tom hamilton

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Pandora’s Box (1991)

AEROSMITH – Pandora’s Box (1991 Columbia box set)

Aerosmith were out of the gates fairly early into their career when their first anthology style box set was released in 1991.  They were still going strong, at the peak of their popularity.  Their career had two distinct eras marked by the record labels they were signed to:  first Columbia, and then a resurgence with Geffen.

There was also a long gap between Aerosmith studio albums.  Pump was released in ’89 but it took them four years to come up with Get A Grip.  While Geffen waited for Aerosmith to complete Get A Grip, their old label Columbia was allowed to release compilations.  In late 1991 they put out a brand new video for a remixed “Sweet Emotion”, although ironically the remixed version wasn’t included in the forthcoming Pandora’s Box set.  Regardless, there was a stop-gap.  November saw the release of Pandora’s Box just in time for Christmas, with three CDs of music, including a whopping 25 rare, unreleased, or remixed tracks.

Disc 1

They hit you right from the start with a rarity:  Steven Tyler’s “When I Needed You” from 1966 and his band Chain Reaction.  You can barely tell it’s the same singer, but this quaint number is a great opener for a box set with this kind of scope.  Basic 60s rock with a hint of psychedelia.  Onto the first album, it’s “Make It” with an unlisted false start — another cool touch.  “Movin’ Out” is a completely different take than the one from the debut.  It’s superior because it’s harder and more raw.  (Did Pearl Jam rip off part of the guitar lick for “Alive”?)  “One Way Street” is the album version, but an unreleased “On the Road Again” is a fun laid back jam.  Clearly B-side material, but it’s Aerosmith and light and loose.

A sax-laden “Mama Kin” from the first album is the first bonafide hit presented, and like most of the hits in the set, it’s the original version.  It is immediately obvious from the upbeat groove just why it was a hit.  Up next, it’s the slick “Same Old Song and Dance”, the heavy “Train Kept A Rollin'” and haunting “Seasons of Wither”, all from Get Your Wings.  Major props for including the underappreciated “Seasons of Wither” in this box as the song has never had the exposure it deserves.  According to the liner notes, it was written by Steven Tyler on a guitar found by Joey Kramer in a dumpster.  The fretting on the guitar was “fucked” but it had a special tone.  The tuning of that guitar “forced” the song right out of Tyler.

An unreleased live version of “Write Me a Letter” from 1976 is overshadowed by the song that follows it.  It’s the “big one”, the ballad “Dream On”, and usually the centerpiece of any side that it’s on.  The random placement on the second half of CD 1 is a little puzzling.  The title track “Pandora’s Box” follows, a dirty slow funk.

The first disc closes on a trio of rarities.  A 1971 radio jam on Fleetwood Mac’s “Rattlesnake Shake”  goes on for 10 awesome minutes and dominates the disc.  They swiftly follow that with “Walkin’ the Dog” from the same radio broadcast.  Finally, a slinky “Lord of the Thighs” from the Texxas Jam closes CD 1.  Two more Texxas Jam tracks can be found midway through CD 2, which is mildly annoying.

Disc 2

The second disc represents the musical growth of Aerosmith.  A massive “Toys in the Attic” builds on the past:  more energy, better production, more speed.  “Round and Round” is Sabbath-heavy, a sound the band rarely explored.  Only “Nobody’s Fault” (which comes later on this disc) stands as a heavier Aerosmith monolith.

Behind the scenes Aerosmith were suffering from drug-induced absences in the studio.  One day when Joe Perry and Steven Tyler were late, the core trio of Joey Kramer, Brad Whitford, and Tom Hamilton just  jammed.  The result is “Krawhitham”, a menacing unheard jam.  It’s a testament to the “other three” guys in the band and features some stunning playing even if the riff is a bit lacking.  This rough and ready track is followed by four slick Toys in the Attic hits in a row:  “You See Me Crying”, “Sweet Emotion” (the original mix), “No More No More” and “Walk This Way”.  Each song different, each song perfect.  “You See Me Crying” may be the most underrated Aerosmith ballad ever released.

