Turning Pages: 2022 thus far

A strange thing happened at the start of this year – after years of blazing through books at a tremendous lick, I found myself struggling to get into anything. Moving beyond the first few chapters was a challenge, let alone finishing anything.

Given the degree to which I love a good read, this was a concern. Had I burnt out on books? Was this a byproduct of wrestling with the black dog? Either, rather than persevere and force the issue I took a break, did the rare thing (for me) of indulging in episodic television. Then, when the itch to read began to build up to the point of being impossible to ignore again I picked up the first book on my ‘to read’ pile which happed to be Antti Tuomainen’s The Rabbit Factor.

That did the job. Since then I’ve been pretty much back to business as usual so it feels as good a time as any to summarise the highlights of those collections of words I’ve been consuming over the last six months.

One of my growing joys when it comes to reading, and a mainstay even when I couldn’t get into anything for myself, has been the fact that my son is now of the age where we’ll sit and read through fuller stories and novels over bedtimes. This has meant that, alongside those Terry Pratchett collections like The Witches Vacuum Cleaner, I got to enjoy Journey to the Centre of the Earth again and marvel at the ageless wonder of Jules Verne’s writing. It’s one of those classics that’s been sat on my shelf waiting to be re-read since my days at uni and I couldn’t think of a better reason to have done so.

Rather than set an arbitrary number of books as a target for my reading lately I’ve instead made it a point to read one ‘big Russian classic’ a year. This year that happened to be Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. It’s one of those books that I’d put off reading due to some misconception but am glad to have done so – it’s a joyous read (probably depending on your translation) that’s one to cherish – even if I found the the main plot (and character) of Anna herself bloody irritating. Much more the stories of Prince Stepan and Kostya for me.

Keeping on the classics theme momentarily, the Ernest Hemmingway section on my shelves has seen more than its fair share of action lately as I seek to consume more first-person narrative references. Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises was the first to be torn through and (as it, too had been sitting awaiting re-read since uni) just how bloody strong a first novel it is. While his mother may have been disappointed that he should squander his gifts writing about a social set she considered ghastly and, like To Have and Have Not which I read shortly thereafter, there are a few racist comments that grate a touch in 2022, there’s a lot to enjoy here. To Have and Have Not was one I hadn’t read before and while it felt like a disjointed story of three different and gradually weaker parts the first part alone is worth the price of admission and it would be followed by one of his finest and I’m sure I’ll be going back that end of the ‘H’ section soon.

It’s not often that I tend to read multiple books by the same author in one year and yet, along with Hemmingway, I’ve double up on Amor Towles this year. Much has been said of A Gentleman In Moscow and it remains one of my favourite novels to date so I was happy to get hold of The Lincoln Highway at the end of last year though it remained unread for some time. Before I got around to it I went back, as it were, with Mr Towles’ first – The Rules of Civility. Set in New York during the ‘jazz age’ and telling the story, in retrospect, of an eventful 1938 this was such an absolute belter of a read that it was a) clear that Towles is one of those astoundingly talented writers b) an immediate push to pick up The Lincoln Highway again – which turned out to be pretty good timing as having the former fresh in my mind allowed me to really appreciate the connection between the two, making some elements all the more poignant. While it may not have been the most practical of books to take to the beach (the hardback pulls in just under 600 pages) it, too, is a masterpiece of both storytelling and narrative (of which there are several) and highly recommended.

Gunnar Staalesen, since my introduction via Orenda Books published We Shall Inherit The Wind back in 2015, has become one of my favourite authors and I’ve made a point of working my way through as many of his extensive older novels that have been published in English as possible while eagerly awaiting new instalments in the Varg Veum series. I was delighted, then, to find a couple of his books – one new, complete with my review, and one old, The Writing on the Wall – in a bookshop earlier this year. The Writing on the Wall was originally written in 1994 (the English translation arriving in 2004) and is easily a highlight of this year’s reading. I always liken to reading to Staalesen as enjoying a good mug of coffee – it’s to be savoured as is gently kicks in. Once again dealing with some particularly dark subject matter (teenage prostitution and addiction) with quiet power, this is a bloody strong entry in a series that doesn’t have a weak point.

I’d seen Danny Goldberg‘s Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain about for some time but hadn’t felt compelled to get a hold of it before – was there anything more to be said about Kurt Cobain. Well, turns out there is / was, a few insights to be gained. Goldberg become Nirvana’s manager ahead of Smells Like Teen Spirit and here compiles a series of insights from his own memories and unique insider perspective as well as reaching out to others both in the industry and inner circle including Courtney Love and Krist Novoselic for clarification (though Dave Grohl seems notably absent in input) on a few details. Some of these insights are at times painful – particularly on Cobain’s mental health – some refreshingly human given how much Kurt has been turned into a myth, and others fascinating (the examination of the Vanity Fair article that essentially deprived Cobain and Love access to their child is a real eye-opener). All of which mean that this is actually pretty essential reading for a fuller picture into Nirvana’s rise and Kurt Cobain’s tragic end.

