
- Rocks (1976)
- Draw The Line (1977)
- Live! Bootleg (1978)
- Night in the Ruts (1979)
- Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits (1980)
- Rock in a Hard Place (1982)
- Done With Mirrors (1985)
- Classics Live! (1986)
- Classics Live! II (1987)
- Permanent Vacation (1987)
- Gems (1988)
- Pump (1989)
- Get A Grip (1993)
- Big Ones (1994)
- Nine Lives (1997)
- Just Push Play (2001 import/bonus track)
- Just Push Play (2001 Japanese/bonus CD)
- Honkin’ On Bobo (2004)
- Devil’s Got A New Disguise – The Very Best of Aerosmith (2006)
- Music From Another Dimension! (2012)
- Music From Another Dimension! (2012 Japanese/bonus tracks)
- “Dude Looks Like a Lady” (1987 12″ single)
- “The Other Side” (1990 CD single)
- MTV Unplugged 1990 (broadcast CD)
- Box of Fire Bonus Disc (1994 from the Box of Fire)
- Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits 1973-1988 (1997)
- “Jaded” (2001 CD single)
- All of the Aerosmith (albums ranked)