Two more Texxas Jam tracks occupy the middle of disc two:  “I Wanna Know Why” and “Big Ten Inch Record”.  These jams are a blast, but why not bunch all the Texxas tracks together?  Next, “Rats in the Cellar” from Rocks has the same energy as “Toys in the Attic” but with a nastier bite.  “Last Child” is a remix, a slight one at that.  The bass sounds deeper.  An unreleased Otis Rush cover follows called “All Your Love”.  This electric blues is fully formed with a satisfying mix and could easily have made an album.  Why didn’t it make Draw the Line?  That album already had a cover, “Milk Cow Blues” (included here on disc 3) so it is unlikely they wanted two.  Did they choose the right song?

The aforementioned “Nobody’s Fault” is preceded with a snippet of the demo, called “Soul Saver”.  It truly is a monster of a track and one of the band’s few true heavy metal songs.  Nuclear holocaust is a perfect theme for metal, but Tyler’s lyrics are more thoughtful than many of his competitors.  His tormented vocal is one of his career best.  “Sorry, you’re so sorry, don’t be sorry.  Man has known, and now he’s blown it upside down, and hell’s the only sound.  We did an awful job, and now they say it’s nobody’s fault.”

“Lick and a Promise” is a necessary speedy shot in the arm.  Though “Adam’s Apple” is replaced by a live version from 1977, it is the sonic blueprint for a million bands that tried to copy Tyler’s sleazy antics.  Two Draw the Line tracks close the CD:  the title track itself (remixed), and “Critical Mass” .  Again the remix is slight.

Disc 3

The final CD is the decline, but not without plenty of high points.  (“High” points, get it?)  The first high point is a 1978 live version of “Kings and Queens”.  “Good evenin’ boss.  Been a long time coming,” greets Tyler to the hometown Boston crowd.  Live versions don’t usually surpass their studio counterparts, but this one might for its seasoned, raw vibe.”  Joe Perry’s backing vocals make it.

The previously mentioned “Milk Cow Blues” from Draw the Line is an upbeat shuffle, getting the blood pumping once more.  A snippet of a demo called “I Live in Connecticut” leads directly into “Three Mile Smile” from Night in the Ruts.  It allows you to hear how a tune evolves from an idea into a complete song.   You get to hear that again on “Let it Slide” and “Cheese Cake”.  If you love when Joe Perry pulls out his slide guitar, then you will love this pairing.  We’re well into the Aerosmith stuff that doesn’t get enough credit when it’s good.  “Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)” is another unsung gem…and the liner notes will tell you exactly what a “Coney Island white fish” is.  The autobiographical “No Surprize” is pretty fine too.

The Beatles cover “Come Together” was one of the very few worthwhile tracks on the awful movie soundtrack Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Fortunately for Aerosmith fans, it has long been available on their 1980 Greatest Hits.  And it’s not the last Beatles cover on this box set.  But it’s the last real hit before the disc takes a serious detour.

“Downtown Charlie” is really ragged; punk rock energy with nobody at home in quality control.  It sounds like one of their “drunken jams” according to Joe Perry in the liner notes.  Wicked playing but no cohesion.  And then they split — Brad Whitford with Whitford/St. Holmes, and Joe Perry with the Joe Perry Project.  Even this is documented.  “Sharpshooter” by Whitford/St. Holmes is a box set highlight, even though it sticks out like a sore thumb by sounding nothing like Aerosmith at all.  This is straight hard rock, with Derek St. Holmes on lead vocals.  Though an astounding vocalist, he is the Antityler and the song does not fit in any way on the tracklist.  Too bad since it’s such a great track.  More at home is Joe Perry’s “South Station Blues” from I’ve Got the Rock N’ Rolls Again.  It’s preceded by an Aerosmith demo called “Shit House Shuffle”.  Aerosmith didn’t use the riff, so Joe did on his solo album.  It totally works with his lead vocal, though it’s a shame Aerosmith never used the idea themselves.  Another wasted jam, “Riff and Roll”, had potential as the kernal of a song, but Tyler’s voice is completely shot.  You can hear what they were going for.  It could have worked on Done With Mirrors had they finished it.