As has been the prevailing approach of recent months I’m currently steaming through two books: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez – which is proving to be another beautiful novel I wish I’d read sooner – and, as I’ve recently been exploring more of Neil Young‘s music, Waging Heavy Peace is turning out to be a much better read and less about his model trains than I’d been given to believe.

One fluid gesture, like stepping back in time… Five from Placebo

The French love their language and have laws to protect it. The Toubon Law, from 1994, mandates its use not just in official government comms (which you’d kind of expect) but also in the likes of adverts – most of which seem stuck in the 1989/1990 vibe anyway – and other commercial communication.

This extends to radio, with an oft-rebelled against rule that 40% of the songs that are played must be performed in the French language. I guess the thinking is that if ‘the kids’ only hear Americans singing about California they’ll forget their own language. Now this isn’t always a bad thing as there’s plenty of good French music out there lately – see my last post for an example – but it also means that if, like I did and – signal permitting still do – listen to, say, RTL2 for any protracted period you’re likely to hear too much ‘chansons’ music.

So where am I going with this…. well, the French love a bit of Placebo as Belgian-born Brian Molko speaks the language fluently. It also means they can play Placebo’s ‘Protège-moi’ as part of the aforementioned quota while also playing a contemporary international band. Hearing this version of ‘Protect Me From What I Want’ along with cuts from their latest, Never Let Me Go, has given me the impetus to run up a few of that band’s best and revisit since shaming them some time back in a ‘Then and Now‘ post.

Placebo formed in London in 1994. They’re currently made up of just the two members – singer / guitarist Brian Molko and bassist / guitarist Stefan Olsdal and missing a drummer. It wasn’t always this way: their longest-serving drummer, with whom they recorded their better albums, left in 2007.

Teenage Angst

From Placebo’s self-titled debut 1996 album.

You Don’t Care About Us

Without You I’m Nothing, Placebo’s second album remains their crowning glory if you ask me. It’s damn-near faultless and remains on regular rotation nearly 25 years on.

Without You I’m Nothing feat. David Bowie

Their second album is so good I’m throwing in another cut, the title track, albeit with a version that differs from the album version as David Bowie approached them to collaborate after the thing was recorded and released. /p>

Meds

Skipping a couple of albums – Black Market Music and Sleeping With Ghosts – where they went off the boil a bit to 2006 and the title track from their last album with drummer Steve Hewitt in which they seemed to have rediscovered some drive and consistency. While not their strongest it was their best in eight years.

Try Better Next Time

Getting in the DeLorean for an even bigger jump this time to 2022 with a song title seemingly taken from my response to the albums they’ve dropped in the last sixteen years… Never Let Me Go oddly feels closer to Meds than anything between. It would seem that the six years they’ve had between albums has allowed them to rediscover a spark that was missing for quite a while now, the songs are leaner and pack more wallop and there’s not a lyric as disastrous as ‘my computer thinks I’m gay, I threw that threw that piece of junk away, on the Champs-Elysées’ to be found anywhere, thankfully.

Bonus tune…

Johnny and Mary

Yes I’m throwing in a cover. Back in the days when singles were something other than an individual stream, Placebo would add either a couple of cracking b-sides or covers. While their take of ‘Running Up That Hill’ gets the most plays we’ve probably all heard enough versions of that one lately so I’ve gone for their cover of Robert Palmer’s classic that accompanied ‘Taste in Men’, the lead single from their third album.

The telex machine is kept so clean and it types to a waiting world… Monday spins

Time slips away… this blog has been a little abandoned again of late though this time it was down to actually taking as much of summer off and away as possible and taking a little drive down to, and around, the South of France to soak up some sun and explore.

However, as term starts and the rain is slowly filling up the pond in my front garden that had been pretty much emptied by the summer’s draught, it feels like a good moment to take stock and shake off some dust with a quick punt out of those songs that I’ve been enjoying of late.

Bruce Springsteen – Hey Blue Eyes

As I pull together some pieces for another Bruce series I find myself listening to this more and more. American Beauty was an EP put out for RSD back in 2014 and this track – an off-cut from previous sessions with Brendan O’Brien is one of those nagging, seemingly-simple songs which highlights just how effective Bruce can be with something that he decides isn’t an ‘A’ tune and ends up being released, essentially, as a b-side (think ‘Shut Out The Light’ and goodness knows how many others).

Foo Fighters – Band on the Run

On the subject of RSD releases… The Foo Fighters put out Medium Rare – a thirteen song strong collection of covers – for Record Store Day back in 2011 and I’d been after a copy for a while. The Foos were always a delight when cutting loose on a cover, combining their increasingly tight chops with their tongue-in-cheek approach makes for a cracking listen. So I was pretty chuffed to find a mint copy in a record shop in Avignon which promptly left with me. Along with the likes of ‘Darling Nikki’ and ‘Baker Street’, this is a pretty strong example and seems fitting to slip on here after this weekend’s Taylor Hawkins tribute concert.

