Jamie’s Got a Gun

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Big Ones (1994)

AEROSMITH – Big Ones (1994 Geffen)

There is an informal rule that a band should have at least three albums out before they entertain the idea of a live or “greatest hits” release.  Aerosmith obviously had lots of albums out in 1994, but on two different labels:  Columbia, and Geffen.  Their 1994 best of, not-so-cleverly titled Big Ones, drew from only three Geffen albums.  Therein lies its weakness, though Aerosmith have often had issues trying to balance their classic and pop hit eras on compilations.  Big Ones is easily made redundant by later compilations, but how is it for a straight listen?

A long one:  73 minutes with lots of hits and perhaps a few too many ballads, although there is no denying their chart power.

Three songs were new to the majority of buyers.  “Deuces Are Wild” was a fine ballad, one of their best from this era.  It wasn’t entirely new; it was written for Pump and considered for Get A Grip before being released in 1993 on the Beavis and Butt-head Experience CD.  The other two were brand new recordings:  “Walk on Water” and “Blind Man”.  Fans who dug the heavy Aerosmith on tunes like “Eat the Rich” will enjoy “Walk on Water” as one of their harder rockers.  OK song, but long forgotten now.  Unfortunately “Blind Man” is just another ballad, this one similar to “What It Takes” from Pump.  It’s the better of the two new songs, but sadly another ballad is not what Big Ones needed.

Making this CD even less valuable to buyers, every single track is on the later album Young List: The Aerosmith Anthology (2001).   Even the three new songs!

Otherwise Big Ones plays much like a run-though of Aerosmith’s radio staples that you can hear on the FM dial just about everywhere.  Each and every big hit from the three massive Geffen albums is here.  How often do you need to hear “Crazy”, “Cryin'”, “Amazing”, “Janie”, “Rag Doll”, “Angel”, “Dude”, “Elevator” and the rest?  That is up to you.

Even the cover art is devoid of imagination.

2/5 stars

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REVIEW: Aerosmith – Pump (1989 collector’s faux leather edition)

AEROSMITH – Pump (1989 Geffen collector’s faux leather edition)

When speaking of Aerosmith “classics”, fans often skip over the 80’s or 90’s and talk singly about the 1970’s.  This is unfair to 1989’s Pump, a bonafide classic indeed, a rebirth, an all-too-brief twinkling of Aerosmith turning back the clock and smoothly kicking your behind.  Sure, Permanent Vacation brought them back from the dead and provided three surprise hit singles.   But that album wasn’t as laser-focused as Pump.

Teaming up for a second time with the late great Canadian producer extraordinaire Bruce Fairbairn, Aerosmith (and co-writers) cooked a short and sweet batch up.  10 songs, all to the point and done “just right”.  That’s how Aerosmith albums were in the 70’s, and Pump is as close as they have ever been able to touch that magical golden era.

Incidentally, if you’re curious about how this album was made, there was an excellent behind the scenes doc called The Making of Pump that was out on VHS.  The band were clearly riding a wave of energy, it was palpable in the studio.  There was some conflict but it all seemed productive.  There was a surplus of songs.  Titles such as “Looking Up Your Old Address” and “News For You Baby” were dropped in favour of stronger songs — the 10 on Pump.

“Young Lust” and “F.I.N.E.” have always seemed to work as a supercharged pair.  The band sound young, therefore “Young Lust”!  Joey Kramer on the skins propels the whole thing forward, aided and abetted by Tom Hamilton’s unmistakable bass slink.  Whitford and Perry — locked on to target, supporting and boosting each other’s licks.  And Steven Tyler, always the centrepiece, keeping the attention focused on the hooks.  “I got a brand new record, and I gotta play,” he sings, and you have to believe it.  When Aerosmith have all five members firing at peak performance, then you have one hell of a lethal weapon.

We don’t need to address “Love in an Elevator”; it’s all been said.  All you really need to focus on when listening to this overplayed radio staple is the musicianship.  All these years later, it’s still smoking hot.  Hamilton’s bass rides that riff like a surfer.

Aerosmith weren’t a preachy band, but they were pretty open about their drug usage and recovery.  “Monkey On My Back” was their first real statement about this subject.

“I made believe the devil made me do it,
I was the evil leader of the pack,
You best believe I had it all and then I blew it,
Feedin’ that fuckin’ monkey on my back.”

The reborn Aerosmith infuse it with all the energy and greasy groove required to make their point.  They’re a better band without the powders; deal with it!

“Janie’s Got a Gun” is another track we don’t need to delve into deeply.  It was an innovative and daring track for the time; a real statement from Tyler.  He fought hard for his lyrics.  “Put a bullet in his brain” was changed to “Left him out in the rain” on some edits, which robs the song of its shocking impact.  In my opinion, the real moment people started to pay attention was that line.  And incidentally, this is one of the best songs to watch come to life on the Making of Pump video.  From the initial work on the song with writer Jim Vallance to the punching in of final vocals, you can watch the creative process like a fly on the wall.

A brief but impressive acoustic bit called “Dulcimer Stomp” was used to open side two, right before another hit single, “The Other Side”.  I always appreciated that they included “Dulcimer Stomp” in the music video, even though it’s not part of the single version.  “The Other Side” is probably the safest track on the album, the only one without some kind of edginess.  It does boast some popping horns, a Bruce Fairbairn production trademark.  Bruce is one of the players in the horn section, dubbed the Margarita Horns.  “My Girl” is similarly simple and to the point, although later plagiarized for not one but two songs on 2012’s Music From Another Dimension!  Much more interesting is the heavy duty “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even”.  Swampy, even including didgeridoo, this is one of those Aero-blasts through the blues that Perry and Co. do so well.  Just as awesome is “Voodoo Medicine Man” which is probably the most…ominous…Aerosmith track ever recorded.  It is different and groove-heavy.  Deeply impressive heavy rocking happening here.

Closing out with the ballad “What It Takes” was a classy move.  Unlike some other ballads this band has had hits with over the years, “What It Takes” has a sincerity and authenticity that has kept it from ageing badly.   The country tinge of “What It Takes” foreshadows Steve Tyler’s current solo direction, but in 1989 this was just slightly different for the band.  Listen for a callback to “F.I.N.E.” from side one, and a hidden bonus track.  There’s an unlisted track of acoustic instrumental jamming, an outtake from the sessions, at the very end.  Even incidental bits like “Going Down” and “Dulcimer Stomp” are given their own titles on the CD, but this last jam is left a surprise.

This rare limited edition version of Pump comes in a “leather case”.  There is an outer slipcase, and an inner digipack.  It was manufactured as a promo and then later sold as a limited release at retail.  It’s cool and looks sharp, but there is nothing else exclusive about this release.  It’s a cool find if you happen upon one in your travels, but sticking with the zillions-selling regular CD edition will do you just F.I.N.E. fine.

4.5/5 stars

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