Aerosmith carried on in 1982 with Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay replacing Perry and Whitford.  The resulting album Rock In a Hard Place was inconsistent but not without some gems.  “Jailbait” doesn’t indicate anything was out of place, a worthy followup to frantic manic blasts like “Rats in the Cellar”.  But they only lasted one album before cooler heads prevailed and the classic lineup reunited.

With Perry and Whitford back again, Aerosmith began recording new albums for Geffen.  Columbia still released Aerosmith albums regularly, like Classics Live and Classics Live II.  A previously unreleased oldie from the Get Your Wings days called “Major Barbra” was included as a bonus on Classics LivePandora’s Box includes a second version of “Major Barbra”, a rougher alternate take.  It’s a full minute longer than the version of Classics Live, including harmonica solo.  Another track Columbia released was the classic “Chip Away the Stone” (written by Richie Supa), on 1988’s Gems.  This obscure single never had a proper album release until then, despite its awesome nature.  The Pandora’s Box version is an alternate version, with noticeably less piano in the mix.

The penultimate track is the unreleased Beatles cover “Helter Skelter”, dating back to 1975.  This one got a bit of airplay in 1991 when the box set was released.  It is undoubtedly rough but with suitably aggressive and heavy hitting groove.  The box set is then closed by “Back in the Saddle”, an apt way to describe Aerosmith’s career since.

But wait, what’s this?  “There now, ain’t you glad you stayed?” asks Steven Tyler after a few seconds of silence.  Why, it’s the hidden bonus track!  The unlisted instrumental was written by Brad Whitford and actually titled “Circle Jerk”.  It is very similar to the previous “Krawhitham” instrumental on disc two, but heavier.

Now, what about that remixed “Sweet Emotion” that was released to promote the box set, but wasn’t actually on the box set?  The remix was done by David Thoener and featured some structural changes.  The music video was a smash hit.  You could buy it as a standalone single, with “Circle Jerk” and another unreleased instrumental bonus track called “Subway”.  All three were re-released again as bonus tracks in 1994 on the massive Box of Fire.  The Thoener remix has been issued many times over the years on compilations and movie soundtracks.

There’s little doubt that Pandora’s Box was good value for the money.  For the fans who didn’t have the albums, most of the hits are included in studio versions.  The remixes are minor enough for them not to notice.  For the rest, the wealth of unreleased bonus material justified buying three CDs.  Unlike other box sets like Led Zeppelin’s four disc airship, Pandora’s Box is not designed to be an ecstatic listening experience from start to finish.  It is a study in early Aerosmith from the roots to just before the reunion.  It is the rise and fall, and still fighting to get back up.  It is uneven with mountainous peaks of spontaneous rock and roll chemistry, and also the tired struggle to keep producing music.  Much like its subject, Aerosmith, Pandora’s Box is a flawed portrait.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Honkin’ On Bobo (2004)

AEROSMITH – Honkin’ On Bobo (2014 Columbia)

Sometimes we take one for the team. For no reason other than to get it done, we take out albums we strongly dislike just for the sake of writing them up. Sometimes there are pleasant surprises and time has been kinder than our memories have been. And sometimes you’re just Honkin’ on Bobo, whatever the fuck that means. It could be code for Sucking the Big One.

Necessary background:  After 2001’s putrid Just Push Play, Aerosmith were eager to strip it back to basics and record an album live in the studio.  They returned to producer Jack Douglas and picked an album’s worth of blues covers to Aero-fy.  This is a formula that rarely works out well for rock bands, and Aerosmith fell into the blues cover trap with both feet.

