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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 – Just Push Play (2001 import version with bonus track)

scan_20170109AEROSMITH – Just Push Play (2001 Sony, includes bonus track “Face”)

“I don’t think we’ve made a decent album in years. Just Push Play is my least favorite.” – Joe Perry

The sad and depressing fact of the matter is, Aerosmith could have retired long before Just Push Play, and we would have lost nothing terribly valuable.  They’ve pandered for hits before, but never as blatantly contrived as Just Push Play.  It’s an embarrassing state of affairs that deserves every inch of scorn we’re about to unload upon it.

Hi-tech digital tracks written and produced with outsiders make up Just Push Play, a weak attempt to be young hip and cool when Aerosmith were anything but. Look at the sleek haircuts in the band photo. Only Joe Perry appears to know what band he’s in. The album was recorded with sterility. At no time were all five members in the studio together, according to Joe, and that’s exactly how it sounds.

If their heads weren’t in the clouds (coming off their biggest hit single ever) they might have made a rock album.  “Beyond Beautiful” is a close imitation, a robotic and stiff carbon copy.  Ballads like “Fly Away From Here” sound as if faxed in from the office.  These blatant attempts to repeat past glories are among the most offensive on Just Push Play.  It is true that one of Aerosmith’s first hits (“Dream On”) was a ballad.  That was a long time ago and a long way from being flat broke and banging out a song in the middle of the night on a piano.  These new ballads like “Luv Lies” and “Sunshine” are written specifically by hitsmiths in order to appeal to people who would not normally buy an Aerosmith CD.  The result is that they appeal to nobody.

As bland and unappealing as these forgettable ballads are, none are as offensive as the title track “Just Push Play”.  Nobody asked Aerosmith to do a rasta-hip-hop track.  The Run-DMC version of “Walk This Way” is the definitive Aero-rap, a masterpiece of serendipity and cutting edge ambition.  Aerosmith thought it was necessary to revisit that sound 15 years later, and once again the result is a blurry facsimile that pales in comparison.

“Jaded”, the first single, is a great Aero-hit, one of the few from this era of co-writers and collaborators.  Fortunately you don’t have to buy the album to get it, as there was a five track EP you could buy instead.  If you go that way, you can still enjoy a couple different versions of the charismatic single.  “Jaded” had the kind of chorus that Aerosmith used to be able to write in their sleep, but now apparently need help to do.

There were different bonus tracks for different regions.  US and Canada got nil, but Europe got “Face” while Japan received “Won’t Let You Down” and a bunch of other stuff including five live tracks from 1978 (California and Texxas Jams).  That 2 CD Japanese edition might be worth tracking down for the bonus material, but “Face” remained exclusive to Europe.  Is it worth it?  Actually…it might be.  “Face” is an acoustic track that sounds a bit like a B-side.  It’s closest to “Jaded” in sound, and sounds looser than most of the rest of the album.  It’s certainly not going to become a lost favourite, but if you find a copy at the right price, consider it.

Just Push Play deserves the dreaded Flaming Turd.

FLAMING TURDS

1/5 stars

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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RE-REVIEW: Aerosmith – Music From Another Dimension! (Japanese edition)

AEROSMITH – Music From Another Dimension! (2012 Sony Music Japan)

When this album came out in 2012, Tommy Morais and I both took a shot at reviewing it, and you can find both those reviews here.  With the benefit of hindsight, Tommy’s review (2/5 stars) is more in line with how I feel now, compared to the 4/5 stars I rated it in 2012.

Having recently acquired a Japanese import of Music From Another Dimension, with two exclusive bonus cuts, now is the time to revisit the album for yet another review.  It can be interesting to document how music does or doesn’t grow on you over the years.  Unfortunately for me, Music From Another Dimension has become more irritating, and I am less willing to overlook its flaws.

