joe perry

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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RE-REVIEW: KISS – Gene Simmons (1978 solo album)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 15:  

 Gene Simmons (1978 Casablanca solo album, 1997 Mercury remaster)

Given Gene’s demon persona, certainly some fans would have expected his solo album to be the heaviest and darkest.  Imagine their shock upon finally hearing the finished disc!  Musical flights of fancy and whimsical songs dominate Gene’s record, as the demon was determined to do something very different.  His album has the most guest stars, the most diverse songs, and the most split of personalities.

Even the “evil” sounding choirs that open the album are more whimsical than demonic.  This soon gives way to a guitar riff, and the first song “Radioactive”.  The audio compression gives it a disco-like beat, but “Radioactive” is a rock and roll track.  It is one of the songs featuring guests Joe Perry and Bob Seger, not to mention a slew of backing vocalists.  It’s also the one track that Kiss played live on tour in 1979.

The demon sounds like he’s prowling for ladies on “Burning Up With Fever”.  If you’re wondering about that funky bass line, it was played by Neil Jason.  In a surprise move, Gene didn’t play bass on his solo album, only guitar.  This lends the whole LP a funkier-than-expected sound.  This plus the ample backing vocals almost makes Gene Simmons sound like an R&B/rock hybrid from time to time. “Burning Up With Fever” is a bad tune for a sexed-up demon, but not one of his finest either.

Some of Gene’s solo songs were oldies that predated Kiss.  Others were of more recent vintage.  The folksy ballad “See You Tonite” sounds like one of the older tunes.  It’s a good one; good enough that Kiss recorded it live in 1995 for their MTV Unplugged appearance.  In a strange twist, some of the best tunes on Gene’s solo platter are the ballads.  Jeff “Skunk” Baxter played on this one and “Burning Up With Fever” as the cavalcade of guest stars continues.  Even Katey Sagal (Married With Children) sings on the LP.

“Tunnel of Love” and “True Confessions” are two of Gene’s non-descript exploits, fairly ordinary songs given a huge boost by the larger than life production (by Gene and Sean Delaney).  The backing vocals are immaculately arranged.  “Tunnel” features Joe Perry and Donna Summer.  Helen Reddy sings on “True Confessions”.  Unfortunately these two songs are more notable by who appears on them rather than how good they are.

Gene was dating Cher at that time, so it’s not really a surprise that Cher appears on “Living in Sin” (as the groupie on the phone).  This side two opener has a bit of that rock and roll spirit missing on other songs, though very corny.  The ballads on side two are better.  “Always Near You/Nowhere to Hide” has some of Gene’s best singing, showing off that high falsetto.  Gene couldn’t get the Beatles to appear on his album, so he did the next best thing and had Mitch Weissman and Joe Pecorino from Beatlemania sing on “Always Near You/Nowhere to Hide”.  This melancholy song is one of Gene’s most ambitious.

“Man of 1000 Faces” is big and bombastic, orchestrated for maximum impact.  It has more in common with Destroyer than anything else Kiss has done, but even more overblown and bombastic.  It also suits Gene’s persona perfectly.  “I can put on any face, you won’t know me but it’s no disgrace.  The king of night, he understands!”  Then “Mr. Make Believe” is laid back and acoustic, and also another fantastic song.   Gene’s ability with ballads should not be understated.  “Mr. Make Believe” is the most Beatles-esque of Gene’s solo tracks.

“See You In Your Dreams” is a remake of the Kiss song from Rock and Roll Over.  Apparently Gene thought it could have been recorded better, but the more basic Kiss version is much more appealing.  Rick Neilson from Cheap Trick plays guitar on it, but Michael Des Barres’ backing vocals are obtrusive and irritating.

And that leaves only the final track.  Some stop playing the album before track 11, others consider it an indispensable part of Gene’s solo statement.  But there it is:  “When You Wish Upon a Star”, the song whose lyrics meant so much to Gene that he recorded it for the last track of his album.  It was not intended as a joke, but many see it as such.

Gene’s solo album can’t be dismissed as garbage, not with the great tunes it has (especially the ballads).  However it’s so scattershot and just plain strange that it’s hard to really just enjoy.  It’s interesting to study and dissect.  Not so much fun to play in the car.