Adé – Tout Savoir

Driving around for two weeks listening to the same radio station means you’re gonna hear a few songs played a lot especially if they’re big. Along with Sting’s ‘Rushing Water’ and a few others, Adé’s ‘Tout Savoir’ has been firmly lodged in my ears but it’s one that I continue to enjoy, it’s pretty upbeat with a decent melody and offers more than your usual pop radio fodder.

Larkin Poe – Hard Time Killing Floor Blues

Every now and then the boy will request ‘Planet Rock’ on the car radio. Sometimes I’m not in the mood as there’s only so much leather waistcoat music I can take but his recent request caught something called something called ‘The Blues Power’ show and made for a pretty decent drive and this one ended up lodged in my head. I don’t know much about Larkin Poe other than it being fronted by two sisters but I’m enjoying this one plenty of late.

Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram – Long Distance Woman

Keeping that blues crunch vibe going, I caught this guy’s name being mentioned in high esteem in various print / online music chats and was pretty impressed when I checked out his stuff – this dude can play and he’s only in his early twenties (though he could probably benefit from a salad or two). This is form his second album 662 which I’ve been joyously powering through lately. He does a great take on ‘Hey Joe’ too that’s all over YouTube. 

Ryan Adams – Rollercoaster

While the music press and industry are still keeping Ryan Adams on the naughty step, he’s remained busy with some sell-out shows and a tour on the way as well as continually releasing albums and a prolific rate with three albums, two of which are doubles, in 2022 alone, that continue to mix his stark acoustic works with that golden late-80s vibe which he’d started to perfect with Prisoner. ‘Rollercoaster’ is taken from the middle of this year’s three albums, Romeo and Juliet

Pixies – Vault of Heaven

Hey! The Pixies have got a new album coming out soon that’ll mean they’ve released as many albums since reforming as their original run. While you can’t expect another Bossanova or Doolittle, they’re sounding increasingly comfortable and stretching out with increasingly strong and consistent albums. If this song, about the time Frank Black joined Mark Knopfler’s band I think, and previous ‘There’s a Moon Out’ is anything to go by, Doggerel is gonna be another belter.

Giant steps are what you take…. Five from The Police

I spent a good chunk of time yesterday evening sat on the grass listening – from outside of the festival grounds – to a Sting and The Police tribute act (The Rozzers). Regular readers will know I have a fondness for them that only seems to grow as I get older. Hearing some of their classics played out at such volume by a very accomplished band was actually more of a treat than I was expecting it be and reinforced to me just how many great tunes those three chaps put to tape (we wandered away once they started with ‘Fields of Gold’ – there’s only so much vomit you can get in a bucket after all).

In their relatively short nine year original span they put out five albums of increasing depth that saw them get better with each outing before the inevitable inter-band tensions arose and Sting’s ego grew so large that it become self-aware, ate Andy Sumner and made a drumstick-kebab with Stewart Copeland and convinced The Artist Formerly Known As Gordon that jazz was the way to go (that’s if Wikipedia is to be believed). It’s often been suggested that if they’d been allowed to have a bit more time off between albums that they would’ve been around longer but there’s both that thing about hindsight and the fact that A&M had money to be made there and then.

While Sting may have struggled with truly strong lyrics – see Aphoristic’s brilliant take on this – the trio always had a knack for creating great tunes, surging out with the energy of the punk scene with genuine musicality and some brilliant song dynamics.

So, without a red dress in site, here are five crackers from The Police which, conveniently, seem. to have fallen as one from each album.

Truth Hits Everybody

Message In A Bottle

An obvious choice, perhaps, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a cracker.

Driven To Tears

Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic

I still think it’s the most wonderful gear change in music and, for once, Sting’s lyric ‘and ask her if she’ll marry me, in some old fashioned way’ is pretty decent. Shame about that Sandra Bollox movie

Synchronicity I

The Police’s later career is where you’ll find most of my favourite cuts. I named Synchronicity my choice for 1983 in the (currently on hiatus due to artistic differences) Albums of My Years series – for me they were at their peak and as both a title track and album opener this is a corker and shows how far they’d come.

Or Thursday watch the walls instead… current spins

Time keeps on slipping, slipping slipping… between posts and while I debate moving another Springsteen series from notebook to keyboard it felt an opportune moment to deposit a selection of those songs that I’ve been enjoying of late.

Built to Spill – Spiderweb

While gaps between Built To Spill albums seem to get longer each time around, When the Wind Forgets Your Name – due in September – is one I’m really looking forward to, Doug Martsch’s guitar playing continues to delight.

Big Thief – Not

Dragon Warm Mountain I Believe In You is easily one of this year’s finest but 2020’s Two Hands still rewards on repeated listens.

The Cure – Doing the Unstuck

Another instance of an anniversary reissue reminding you of the unstoppable march of time… The Cure’s unimpeachable Wish turns 30 this year. Not only does this mean I’ll be able to add the vinyl to my collection without forking out the ridiculous asking price for an original copy but it also means I’ve been joyfully spinning the CD in the car this last week.