The only exception is one new original, a ballady blues called “The Grind”.  It happens to be one of the best tracks, though firmly within that Aerosmith bluesy ballad niche that they carved out for themselves in the early 90s with “Cryin'” and “Blind Man”.  That this is an album highlight is a warning as sure as a watchman yelling “iceberg dead ahead!”  We’re about to take on water, and there aren’t enough lifeboats.

One of Aerosmith’s issues since the mid to late 90s is how they’ve become a caricature of themselves.  Bob Diddley’s “Road Runner” is thick with Aerosmith clichés to the point that it sounds like an Aerosmith covers band filling their set out with standards.  “Road Runner” isn’t limber, it’s thick in the thighs with thuddy rock tropes.  Joey Kramer injects some life into “Shame, Shame, Shame” but it only makes you wish Aerosmith had tackled the track in 1974 instead of 2004 so it wouldn’t sound so contrived.  “Eyesight to the Blind” (Sonny Boy Williamson) isn’t convincing, as Tyler huffs through the song like a burlesque singer.  “Baby Please Don’t Go” makes you crave AC/DC’s superior version, although the groove on this one is positively unearthly.  It’s an unbelievable groove that perhaps should have been made into an Aerosmith original rather than a throwaway cover.

Aretha’s “Never Loved a Man” is transformed into “Never Loved a Girl”, and with the Memphis Horns on board there’s some value to it, but compared to Aretha they sound like rookies.  Like an amateur artist copying a master with crayons.  “Back Back Train” is actually OK, and it might be that Joe Perry is a more appropriate vocalist for a blues classic.  Tyler’s histrionics wear thin on this album, but Perry’s laid back singing works better.  Tyler surely doesn’t aid the sluggish “You Gotta Move”.

A dreary “I’m Ready” (Muddy Waters) is still a long way from the end.  “Temperature” also drags along, Tyler turning it into a parody.  Fleetwood Mac get the Aero treatment on “Stop Messin’ Around”, at least the second Mac cover that Aerosmith have done after “Rattlesnake Shake”.  Please welcome Joe Perry back to the microphone on “Stop Messin’ Around”, and please keep Tyler away!  Unfortunately it’s a boring tune (blazing fretwork aside), and so is the closer “Jesus is on the Main Line”.

Even the most stalwart defender must concede that Honkin’ On Bobo isn’t a blues album for a blues lover.  It’s a blues-rock forgery that occasionally captures the odd highlight for posterity, but is otherwise expendable.  In other words if you’re in a Zombie apocalypse looking for CDs to chuck at the undead, Honkin’ On Bobo can be flung guilt-free.

1.5/5 stars

And once again, it’s the return of the dreaded flaming turd!

 

 

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REVIEW: Aerosmith – Just Push Play (2001 2 CD Japanese edition)

AEROSMITH – Just Push Play (2001 Sony Japan 2 CD set)

Funny thing about some pretty bad albums: sometimes the bands con you into buying them twice. They do this with bonus tracks you may need and can’t find elsewhere. Aerosmith have been guilty of this on multiple occasions. You know what they say about fools and money.

In 2001, Aerosmith did it with Just Push Play. They placed a bonus track on the European CD (“Face”), and a completely different set of bonus tracks in Japan…but excluding “Face”. As one of the looser songs on a pretty stiff album, “Face” is pretty enjoyable.  So what about Japan’s exclusive song, “Won’t Let You Down”?  Well, for one it’s heavy.  For Aerosmith, it’s really heavy.  You could picture it on a better album like Nine Lives.  Though not perfect it’s a damn fine latter-day Aerosmith track.  It just needs another hook.

“Won’t Let You Down” and its associated Joe Perry guitar wizardry is the most interesting of the bonus tracks, but that doesn’t mean the rest are not.  Though “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” is more than slightly boring today, it was Aerosmith’s biggest hit to date.  This was the first time it appeared on an Aerosmith album, and only in Japan.