2.5/5 stars

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/20

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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REVIEW: Aerosmith – Jaded (2001 EP)

Scan_20150922AEROSMITH – Jaded (2001 Sony EP)

It’s not unfair to suggest that I might be a little J-J-Jaded when it comes to 2000-era Aerosmith. People ask me when I think the decline hit. I answer, the abomination that is “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”.  Nine Lives was a good album.  It might not be an Aerosmith classic, but it was good, no two-ways about it.  By the time Aerosmith hit 2001 with Just Push Play, the co-writers and love ballads had taken over completely.

That said, the first single from Just Push Play, “Jaded”, was a pretty good song.  Joe Perry didn’t write that guitar hook, but it’s more the drum part that I am drawn to.  Joey Kramer was capable of turning crap into class (not that “Jaded” is crap), he is so talented.  “Jaded” boasts both catchy verses and choruses, and is firmly ensconced in acoustic-electric-pop land.  I think it’s a great track actually, but in the context of its album, it was one of very few.  You can handle something like this as a commercial track on a single.  On an album where each song is more sold-out than the last, “Jaded” was a very minor victory.

But wait, there’s more!  There is an acoustic and a “guitars mix” of “Jaded” as well.  The stripped down acoustic version is pretty cool although it lacks punch.  If you want to hear the song taken back to the basics without embellishment, here it is, and it’s still a good song.  It just misses the soft/loud contrast of the album version.  The guitar mix is the opposite.  It’s the album track with the electric guitar parts turned up in lieu of the strings.  So with the three tracks, you kind of get it in the full spectrum, from the light to the heavy.  (Incidentally, there’s also a radio remix of “Jaded” out there, on a 2 CD version of Just Push Play from Japan that I don’t have.)

“Angel Eye” is a non-album track from the Charlie’s Angels soundtrack, saving you from buying that CD for one song.  Thankfully it’s a heavy song, but without any serious hooks.  The guitar riff is devastating, but once again, Joe didn’t write it.  When it comes to this aeon of Aerosmith, perhaps we should just be grateful for a heavy song, period?

The final track is a bit of a throw-away at a mere 1:00.  “Under My Skin” sounds like an album outro, or a piece of incidental music recorded for a soundtrack.  I guess it’s a teaser for the full-length song that appeared on the album?  Too bad because “Under My Skin” is one of the most irritating songs on Just Push Play.  I don’t recognize this bit from the song, but I also don’t really want to investigate any further.

2/5 stars

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REVIEW: Hollywood Vampires (Alice Cooper) – Hollywood Vampires (2015 Japanese import)

NEW RELEASE

Scan_20150920 (3)ALICE COOPER / HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES – Hollywood Vampires (2015 Universal Japan)

Ignore the hype.  The press has been going ga-ga over this new supergroup featuring movie star Johnny Depp (rhythm guitar), Joe Perry (lead guitar), and Alice Cooper (lead vocals).  Just ignore the hype completely.  Cooper fans know what this is.  This is the covers album that Alice has been talking about doing ever since Welcome 2 My Nightmare in 2011.   Alice has even been playing a number of these tunes, in these arrangements, live.  Check out his Raise the Dead double live album/video for a few.

According to an interview with Ultimate Classic Rock earlier this  year, “I can’t tell you who’s on what right now, ’cause it’s not gonna be released yet, but it’s the ‘who’s who’ of everything.  It was one of those things where, at one point, I’m looking around in the studio and I’m going, ‘Holy crap! Look who’s in the studio.”  Bob Ezrin, Alice’s long-time producer and musical collaborator came up with the concept.  Alice continues:  “Bob came up with the idea, ‘Let’s concentrate it on all the guys that you drank with in L.A., the Hollywood Vampires, the ones that are all dead.’  I like the title All My Dead Drunk Friends. It’s just offensive enough to work, but all those guys would have totally got it. They had the same sense of humor. If you told them you were going to do an album after they were gone called All My Dead Drunk Friends, they would have died laughing.”  Ultimately the album was simply called Hollywood Vampires.  That’s also the name of this “supergroup” which is essentially just Alice with Depp and guests.

I have this album filed in my Alice Cooper section, and that’s how I’m treating this review.