Pink Floyd – Dogs (2018 Remix)

After seemingly setting aside their bickering (at least about this subject), the much-touted remix of Animals is almost upon us. How much it adds to an already exceptional album is gonna be one for debate by other people but I’m loving the new cover art.

Rickie Lee Jones – We Belong Together

It’s just an addictive classic. That piano, her voice, the vibe… I could soak in it on repeat all day long.

The Shipping News – Axons and Dendtrites

Flies The Fields is a brilliant album – from the wave of post-rock that was still in thrall to Slint rather than Godspeed! – but this, the album opener, remains a firm favourite that I’ve been replaying a lot recently after catching its use on screen in something that now escapes me.

Billy Joel – New York State of Mind

Speaking of ‘that piano’ and catching things in use on the screen… someone recommended The Boys to me and I ended up bingeing my way through the lot and, for those unfamiliar, Billy Joel features heavily – though not this song. This song ended up in my head after my son was spinning his The Muppet Show 2 album recently which features Floyd’s cover. From there it was a ‘now let’s hear the original’ – easily one of Joel’s finest (of which he has many).

Least to Most: Aerosmith, Part 3

Here we go then – down the last five, the cream of the crop, the Harrisons of the group, the Toxic Twins’ most… toxic? Aerosmith’s top five albums in my Least to Most favourite order:

Permanent Vacation

I’m trying to avoid repeating what’s either well-documented or common knowledge at this point but it’s impossible to mention Permanent Vacation without mentioning that this Aerosmith’s big, balls-out, no holds barred attempt at a comeback after both the disappointing reaction and sales garnered by their first album for Geffen, Done With Mirrors.

Between the two albums lay both an unexpectedly massive cross-over hit courtesy of their Run-DMC and getting clean – a process well documented with Tyler and Perry’s books along with the band’s ‘Walk This Way’ detailing the process in surprisingly open detail for those interested.

That means Permanent Vacation was the first time the band recorded free of any drugs – they were already baby-stepping their way in on their first – and clearly working hard to get back to the top.

There are negatives to this album – the over-wrought production courtesy of Bruce Fairbairn, the plethora of outside songwriters (apparently Holly Knight’s sole contribution was changing ‘Rag Time’ to ‘Rag Doll’ – bing, bang, boom ‘hit’ and songwriting-credit)… but, but BUT. I slipped this cd into the car for the first time in a while recently and it’s still a fucking fun record. It positively stinks of fun. Maybe we don’t need to hear ‘Dude (Looks Like A Lady)’ again (especially in 2022) and the cover of ‘I’m Down’ is as pointless as a chocolate fireguard, but the album works, especially the non-singles like ‘Hearts Done Time’ (written by Perry and Desmond Child while Tyler was finishing rehab), ‘Hangman Jury’ and ‘Girl Keeps Coming Apart’ are a blast to listen to. It’s a perfectly-wrapped time capsule to 1987 when a newly invigorated Aerosmith were back on form and rediscovering the joy of making music.

Get Your Wings

Unhappy with the way album number one turned out in terms of sound and sales (no promotion, no airplay, no interviews etc), Aerosmith went at it hard for their second. Get Your Wings‘ recording was preceded by intense rehearsals and pre-production refining of songs that had begun taking shape on the road. And while Get Your Wings may initially have met a similar fate in the sales department (though it would go on to sell a few million) it was not only reviewed more widely but met positive reviews. With due reason: it’s on Get Your Wings that Aerosmith not only hit its stride but, with Jack Douglas manning the boards, managed to get the capturing of that sound right too.

Get Your Wings, then, contains some of their best songs – ‘Same Old Song and Dance’ (I’ve still not found an explanation why Joe Perry didn’t play the lead on the record’s version or ‘Train Kept A Rollin’ – in fact he plays very little lead on this one) and ‘Seasons of Wither’ should sit high on anyone’s lists – and is one of their finest moments. Still relatively fresh out of the gates as a band, the song-writing is coming together brilliantly and the band – tighter now from a lot of touring to push their first album and build their fan-base outside of Boston – bring the goods. This is where they shed the uncertainty of their first album and find the sound and formula that would propel them to the top over the next few years.

Toys In The Attic

If Get Your Wings benefited from the band’s maturation as songwriters and tightness from touring, the jump from touring behind that powered their next, Toys In The Attic even more notably from both the riffs that Brad Whitford and Joe Perry bought back from the road to the confidence they bought with them to performing in the studio.

Without the benefit of having years to work on the songs, Toys In The Attic was Aerosmith starting from scratch and working to a deadline. It worked: along with Perry and Whitford, Tom Hamilton bought two songs to the table and while I can take or leave ‘Uncle Salty’ I defy anyone to crank up ‘Sweet Emotion’ and not get a kick from it. Meanwhile ‘Toys In The Attic’, ‘Walk This Way’, ‘No More No More’ and even ‘You See Me Crying’ (in all its 70’s rock extravagance) rank among their finest songs and, with Jack Douglas now adapt at capturing the band’s sound and energy, Toys In The Attic was Aerosmith’s breakthrough and it still holds up as a cracker today.