The second CD has a diverse stew of bonuses.  The first is a 3:17 radio remix of “Just Push Play”.  It’s mostly a matter of making the guitar, drums and other elements more prominent in the mix.  It’s quite a bit better than the album cut, though just as silly.  You gotta wonder if anybody in the studio told Steven to try it without the rasta accent.  That’s the remix I want to hear, because the chorus is great.

Moving on to live rarities, Aerosmith included a handful of previously released tracks that weren’t necessarily already in your collection.  First up:  California Jam II.  “Same Old Song and Dance”, “Draw the Line” and “Chip Away the Stone” were all available on the various artists album California Jam II.  If you have this, you don’t need to buy that.  The year was 1978 and Aerosmith were still cooking live.  Whether it comes from youthful or chemical energy, these tracks are faster than their studio counterparts.  Rough and dirty live Aerosmith without the backing tapes and fixes:  what’s not to love?  “Draw the Line” has more…definition?…than the original.  Still, smoking so hot that Joe Perry probably melted his strings.  It’s just plain great to any live version of “Chip Away the Stone“.  Top five Aerosmith song?  Welcome to the collection.

That’s not all folks, as we stick to 1978 and the famous Texxas Jam.  “Big Ten-Inch Record” and “Lord of the Thighs” would be familiar if you own Pandora’s Box.  Strange they included two tracks that were readily available, but here they are and there’s nothing wrong with ’em.

A brief word on the album Just Push Play itself.  We’ve already reviewed it in full, so let’s not rehash.  Joe Perry’s least favourite Aerosmith albumy panders for hits in the most embarrassing ways.  Hi-tech recording and outside songwriters watered it down.  The old Tyler/Perry combination was not to be found on a single track.  The other three guys have not a single writing credit between them.  It’s a sad state of affairs.

If you’re a masochist like me, you’ll want to get this one for the bonus tracks.  If not, just stay away.

Just Push Play1/5 stars

Bonus CD – 3/5 stars

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Unplugged 1990

AEROSMITH – Unplugged 1990 (2017 Zap City broadcast CD)

When Aerosmith’s MTV Unplugged aired in Canada, we didn’t get the whole show.  We only got about half.  Now thanks to easily acquired broadcast CDs, you can get all 14 tracks in one handy place.  Because MTV were rigid about things being 100% live, you’ll get none of the annoying backing tracks that Aerosmith use today.  That makes Aerosmith Unplugged a strong contender for the best live Aerosmith purchase since Classics Live II.

“Hangman Jury” is a natural for an opener, and actually superior to the Permanent Vacation album cut.  “Monkey On My Back” is more surprising, being a heavier groove from Pump.  Deconstructed as an acoustic jam, it lays it down hard.  The first surprise of the night comes from the Air America soundtrack, to which Aerosmith contributed their Doors cover “Love Me Two Times”.  Frankly the unplugged version is better.  Tyler gets to honk on the harmonica and tear it up on the vocals a bit.

The first step back into Aerosmith’s past is 1974’s “Seasons of Wither”.  When this set was recorded in 1990, only people who owned Get Your Wings would really have known this song.  The purity of the unplugged stage is the ideal setting.  Then it’s onto 1975 and “Big Ten Inch Record”, the old R&B classic they covered on Toys in the Attic.  The album version with full horns is rearranged into an acoustic shuffle with individual guitar solos by Brad Whitford and Joe Perry.  That’s all before Thom Gimbel shows up with his sax!   This version kills.

Going even further back in time, Aerosmith pull “One Way Street” from the first album featuring a cool Perry solo.  For serious fans, “Smokestack Lightning” is a treat because Aerosmith have never recorded it before.  The oft-imitated Howlin’ Wolf cover is a natural jam for them.  They they unload the heavy artillery exactly halfway into the set:  “Dream On”.  Arguably the song everybody was waiting to hear; easily a highlight.  Playing with minimal instrumentation is a wise way to do it, though it picks up steam at the end.