Hollywood Vampires consists of 14 tracks, except in Japan who have 15.  Two of these are brand-new songs, and one is an intro called “The Last Vampire”.  Fittingly, this features the narration of Sir Christopher Lee, who passed away earlier this year.  Lee’s old friend from the Hammer horror days, Vincent Price, appeared on Cooper’s original Welcome to my Nightmare in 1975.  Today, Alice Cooper truly is the last vampire left from those old days.  Lee’s rich voice is backed by spooky keys and theremin by Ezrin, Depp and engineer Justin Cortelyou.  “Listen to them, children of the night…what music they make.”

Alice then kicks it with “Raise the Dead”.  Depp appears on every track, and Alice’s drummer Glen Sobol plays on this one and several others.  It’s an upbeat stomper of a track, and a perfect introduction to this covers album that is also a concept album.  The first of Alice’s dead drunk friends to be covered is Keith Moon on “My Generation”, an authentic and pounding version.  Alice Cooper is one of the few that does justice to it.  Bassist Bruce Witkin perfectly tackles John Entwistle’s signature bass solo.  One thing that is immediately obvious is how massive this album sounds.  Ezrin wrought a monster-sounding disc, so full and heavy, but textured when required.

John Bonham is up next.  “Whole Lotta Love” was handled in a completely different way than you’d expect.  Starting as a low, prowling Cooper blues it soon blasts into gear.  Alice isn’t known for hitting those high Plant notes, so who joins him?  None other than Brian Johnson of AC/DC, who kicks my ass completely.  Joe Walsh and Cooper’s former lead guitarist Orianthi play some jaw droppingly greasy guitars, but Alice’s harmonica work is also worthy of praise!  Even though very few can cover Led Zeppelin, “Whole Lotta Love” turned out to be my favourite track.  It’s also the heaviest sounding, like a skid of concrete blocks assaulting your face!  That’s Zak Starkey (son of Ringo) on drums.

Cooper has covered “I Got a Line on You” (Spirit) before, on the soundtrack to Iron Eagle 3, of all things.  That 1988 take is my preferred version, but Alice remade it on Hollywood Vampires.  Abe Laboriel Jr., Joe Walsh, and Alice’s old bassist Kip Winger join as guests.  Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction helps Alice out on the lead vocals, but his part isn’t prominent.  Then it’s time for the Doors, and a medley of “Five to One” and “Break on Through”.  Alice had been playing “Break on Through” live, but this version has Robby Krieger!  Alice heavies both of them up, but he is also one of the few singers who can do Morrison.

Farrell and Krieger return for a Harry Nilsson medley, joined by David E. Grohl on drums.  “One” is rendered as a haunting, creepy piece as if Alice himself wrote it.  This merges into “Jump Into the Fire”, a strangely upbeat companion which rocks in a vintage 70’s fashion.  It’s like guitar nirvana.  There’s also a cute outro of “Coconut”, also by Nilsson.

Sir Paul himself, rock royalty if there ever was one, shows up for Badfinger’s “Come and Get It”, which Paul wrote.  Joe Perry has spoken about how incredible it was when McCartney showed up in the studio with his Hofner bass, and actually allowed them to hold it!  “Come and Get It” is simple rock/pop, not the kind of timeless thing that happened when Paul wrote with John, but certainly a notch above what mere mortals can write.  I love hearing Paul’s “screaming” voice, and I’m sure everybody in the studio had a great time.  Sure sounds that way.

Marc Bolan’s “Jeepster” is one I could pass on.  Alice makes it sound like an original from 1972’s School’s Out, but if you’re only going to skip one song, it’s probably going to be “Jeepster”.  Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” featuring Joe Perry has more kick and grind to it, and it’s always a pleasure to hear Joe Perry do some Aero-jammin’ on lead guitar.  (I think it would have been amazing to get McCartney to play bass on this Lennon classic — shame nobody thought of it.  That could have been history made.)

Scan_20150920 (4)The Japanese bonus track is “I’m A Boy”, the second Who cover.  Once again, Alice nails it.  This is such a difficult song to attempt.  Alice makes it work, and if anybody can do it, it’s Alice.  “My name is Alice I’m a head-case…”  Just that one change makes the song work.  “I’m a boy, I’m a boy, but my mom won’t admit it…I’m a boy, but if I say I am, I get it.”  And he’s got the girl’s name.  It’s perfect!  This bonus track is worth tracking down if you’re a Cooper fan.  You’ll definitely need it in your collection.