Interesting (probably not very) side-note: Run-DMC thought the name of the band was Toys In The Attic and the album that was home to ‘Walk This Way’ was called Aerosmith.

Pump

Why is Pump number 2 on this list? Because it’s so fucking good, that’s why. It’s the highlight of their second charge – it may not have hit the same sales figures as Get A Grip did but where that album felt bloated, Pump is taught at ten tracks. You can tell this is before the era of cd-bloat as ‘The Other Side’ meant ‘Deuces Are Wild’ was canned rather than expanded to eleven tracks.

There’s a massive leap between Permanent Vacation and Pump – the band don’t sound lost in the production sheen that coated their comeback album, instead they’re positively flexing in it and sounding, well, pumped up.

There are less outside co-writes, the songs revel in their amped-up sound and on Pump the gritty, raunch-n-blues of Aerosmith’s peak is incorporated into the mix and the band are clearly powerfully focused as though to prove the point that their comeback was no fluke and they could still bring the good without song doctors – Tyler and Perry had a hand on 7 of the 10 tracks, there’s a Tyler/Whitford and Tyler / Hamilton song here and only 4 of the tracks feature non-band writers. In comparison twelve of Get A Grip‘s fourteen songs featured outside writers and the band alone were responsible for only three of Permanent Vacation‘s songs.

Everything on this album sounds right – even with all the extra horns and synths of the era ‘The Other Side’ rocks hard, ‘Young Lust’ is as good an opener as they’ve done and ‘What It Takes’ is the only of their ballads worth tuning in – it’s also the only one on the album really.

Despite the cringe-worthy Spinal Tap-isms that abounded on ‘The Making of Pump’ – this is the sound of a band firing on every cylinder. They were clean and they were tighter than a duck’s arse again after a massive tour in support of Permanent Vacation – this is only real instance where they managed to combine the ‘hit making’ formula that pervaded their later career with the best of their ‘vintage’ and it worked – great songs, great performances and not an ounce of fat.

Rocks

It couldn’t really be anything else that sits at the top of the pile here but Rocks. This is the quintessential Aerosmith album – it’s the sound of them at their utter peak, managing to capture their rawest, hardest album full of great songs even in the face of massive quantities of drugs being ingested like they were training for the snortolympics.

‘Back In The Saddle’, ‘Last Child’, ‘Rats in the Cellar’, ‘Nobody’s Fault’, ‘Lick and a Promise’… not only is Rocks stuffed with more great songs than anything else they’ve done but it works as a start-to-finish album too. I mean, you’d have to be off your tits on something to come up with all the details of ‘Back In The Saddle’ – the ‘heeya’ calls and fucking hoof beats, the actual whip cracks (which were abandoned after multiple bloody attempts yielded a shit sound so replaced by whipping a microphone cord and using cap gun – as if this were the more sensible route), Tyler taping tambourines to his boots and stomping around the studio, Perry playing a six-string bass like a guitar and the yodels on the fade-out… and yet it’s fucking glorious because of all that and because it’s all underpinned by the sound of the band at their peak – screaming leads, absolute power from the rhythm and Tyler giving it all in the name of the song. Which, as it turns out, is as good a summary of the whole album as you could get from me.

Least to Most: Aerosmith, Part 2

Aaaand we’re back in the saddle having sorted the wheat from the chaff and lobbed out the sloppier entries of Aerosmith’s fifteen-strong studio album run. So, without further ado…

Done With Mirrors

In an ideal world, this would have been Aerosmith’s comeback album. Hell, it’s what it was meant to be. Freshly reunited and tight after some solid touring, the songs here deliver enough of the riff-and-raunch blues rock vibe to cut through the murk of Rock in a Hard Place and without the added songwriters and synthesisers that would permeate their comeback album proper in a couple of years.

The only missing ingredient was a group of killer songs. The album kicks off by repurposing the Joe Perry Project ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ with Tyler’s licks and proceeds to rollick through a series of lukewarm tunes. While tracks like ‘My First Your Face’ and ‘The Reason A Dog’ stand out and Ted Templeman does a good job capturing the band, there’s still a lack of focus here but at least it gave them enough of a jolt of life to get them to their next album as sobriety and rebirth beckoned.

Get A Grip

By 1993 Aerosmith had conquered their addictions and the charts and become monstrously successful. Now in their forties, Get A Grip would push them to even dizzier heights as it went on to become their biggest seller and give birth to seven singles with the likes of ‘Crazy’, ‘Cryin” and ‘Living On The Edge’ becoming mainstays on MTV. There’s a lot to enjoy on Get A Grip but that’s just it: there’s a lot. Released as grunge and alt-rock were in their ascendency, Get A Grip suffers from CD bloat and being too obvious a stab at commercial success (yes, it did pay off).