“Milk Cow Blues” is rolled out next, a rarely played number from Draw the Line.  Full steam ahead just like the album version, you don’t wanna be standing on the tracks when this one rolls by.  Then, as if you’re daring them to try one that fast again, it’s “Toys in the Attic”.  Tyler and Perry’s voices blend naturally together in the unforgiving unplugged environment.

Returning once more to the first album, “Walkin’ the Dog” is the fifth of six cover tunes and the first encore.  It’s particularly cool because you get Tyler playing flute.  “Train Kept-a Rollin'” from Get Your Wings is the final cover, though presented twice:  “fast” and “slow” versions.  For a solid thrills-per-second ratio, you gotta go for the fast take.  Finally “Last Child” is announced to the excitement of one really hyped guy in the crowd.  The funky classic works surprisingly well.  A highlight from a show of nothing but highlights.

The CD had a few sonic clicks and quirks that may vary player to player.  That would be its only flaw.  Anyone buying broadcast CDs should be prepared for less than perfect audio.

4/5 stars

#752: Chip Away the Stone

GETTING MORE TALE #752: Chip Away the Stone

I didn’t have any childhood friends who were into Aerosmith.  I had to get into them on my own.

Well, that might not be entirely true.  Next door neighbour George may have been into them, but the rest of us ignored Aerosmith because they were “the band with the singer with the weird lips”.  They weren’t “metal” enough to be in my wheelhouse at that young age.  There wasn’t much Aerosmith being played on MuchMusic in the early 80s.  Maybe “Lightning Strikes”, but that was about it.  The music video with the greasers didn’t appeal to us metal kids.  The Joe Perry Project didn’t do it for us either.  The video with the pink saxophone?  (“Black Velvet Pants”.)  Not metal enough!  We were strict metal heads as kids, and pink saxophones were not metal.

What was it that finally caught my Aero-attention?  Joe Perry’s plexiglas guitar.

This all seems silly from an adult perspective, but we were just kids.  We loved metal, not just for the music but also that all-important image.  Videos were so important to us.  A band not only had to sound cool, but they had to look it.  Aerosmith didn’t look cool to us, with the tights and the lips.  That changed in early ’86.

Ironically enough the video was called “Let the Music Do the Talking”.  It was and is a killer song.  I didn’t know, or care about its history as a song by the Joe Perry Project.  What caught my eye was that guitar.  A transparent guitar?  I’d never seen anything like that before.  My best friend Bob and I were obsessed with unusual guitars.

“I have to tape this and show it to Bob,” I said.

The video itself was pretty cool.  A group of bootleggers snuck a camera into a concert to make their own video.  It was a glimpse at an adult activity we’d yet to experience: the live concert.  “Let the Music Do the Talking” made concerts look just as cool as we imagined they would be.  There was even a twist ending.  And like that, Aerosmith began to chip away the walls around me.  Once they got me to pay attention, I was loving the song!  Sure it wasn’t “metal”, but it was fast and rocked hard.  The singer may have looked kind of weird, but the guitar player was cool as hell!  I’d never seen anyone use a slide before.  Watching Joe Perry hammering away at that clear guitar gave me a million new air guitar moves.

What came next was “Walk This Way” with Run DMC, Permanent Vacation and mainstream recognition.  Before long everybody was into Aerosmith (again).  “Angel” came out when I was really into ballads, and it was a fantastic ballad.  On a kid’s allowance, I wasn’t able to get the album for many years, but Aerosmith were still on my radar.

Only a year after Permanent Vacation came the song that I grew to love the most.  What came out a year after Permanent Vacation, you may be asking?

Many people didn’t catch the 1988 release of Gems.  It was on their former record label Columbia and didn’t get a lot of notice.  What Gems had wasn’t a new song, just an obscure one dusted off:  “Chip Away the Stone”.