Jimi Hendrix was a Hollywood Vampire, and “Manic Depression” is the song Alice chose to cover.  (He’d already done “Fire” back in the Hey Stoopid days.)  Like “Jeepster”, this is one that could be skipped.  Joe Walsh fans will enjoy his lead guitar work, but otherwise, it’s a stock cover.  Way, way better is “Itchycoo Park”.  Alice’s treatment of the Small Faces is far more entertaining, and its melodic base continue to deliver the hooks.

Brian Johnson returns to belt it out on the “School’s Out”/”Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” medley.  This arrangement is similar to the way Alice did it live, and it’s cool how the two songs work together perfectly.  It’s a genius mashup.  Guests include Slash, and original Cooper band members Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith.  “School’s Out”, of course, is here for Glen Buxton, of the original Alice Cooper band.  Buxton had suffered the consequences of alcohol abuse, and dropped out of music completely when the original band split in ’74.  Buxton died in 1997.

The final song is an original, “My Dead Drunk Friends,” the song that Alice wanted to use as a title track.  If you don’t mind some black comedy, you will love this tribute to all the lost Hollywood Vampires.  It’s irresistible, and also sounds vintage Alice.  So chants the crowd:  “We drink and we fight and we fight and we puke and we puke and we fight and we drink!”  Doesn’t sound particularly glamorous, but Alice isn’t about to have a mournful wake.  Alice is about entertainment, and even though a brilliant artist who drinks themselves to death is sad, Alice has thrown a party for them instead.  “My Dead Drunk Friends” ends the party on a darkly celebrating note, as only he can.  Job well done.

Hollywood Vampires is pleasantly surprising.  9/10 covers albums are not worth the money you paid for them.  Alice’s is.  They call it a supergroup for marketing purposes but it only takes one listen to know what this is.  This is a project that Alice, Bob Ezrin and friends have been passionate about for years, and has finally been finished.  It is an apt follow-up to Welcome 2 My Nightmare, and another killer concept album from the kings of concept albums.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Nine Lives (European version)

Scan_20150829AEROSMITH – Nine Lives (1997 Columbia, European version)

By popular demand, here is a look at Aerosmith’s Nine Lives, an often overlooked and sometimes forgotten record overshadowed by bigger hits.

Aerosmith were in trouble.  In 1995, after completing a massive amount of work to support Get a Grip and Big Ones, drummer Joey Kramer suffered a nervous breakdown.  It was a traumatic experience for the musician, who had conquered his drug demons long ago and thought he was otherwise healthy.  Aerosmith went ahead with new producer Kevin Shirley, replacing longtime collaborator Bruce Fairbairn who was busy with Van Halen, The Cranberries, and INXS.  A session drummer (Steve Ferrone) filled in, with the intention that when Joey returned, they could finish the album with him.  Kramer did return, perhaps stronger than ever, and re-recorded all of Ferrone’s drums himself.  According to Joey, it made all the difference to him, to make the album sound like Aerosmith.

Although the first single, “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)” was pretty blasé, the album itself is very strong. I liked it all but immediately, bought it, and then bought it again when I found the European version with the bonus track “Falling Off”. The domestic version was “enhanced” for PC use, with some kind of game where you could play along to Aerosmith songs. I never even tried that, and I ditched the original when I found the European version. I found it in Calgary, Alberta, of all places.

A raucous opening is what you need to set the scene, and “Nine Lives” fits the bill.  That’s Joey on drums alright, as he has this steady, heavy beat that is quintessentially Joey Kramer.  There’s Tyler, vintage sassy and welcoming you to the party.  Over on guitar, Brad Whitford and Joe Perry are sounding brilliant thanks to some crunchy, crisp production from Kevin Shirley.  As always Tom Hamilton on the bass isn’t afraid to play all over the neck without getting in the way.  In other words, for all appearances, Aerosmith were as strong as ever.

Listening to the dreadfully titled “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)” again reminds me that I never disliked the song.  It was only the title (and the video directed by Michael Bay) I found silly.  Otherwise it’s a fine example of horn-enhanced mid-tempo 90’s Aero-rock.  It has a sleezy grind to it, but it’s not particularly distinguishable from any similar songs on past Aerosmith records.  It’s what they do, and although there are plenty better tunes, I suppose there is an Aero-niche that needs to be filled and here it is.  Another thing they had to do was the sappy ballad with strings and so here is “Hole in My Soul”, another single.  I think track 3 is a little early for ballad.