You could point a finger at John Kalodner who heard a slimmer version of the album and decided it didn’t contain enough hits and sent them back to Desmond Child for another ballad or two, but it’s not like anybody really said ‘nah, you’re alright mate.’ This, then, is the album where the band were all too apparent in mining the formula that had delivered them to their new heights. While the album sounds great at times, it’s a pretty shallow affair compared to their best.

Nine Lives

I slip Nine Lives here ahead of Get A Grip because I go back to it most. Perhaps because it’s the first of their albums I bought on release but mainly because, while it’s certainly every bit as calculated, the rawer sound captured by Kevin Shirley suits their raunchier take on blues rock more than the sheen that Bruce Fairbairn swathed its predecessor in.

Nine Lives nearly broke the band, again. Troubles were abounding with an over-controlling manager that was spreading distrust amongst his charges and drummer Joey Kramer suffered a nervous breakdown. Tyler was enthused by Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill and wanted to record with Glen Ballard – who shares writing credits on three of the eventual album’s songs -but Colombia didn’t dig the directions. With Kramer recovered the band re-recorded from scratch with Kevin Shirley (record labels seem to have had a lot of patience back then) and Nine Lives was delivered in 1997.

There may not be a single song without an outside co-write and a few that are clearly A&R men’s tick boxes but there’s more diversity to the sound, more of a willingness to try different sounds and Shirley’s sanding off of the sheen gives the album a nicer, more appropriate town that was both appropriate to the era and the band’s sound. Other songs cut during this period like ‘What Kind of Love Are You On?’ suggested more this edge would follow…

Unfortunately shortly after the album’s release Dianne Warren gave the band a song called ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ (which would be stapled to later, re-released versions of the album) and give them their first number one, something that Tyler would be trying to chase forevermore.

Aerosmith

I can understand why some may rank this higher but for me, Aerosmith’s debut isn’t as good as it could be and I don’t revisit it anywhere near as much as anything below this point. The songs are good and the all the calling points that would fuel their later success are already in place from the get-go but it’s still very much the sound of a first album: there are some stumbles, the songs aren’t as tight as they would become, the recording is flat, the sound is muddled and Tyler’s affected vocals don’t sit right.

But, for all that, it’s still an enjoyable blast of Aerosmith at the starter’s gun. ‘Dream On’ and ‘Mama Kin’ are early masterpieces that are still in sets today for a reason, Perry and Whitford’s guitar interplay already established and the power in their sound that would push them to be one of America’s biggest rock acts of the decade are laid on the line for all to see and they’d never sound this young and fresh again. It’s just a big shame they couldn’t get recording that sound right just yet.

Draw The Line

1977: Aerosmith are riding high and few are higher than its members at this point. So let’s get the fuck outta Dodge and put them up in an old convent – away from distractions – to record their new album. What could go wrong? It’s not like they’re gonna bring their toys or their drug dealers will follow, right? Right?

Joe Perry and Steven Tyler wrote just three songs together. They no-longer “gave a fuck” to quote Perry directly. The band – minus Perry – and producer Jack Douglas put together songs like ‘The Hand That Feeds’ and ‘Kings And Queen’ with Perry adding rhythm guitar to the latter and not playing at all on the former. There were songs that came in complete – like Perry’s ‘Bright Light Fright’ and songs that Tyler would take months to write lyrics to long after the band had left the confines of their convent.

And yet, Draw The Line still has more killer than filler and works more often than it doesn’t. Jack Douglas was by now a dab hand at recording the band as they needed to sound and songs as great as the title track, ‘Kings and Queens’ and ‘I Wanna Know Why’ are beyond strong enough to make up for ‘The Hand That Feeds’ and if closing with a cover of ‘Milk Cow Blues’ could be seen as odd choice by a band lacking original material, Perry’s playing on it and his own ‘Bright Light Flash’ (a tribute to the rising punk scene) more than hit the mark.

While they were starting to run out of gas, for Draw The Line – in contrast to Night In The Ruts just two years later – they were only just off their peak and the album still proved they had enough in them to let it rip when it mattered.

Least to Most: Aerosmith, Part 1

The Bad Boys of Boston, the Toxic Twins: Aerosmith. They’ve been around so long that JC was probably humming ‘Dream On’ from his lofty perch and yet are still packing in the crowds. Having kicked off from 1325 Commonwealth Avenue in 1970 their career has had a couple of dizzying peaks and some very seedy* lows. You can neatly slice their output into three decades and almost dismiss the rest, given that since 2000 we’ve had just two proper studio albums and there’s not that many acts out there that have had such success in each.

I’d been mulling over how I’d rank Aerosmith’s albums in my notebook of lists for sometime but John over at 2Loud2Old Music got straight in with both an album by album review series and his own ranking. So I thought it time to sit down and spit out my own Least to Most ranking of Aerosmith’s fifteen studio albums – a number that neatly divides into three – based on nothing scientific other than personal preference.

So let’s get started with the least favourite – and there’s no prizes for guessing that we start with….