Written by Richie Supa, “Chip Away the Stone” is one of a few hit songs the guitarist gave to Aerosmith.  Others like “Amazing” might be more well-know, but “Chip Away” is special.  When the music video hit in late ’88, Supa was featured in it via archival footage (look for the guy with the moustache).  If anyone knew “Chip Away” in ’88 prior to Gems, it would have been through their album Live! Bootleg.  The studio version was only available on a rare single!  If you were a kid living in Kitchener in the late 80s, good luck finding it, or even knowing it existed.  For us, and the majority of fans, “Chip Away the Stone” was a brand new song.

I was getting into piano in rock songs around this time too.  “Chip Away the Stone” had just a hint of boogie-woogie and it hit the right chords for me.  Even though I was expanding my musical horizons slowly but surely, the music video still had a huge impact.  Considering it was made up of old live footage, it was surprisingly well edited, fresh and cutting-edge.  The shots of the piano were spliced to look like somebody was playing on one super-long piano keyboard.  I assumed it was Richie Supa playing piano:  the credits are unclear.  Either way, that video got me deeper into Aerosmith.  Way deeper.

Today my two favourite songs are “Chip Away the Stone” and “Let the Music Do the Talking”.  I have plenty of others — “Seasons of Whither”, “F.I.N.E.”, “Draw the Line” — but those first two just stick with me.  Part of that is nostalgia, but the other is that they are just great fucking songs.

Just Listening to…Aerosmith – Permanent Vacation

This revisit is due to your Heavy Metal Overlord, who told me that Permanent Vacation is his favourite go-to album for reunited Aerosmith.  Due to the tremendous respect (and fear) I have for HMO, I decided that I needed to give it another listen.

My conclusion after hearing it again is that I had it dead wrong in my album review.  Yes, there are a couple filler songs.  “St. John” and “Girl Keeps Coming Apart” still don’t resonate with me.  But, man, there are some bangers on Permanent Vacation.  I didn’t remember how awesome “Heart’s Done Time” really is.  I forgot about the cool Beatles cover “I’m Down”.   I didn’t give due credit to the terrific title track. But most important of all is “Magic Touch”.  Is Joe Perry playing a whammy bar in the beginning?  What a song.  Could it be the best song on the album?  It certainly has a chorus that goes on for miles.

Permanent Vacation, as an album, might be overshadowed by its own singles “Dude”, “Angel” and “Rag Doll”.  But I’ll be damned if “Angel” doesn’t still make the hair on my arms stand up to this day.

I’ve been unfair to Permanent Vacation. It’s far better than I thought it was.

 

Just Listening to…Aerosmith – Nine Lives

It’s been a while since we’ve been “Just Listening” to an album here, but this one’s always good for a revisit.  The last truly great Aerosmith album was 1997’s Nine Lives.  I stand by that, because it’s a killer album.  We reviewed it back in 2015, so if you’re looking for a more in-depth analysis, check that out.  Today we’re just appreciating an album that is too often overlooked for the strengths it has.

The heavy stuff was heavy enough, and the ballads had balls.  Songs like “Nine Lives” and “Taste of India” are juggernauts.  Drummer Joey Kramer really took them to the next level, which is remarkable since he was sidelined for part of the making of the album.  His partner in rhythm, bassist Tom Hamilton, is also on top of things with his lyrical bassline meanderings.  You’ll rarely find a better guitar tag team than Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, but Steven Tyler’s words are also noteworthy.  The guy is a poet with a dirty mind, and Nine Lives has some of his better lyrics.   “‘Cause love is like the right dress on the wrong girl, You never know what you’re gonna find.”

Most people think of Pump or Get a Grip as the last decent Aerosmith.  Although it didn’t have as many great singles, Nine Lives is actually a better album than Get a Grip.  It has less filler, and rock fans don’t really care about singles anyway.  The fact is, from beginning to end, Nine Lives is just a smoother ride.

 

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

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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