I remember walking into a record store with T-Rev one afternoon (I think Sunrise) and they were playing an early pre-release promo of “Taste of India”.  I intensely dug the heavy groove, and the exotic spices thrown in.  “Holy shit,” I said to Trevor, “this is really good.”  He wasn’t as enthusiastic, but I think the groove here is impossible to resist.  For latter-day Aerosmith, “Taste of India” represents one of those peaks, kind of like tunes such as “Kings and Queens” were for the early years.  It’s adventurous and I’m a sucker for those guitars that sound like sitars.  There is also sārangī on this track, performed by Ramesh Mishra who was a student of Ravi Shankar. I will return back to my original point though — the heavy groove here is the key. It’s all about that unstoppable steamroller of a rhythm. You don’t hear Aerosmith groove this heavy very often anymore. Back when I was at the Record Store, I did a brief paragraph review of this record for our store newsletter. I praised the song then too, and my enthusiasm has not diminished in the slightest.

“Full Circle” is an interesting track, a ballad that sounds a bit like something you’d sing in a big group on New Year’s Eve.  “Time, don’t let it slip away, raise your drinking glass, here’s to yesterday.”  It sounds a bit like an old Beatles ballad, interpreted by Aerosmith.  It’s just a stunning little track, different from a lot of the Aero-noise that filled later albums.  But “Something’s Gotta Give”, and we need an adrenaline-filled Aero-ass-kicker next.  “Something’s gotta give!  Does the noise in my head bother you?”  Tyler’s harmonica solo is scorching hot, I’m sure his lips were burning.  Then it’s a smokey, jazzy (with muted trumpet) intro to “Ain’t That a Bitch”.  I don’t think I’d wanna call this a ballad, but maybe a slow Aero-burner?  Using the word “ballad” sells the song short because it has more to it than that, even though there’s those strings again!  Then the horns return for the “The Farm”, an inessential but dramatic song.  This is about where the break between side 1 and side 2 would come, so I consider this song to be an apt side closer.

Aerosmith kick it into gear and “Crash” for a breakneck blaze of a song.  Perry’s solo is incandescent.  Kramer’s there in the back, locked into Tom Hamilton driving this big beast called Aerosmith forward as fast as it will go.  Tyler’s screaming “I’m losing my mind, losing my mind, losing my mind!” while the boys in the back are jamming hard.  The second half of this song is truly as good and wreckless as Aerosmith can get.  Just top drawer rawk n’ roll.

So of course they bring you down from that “Crash” with a ballad, called “Kiss Your Past Goodbye”.  This is by the books, and strictly just an off-the-shelf stock Aero-ballad.  There is a lull in the album right about here, as it stalls towards the end.  Another single, the pretty dreadful “Pink”, takes up a solid 4 minutes of your listening time.  I had a customer at the Record Store, the “Barefoot DJ”, a really annoying fucker who was persistently looking for this damned song.  But he refused to pay $11.99 for the Aerosmith album it was on, so he didn’t get it.  Sucked to be him, I guess.

Joe Perry redeems the album (on the European version only) with his song “Falling Off”, for which he handles lead vocals.  It’s nothing special, but it has an old-style rock integrity to it that centers us back to where we should be with this album.  Fortunately it’s followed by another strong song, “Attitude Adjustment” which has a hint of a twang to it.  It’s still nice an’ heavy, which you will have noticed by now is a continuing theme on this album.  Sure there are lots of ballads, but also lots of kinds of heavy.  “Attitude Adjustment” is rhythmically hard-edged, and Joe Perry’s slide guitar always hits you square right in the guts.

“Fallen Angels” brings the ballad count to four.  However, this ballad has integrity.  It is a long ballad, adorned with strings and all the fixings, but it also has the feeling and drama that preceding ballads lacked.  The exotic sounds of India return to close the song and the album, going “Full Circle” as Aerosmith said earlier.

NINE LIVESLastly, I think Nine Lives has some of the best album artwork of any Aerosmith album in the CD age.  I know that the original cover art with the snakes and the dancing cat was offensive to some of the Hindu faith.  They then issued an alternative, revised version for retailers who wanted it, and it was just as cool anyway.  Each page of the booklet features artwork that “pulls back” further giving you a wider perspective of the actual scene.  This culminates with a zombie Aerosmith on the last page.  The best thing about the revised cover art is that it adds one more picture to this sequence of “pulling back”.  Now you can see the zombie Aerosmith are just a picture on a T-shirt on the same cat, who is strapped to a circus knife throwing wheel!  I wouldn’t mind getting that version of the CD (cheap) just to have the final picture in the sequence.