Just Push Play

I mean it’s a fucking dog of an album from its cover to its contents. It came after yet another successful decade with plenty of great tunes and the band reaching the dizzying heights of chart-topping with that tosh from Armageddon but Just Push Play was a massive misfire from which they never really recovered. Forget hitting self-destruct with drugs, this time it was self-destruct with an album that relied on computer production, co-writes galore and a huge lack of genuine band interaction.

There were no demos left at the end of this record to be able to say ‘well there are the bones of a good album here’ because everything was plugged into ProTools and layered up like a wedding cake. There’s a song called ‘Trip-Hoppin’ for fuck sake. There’s not a single Tyler / Perry joint on here that isn’t also shared with other song-writers as Tyler, by all accounts, was so desperate for another monster hit that he wouldn’t work alone with Perry. Instead of the rawer power of Nine Lives we got over-glossed balladry and over-produced, gimmicky attempts at rockers that sounded like what it was: a group of blokes in their fifties trying to appeal to a dynamic that wasn’t interested in a group of blokes in their fifties. Instead of playing to their strengths they indulged in the wrong stuff. Thankfully ‘Jaded’ did the business in the charts enough to keep them going and playing the hits to large audiences but this really killed their momentum.

Music From Another Dimension

And, in two hits at the bottom of the list we’ve covered the only albums of original material the band have put out in this millennium. I was really rooting fro Music From Another Dimension when it came out – all the right ingredients were in place: the band were recording in the same room again, Jack Douglas was back on board. Hell, when it came out I really dug it…. for a while. Yet time and comparison to the rest of their catalogue doesn’t do it any favours.

There a lot more better songs on here than on Just Push Play yet there are also some utter howlers. I / you / we couldn’t expect the band to out an album this late into their career that sounded ‘like the old days’ and yet it seems they tried to do that. Only instead of going back to the 70s, say, they went for the kitchen-sink approach of Get A Grip only without the tunes or the edge. For every great riff attack like ‘Out Go The Lights’ there are two turds like ‘What Could Have Been Love’ or ‘Can’t Stop Lovin’ You’ – featuring Carrie Underwood for fuck sake! Why? Probably because Tyler was still thinking that this is how you make a hit.

Here Aerosmith managed to both play to their strengths and their weaknesses in an effort to cover every possible base. Unfortunately there are too many of the weaknesses and a little too much filler to make this the album it could have been – at least the sound is more organic and suited to Aerosmith than it had been in a while.

Rock In A Hard Place

Come back, Joe: all is forgiven. There’s no Joe Perry on Rock In A Hard Place, he’d left to return some video tapes. Brad Whitford also left during the recording of the album. Jimmy Crespo filled in on guitar. ‘Bolivian Ragamuffin’ and ‘Lightning Strike’ bring home the goods and ‘Jailbait’ has got to be one of those songs Perry heard and thought ‘why the fuck am I not on this?’ – it’s a real strong Aerosmith song. There’s not a lot more though.

Crespo and, later, Rick Duffay may have tried to inject some new momentum into the band but with addiction sucking the life and creativity out of Tyler, Rock In A Hard Place feels like a plaster over a gaping wound rather than an attempt at real damage control – management pushing for another album and to keep the thing rolling as long as they could rather than taking a much-needed pause. If Night In The Ruts was sounding like the beginning of the end, Rock In A Hard Place sounds like the batteries have run dry.

There are a few pleasant surprises and what remained of the band could sting bring the power but the overall feeling is of a rudderless ship. They even put bloody Stone Henge on the cover to give Spinal Tap plenty of ammo.

Night In The Ruts

And here we go – a band running out of steam. More appropriate this is a band falling apart. Night In The Ruts was started early in 1979 with Jack Douglas and a full band. It was finished late in 1979 with Gary Lyons. In between was a lot of conflict, a lot of stalling and a whole fucking lot of drugs.

With basic tracks laid down Tyler couldn’t come up with lyrics. For months. During which time Perry discovered he owed $80,000 in room service bills (that’s a lot peanuts and cable porn, Joe) and was encouraged to cut a solo album to pay it off. The band’s management, desperate to get another hit as Draw The Line hadn’t cut the sales figures they wanted – and to get the band back on the road – and their pockets lined fuller, decided Jack Douglas couldn’t control the band and fired him. It was true; he couldn’t. But then nobody could. Substance abuse had control. This was the blow-up point for Aerosmith and by the time the album came out Perry wasn’t in the band anymore and Brad Whitford was sauntering slowly toward the exit.

But for all that – Night In The Ruts has it’s fair share of good cuts. ‘Cheese Cake’, ‘Bone to Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)’ have all the right moves and ‘No Surprize’ is an outright Aerosmith classic. Unfortunately – and telling of Tyler’s issue with lyrics – three of the album’s nine tracks are covers, though both ‘Reefer Head Woman’ and ‘Remember (Walking in the Sand)’ are both worth tuning in for. Night In The Ruts may be Aerosmith’s worst of their first decade but the good stuff here is still really good, giving it the riffs even as it all falls down around them.