The core weakness is that the album sounds like a collection of soundalike outtakes from Get A Grip.  The modern production and layers and layers of overdubs do it no favours.  “Luv XXX” sounds incomplete.  I praised it as “really good” before; I’m not willing to go that far this time.  The production is unnecessary and that’s true of most of the album.  I think that’s why nobody believes Aerosmith when they say “it sounds like Rocks“.  It was never going to sound like Rocks.  Aerosmith simply do not record things basic and live like that anymore.

“Oh Yeah” is still pretty good, as is “Street Jesus” and the funky “Out Go the Lights”.  Given a few years to absorb the album, “Out Go the Lights” is one of the few tracks that really does harken back to better days.  More cowbell!  Probably the best tune on the album, and certainly the most vintage.  The ballads, as before, are largely crud.  “Another Last Goodbye” is the only one still memorable today.

The Japanese fans did not get the same bonus tracks that we got on our North American deluxe edition (“Sunny Side of Love”, “Oasis in the Night”, “Up on the Mountain”).  They got some equally interesting stuff instead.  “Shakey Ground” is so good, it’s insane that it wasn’t included on the album proper.  Just nuts — “Shakey Ground” is the most authentic thing Aerosmith have done in decades.  With full-on horns, sax and female backing vocals at the ready, Aerosmith finally really turn up the funk again!  I want to know who’s playing clavinet, but the credits don’t say.  Tyler?  “I’m Not Talkin'” is also quite good, being a rockabilly experiment.  No layers of production, no additional accoutrements, this is just Aerosmith playing, and Tyler singin’.  Unlike much of the rest of the album, this sounds like something real; an actual band!

Can you imagine if Aerosmith had cut just a little bit of fat from the album (mainly ballads), and included the bonus tracks instead?  You’d have a shorter, harder, more Aero-sounding disc.  Less is more.  Music From Another Dimension is the musical proof of this concept.  The less fiddling in the studio, the less overdubbing, the better.  And fewer songs are better, too.  Aerosmith albums used to have 10 songs on them.  Maybe they should get back to that, especially considering that Music From Another Dimension has 20 altogether.

3/5 stars

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: 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

#427: I Do Want to Miss This Thing

“Michael Bay is the Nickelback of movies.” — Mrs. LeBrain

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RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#427: I Do Want to Miss This Thing

Blame Michael Bay.

Quite possibly the worst movie director of all time may be responsible for the downfall of Aerosmith.  I’m not talking about the “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)” music video, which he directed.  No, that was not the downfall.  In fact quality-wise, Nine Lives was a bit of an up-tick from Get A Grip.  It’s too bad that sales didn’t match (2 million sold U.S. vs. 7 million U.S.), but that’s the fickle finger of fate.  The tastes of the public seldom make a perfect match with hard rock quality.

Since Nine Lives would have been considered a bit of a sales disappointment in some camps, it probably didn’t take Steven Tyler much coercing to do a Diane Warren ballad for a movie soundtrack.  Of course, Tyler’s daughter Liv was the headline actress in the flick, so from that standpoint it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for them to work on the same project.  Unfortunately for the world, that project was Armageddon.  Not quite as bad as a real meteor heading to Earth, this Michael Bay stinker made so much money, that some reports suggest that Bay wallpapered his 43 bedroom mansion entirely in Benjamin Franklins.  There’s that problem with the tastes of the masses, again.

So Bay, aided and abetted by Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thorton, and Steve fucking Buscemi, laid this turd of a movie and all it needed was a turd soundtrack.  As for what happened next, Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader 2015 desktop calendar* has the answer:

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For many fans, this was the beginning of the end of Aerosmith.  Some truly dreadful music followed “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, such as Just Push Play and (ewww) “(It) Feels So Good”.  Can Aerosmith be redeemed?  I don’t know the answer to that.

What I do know this is, and it’s quite simple.

If Michael Bay didn’t make this damned movie, Aerosmith wouldn’t have had this damned million selling single!

Message to Michael Bay:  Stay away from things I like!

* These things are brilliant and I recommend them to anyone who does not have a stunted sense of humour!

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)