This version of Nine Lives has 14 songs.  If you think of an album in old-school terms, you realize that’s about four or five songs more than you used to get on a record.  If you trimmed a few of these songs off, as if you were releasing a vinyl album in the 1970’s, imagine how tight it could have been.  With the ballady filler, I’d give it:

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits 1973-1988 (1997)

AEROSMITH – Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits 1973-1988 (1997 Sony)

Back in May/June, we took a detailed look at the entire Aerosmith Box of Fire set (1994), including the original Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits (1980).  What we didn’t inspect was the expanded 1997 reissue of Greatest Hits, now dubbed Greatest Hits 1973-1988, including an unreleased track.

Since this CD is based on the original Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits, it contains all the original songs. Because of the greatly expanded tracklist (from 10 to now 17 tracks), it is the preferred listening experience. The title is misleading: If it truly was the greatest hits from ’73 – ’88, wouldn’t “Angel” be included? “Dude”? “Rag Doll”? Yes, but this is the Columbia Records music, not the Geffen stuff. Casual fans don’t know that. Casual fans might see the title and say, “Oh cool…this will have some of the 80’s music on there.” No, it doesn’t.

“Chip Away The Stone” was released on CD for the first time on 1988’s Gems album, and there are a lot of fans out there who would name this as a favourite.  Putting it on the expanded Greatest Hits is what we in the reviewing world might call a “no-brainer”.  It elevates the album to a whole new level.

“Seasons of Wither” is a beautiful one from the early days, an acoustic number just a little different than your typical “ballad”. Fantastic song. “Big Ten-Inch Record” is loaded with horns and soul and sounds like classic Aerosmith. Be glad these tunes were added, among others. They’re all still great today, and not overplayed on radio or in concert. Of course you still get the songs you know, such as “Dream On”, “Same Old Song and Dance”, “Sweet Emotion”, and all that good stuff.

One unreleased song is present: A live version of “One Way Street”. This is actually a more recent recording from 1994 (so what’s this 1973-1988 nonsense?), and was also on a Walmart exclusive EP called Made in America in 1997.  “One Way Street” is a debut album classic, and oh so very welcome here.  It was recorded for radio broadcast, and the setting sounds intimate.  Steve’s harmonica work is the high point of this great little-known song.

I used to advise fans to pick this up instead of the old, cheaper Greatest Hits.  Today you can find it for under $5 if you know where to look.   The price has dropped considerably since I paid almost $28 for it on US import!

5/5 stars

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE complete reviews:

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)
Disc 10: Classics Live! (1986)
Disc 11: Classics Live! II (1987)
Disc 12: Gems (1988)
Disc 13: Box of Fire Bonus Disc (1994)

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Done With Mirrors (1985)

Part one of an Aerosmith two-parter!

AEROSMITH DONE WITH MIRRORS_0001AEROSMITH – Done With Mirrors (1985 Geffen)

This review comes by request of, well, several readers.  Done With Mirrors was Aerosmith’s first record on their new deal with Geffen.  That means it wasn’t included in the massive 13 disc Box of Fire that I reviewed recently.  I intended to get around to Done With Mirrors anyway, but the reader anticipation adds an interesting sort of pressure.

I know some people, like Deke over at Arena Rock, hold this album in high esteem.  “36 minutes of classic Aerorock,” in his books.  I know that Done With Mirrors is a bit of a cult favourite album in some ways.  The band ignore all but one song in their live sets, but some fans have loved it since it came out.  I think it’s possible that some readers, knowing my love for underdog albums, are hoping I’m going to come out with some really appreciative glowing observations about the album.

The fact of the matter is, I’ve never been a fan of this album.  “Let the Music Do the Talking” is probably my second favourite Aero-tune ever, right after “Chip Away the Stone”.  As an album, I have always found Done With Mirrors to be so-so at best, and I’ve never really warmed up to it over the years.  Why is that?

I decided to do something different for this review, and listen to the album as background music while working on something else.  I came away with some strong impressions, so I immediately gave it another listen.  Rather than go song-by-song, I’d rather just talk about the feeling I get from the album now.

I used to think the production (by Ted Templeman) sucked.  I think it could use some embellishment, but hot damn! Aren’t Joey’s drums sounding fucking awesome?  Yes they are.  I’d say Joey’s the MVP on Done With Mirrors, as he is so rock solid consistent right through!

I used to think the songs (all but “Let the Music Do the Talking”) were pretty much just crap.  I think anyone would have to admit that these are not the catchiest tunes Aerosmith have ever written in their storied career.  They do, however, rock.  They rock hard.  “My Fist Your Face” is exactly what it sounds like — a fist right in your face!

I used to think that Steve and the band sounded tired compared to the earlier material, or what came after.  I still think that’s true, but even tired, Aerosmith were capable of blowing out the speakers with bluesy riffs and Steve’s scats.  If you pay attention to the lyrics, you’ll hear that Steve’s as sassy as ever.  I love the name-dropping of “Joe Perry, oooh Mr. Style.”

Compared to, say, Pump, Done With Mirrors doesn’t fare too well.  Letting it stand on its own and just enjoying it as a batch of rockers, it’s actually not as bad as I remembered.  Maybe all these years I just haven’t been letting it in.

Big surprise:  How swampy and cool “She’s On Fire” is.  No idea why it never clicked with me before.  I can say the same for a few songs on this album.  While very few would make my own personal road tapes, there aren’t any to skip.  It’s a fair chunk of solid, hard rocking Aerosmith.  No ballads, no fluff, no embarrassing forays into other genres.

Finally, gotta love the cover art and double meaning.  I’ve always been fond of the packaging way before hearing the album.

Assigning a number rating is hard.

I’d say somewhere between 3.5 4/5 stars.

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Box of Fire Bonus Disc (1994) and conclusion

AEROSMITH – Box of Fire Bonus Disc (1994 Sony, only included in the Box of Fire)

Sony did a sonic makeover to the Aerosmith catalogue in ’93, using their new Super Bit Mapping technique. Each CD received a well due remastering job, and improved packaging, as you have seen here throughout this series. In 1994 these albums were released again inside the near-definitive Columbia box set, Box of Fire. Back when I was working in the Record Store, we stocked this one for over $200 brand new. I remember looking at that sealed box longingly, wishing I could peer inside.

The bonus CD included in Box of Fire was an added little reward for those fans who waited to shell out for the full box, rather than buy the CDs individually. In defense of Sony for the double-dip, I distinctly remember them announcing in advance the the future box set would include all the albums and additional goodies. Because of that, I did indeed wait to shell out for Box of Fire. I bought it used, at the store that Joe Big Nose manages today. It was in good shape. I just needed to replace a few broken CD trays, and the outer plastic sleeve was also missing (not a huge deal). I later found that plastic sleeve at another one of our outlets, and the owner “Billy Bob” gave it to me himself! (Thanks man, you have no idea how much that makes an OCD collector like me happy.)

The Bonus Disc has five tracks.

1. “Sweet Emotion” (1991 remix by David Thoener). Remember the music video they released in late 1991 to promote the Pandora’s Box set? That video featured a remix of “Sweet Emotion”, and it was released as a limited as a limited CD single. It’s a little longer and has a few things mixed louder.

2. “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”. A later track (1987) from the Less Than Zero soundtrack. I’m always in favour of getting one of Aerosmith’s numerous soundtrack contributions on an Aerosmith disc. I hate buying a soundtrack for one or two songs. Wanna know what Aerosmith sound like produced by Rick Rubin? This old rock n’ roll cover indicates, it’s kinda dry.

3. “Subway”. A cool instrumental jam from the Draw the Line sessions, but originally released on the 1991 “Sweet Emotion” CD single.

4. “Circle Jerk”.  Another instrumental from the same period.  Most fans who collect Aerosmith already had this one.  It was the unlisted “hidden” bonus track at the end of Pandora’s Box.  These two jams are simple and unadorned.  They were unreleased for a reason, although they both could have evolved into cool heavy rock songs.

5. “Dream On” (MTV Anniversary).  This live version from 1991, complete with orchestra, was from an MTV thing later released on a CD of its own. I’d rather have the song on this. It’s a brilliant version, best appreciated by the Aerosmith connoisseur.

The Bonus Disc is housed in a simple cardboard CD sleeve. This slips into a gap inside the Box of Fire, easy to miss and sometimes missing! If you’re buying a Box of Fire, make sure it’s intact.

Wrapping up this exhaustive look at the Box of Fire and all the albums inside, there is very little left to add.  The packaging is cool; a sturdy box with orange flame emblazoned all over.  The front door opens “garage style”, with a little plastic “match” as a handle, painted to look as if burned.  Each CD, housed in its own jewel case, slides easily in and out.  It’s a simply lovely way to display your Aerosmith collection, open or closed — when lined up, the CD spines form an Aerosmith logo!  Each disc is numbered 1-12 (except the Bonus Disc), and can be differentiated from the regular retail versions by the numbered spines.  If you bought these albums separately, they do not have the numbers or the coordinated spines that form the Aerosmith logo.  That’s how you can tell the difference!

I’m glad to have taken the time to listen to the entire Box of Fire, in sequence, from start to finish.  That’s something I haven’t done since I first bought it.

4/5 stars (for Bonus Disc and Box of Fire overall)

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE complete reviews:

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)
Disc 10: Classics Live! (1986)
Disc 11: Classics Live! II (1987)
Disc 12: Gems (1988)
Disc 13: Box of Fire Bonus Disc (1994)

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Gems (1988)

AEROSMITH – Gems (1988 Columbia, 1993 Sony)

It’s impossible to view the 1988 compilation Aerosmith Gems as anything but purely a companion piece to 1980’s Greatest Hits.  It purposely avoids overlap with that prior album, while providing a slice of the heavier side of ‘Smith.  Since Greatest Hits pretty much included all the major greatest hits, Gems tends to focus on underplayed fan favourites.

Let’s check ’em off one by one.

1. “Rats in the Cellar”.  I’m on record for liking albums to start with a corker!  This one has an absolutely furious pulse, which in turn will set your pulse racing!

2. “Lick and a Promise”.  Solid album cut and underplayed favourite.

3. “Chip Away the Stone”.  Here is the reason I first bought Gems!  This amazing Richie Supa song was only available on a 7″ single, and in live form on Live! Bootleg.  Getting a CD copy on an Aerosmith album is a no-brainer winning reason for fans to buy Gems.  “Chip Away the Stone” was accompanied by an awesome music video, ensuring that a new generation of Aero-fans got acquainted with it, in the wake of Permanent Vacation.  This song can’t be topped!

That’s Richie Supa in the music video too, with the ‘stache.

4. “No Surprize”.  Decent album cut from Night in the Ruts.  A laid-back Aero-rocker.

5. “Mama Kin”.  Believe it or not, good ol’ “Ma’ Kin” wasn’t on Greatest Hits!  Including it on Gems was another no-brainer, since Guns N’ Roses put it on their Lies EP in ’88, instantly ensuring that millions of kids were hearing it.

6. “Adam’s Apple”.  I’m always in favour of Joe Perry breaking out his slide guitar.

7. “Nobody’s Fault”.  Brad Whitford’s apocalyptic metal stomper always deserves more exposure.

8. “Round and Round”.  Same with this one.  The songs are like a reflection of each other.

9. “Critical Mass”.  From Draw the Line, when Aerosmith were reaching critical mass themselves.  Regardless of the chemicals in their veins, “Critical Mass” retains the trademark Aero-groove.

10. “Lord of the Thighs”.  Concert favourite, and about damn time we got a song from Get Your Wings!

11. “Jailbait”.  Whoah nelly, hold on to your hats!  Just when you thought Aerosmith were so wrecked they couldn’t even stand up, they surprised with the vintage-sounding “Jailbait”.  Since material from Rock in a Hard Place was included, my only disappointment is that “Lightning Strikes” is nowhere to be found on Gems.

12. “Train Kept a Rollin'”.  Closing with this one is natural.  Aerosmith introduced this Yardbirds song to a new generation of rock fans in ’74, and then they did it for me in ’88!

I do need to address the elephant in the room, regarding the Box of Fire box set, in which Gems was included.  I’m not really sure that throwing in an entire greatest hits album consisting of music that is on the other CDs, all but one song, was necessary.  Couldn’t the soul exclusive, “Chip Away the Stone”, have just been included as a bonus track on one of the other CDs?

But that’s not the fault of Gems, an otherwise fine companion piece to Greatest Hits.

4/5 stars

Come back tomorrow for the final review in this Aero-series!

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)
Disc 10: Classics Live! (1986)
Disc 11: Classics Live! II (1987)
Disc 12: Gems (1988)