Honkin’ On Bobo

The start of ‘the naughties’** were a weird time for Aerosmith. After serendipity lead them to the sweet spot in each of the previous three, it was eluding them in this decade. With the taste of disappointment from Just Push Play lingering even after judicious application of topical cream attempts to get back into the studio for a new Aerosmith album were failing.

Instead we got another compilation with ‘new’ songs – one of which was so bad and obviously cloying attempt at a hit the rest of the band refused to be in the video for it – and soundtrack contributions. There was talk of an album made up of previously discarded tracks (I’ve got a feeling some of them ended up on Music From Another Dimension), Tyler wouldn’t write alone with Perry. Perry didn’t want to be tied to writing with Steven’s ever-present co-writer Marti Frederikson who, like Tyler, wanted to make more attempts at pop hits. Somehow the idea of a ‘blues’ covers album was floated and jumped on. Tyler wouldn’t have to worry about writing lyrics and a sense of letting off steam can be heard in the finished result.

Jack Douglas was back on board and the sound here is a welcome step away from the polish of Just Push Play. It was never going to be a blues album proper – Aerosmith always leaned to blues rock vs pure blues so no Blue and Lonesome revelations here, just Aerosmith giving it some juice to eleven covers and one pretty tepid original. The band are tighter than a duck’s arse and while there are no big surprises on the track listing, they’ve come up trumps here.

Why doesn’t it sit higher? It’s a covers album, essentially. The sole original track doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot and sounds a little contrived in the company of those that it’s clearly aping and the album feels a little overdone still in the way that they seem to have become stuck in. A blues album should’ve been the opportunity to loosen up a little, feel free to roughen up the sound and production a little and get raw, but they didn’t subscribe to that notion.

*I’m not going to go into it but convincing your under-age girlfriend’s parents to give you legal guardianship so you can take her on tour, get her addicted to drugs, pregnant and into an abortion clinic is pretty fucking seedy, Steven.

**I fucking hate that phrase too

If you’ll just come with me you’ll see the beauty of Tuesday afternoon spins

Lo and behold I’m still here. As the kick in the dangly bits of Monday slips into Tuesday afternoon I thought it as suitable a time as any to put together a few of those things I’ve been listening to, a veritable smorgasbord of aural delights as big as… well.. what feels like the right length for a blog post, really.

Pixies – There’s A Moon On

New Pixies? It’s a pretty safe bet that anything they release will end up being welcomed by my lugholes.

Idlewild – Love Steals Us from Loneliness

Idlewild were a great band – I say were; I think they got back together but I’ve not heard anything of their more recent material – and so I was pretty chuffed to find their fourth album Warnings / Promises had received a vinyl release and it’s had a good few spins since picking up on sale a few weeks back.

Melody’s Echo Chamber – Where the Water Clears the Illusion

So Tame Impala gets a lot of play in Hill House as my wife is a big fan. There’s a lot of connections between the dude (Kevin Parker) and Melody Prochet who is Melody’s Echo Chamber that I don’t really know too much but it’s no surprise there’s a similar vibe to the music too. Anyway, this came up on the radio a while back as an intro and I’m really digging all the different elements – there’s some hints of shoegaze, space-rock and dream pop in there – in here and brew they create.

Kurt Vile – Wages of Sin

Speaking of things getting a good few spins; Kurt Vile’s new album (watch my moves) is yet another welcome addition – he just gets better with each passing album and they’re all such a great vibe to get lost in and if you add that vibe it to a Springsteen classic…

Soccer Mommy – Shotgun

I feel like I should have heard Soccer Mommy – the musical endeavour of Sophie Allison – before now. Probably because if you spin to the bottom of the Snail Mail listing (or whatever you call it) on Spotify Soccer Mommy is listed down there next to Lucy Dacus… instead it was having heard this one on the radio and then hitting up the streaming service to hear more.

Rage Against The Machine – Freedom

There’s been a real nostalgia drive in my house of late – harking back to that last great decade of music. Rage have featured heavily. They made three fucking intense and great albums and signed out (albeit with a covers album as number four) and this… well it doesn’t need any words.

OK so I don’t do TikTok or much social media in general but there’s this dude on there who I got send a link to – Jacob Givens. Honestly if I could hug him I would, he feels like a kindred spirit and it was seeing some of his videos that kicked off the nostalgia push so I’ll share one here as he’s also on youtube:

The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen

From the blurb: “What makes life perfect? Insurance mathematician Henri Koskinen knows the answer because he calculates everything down to the very last decimal.

And then, for the first time, Henri is faced with the incalculable. After suddenly losing his job, Henri inherits an adventure park from his brother – its peculiar employees and troubling financial problems included. The worst of the financial issues appear to originate from big loans taken from criminal quarters … and some dangerous men are very keen to get their money back.

But what Henri really can’t compute is love. In the adventure park, Henri crosses paths with Laura, an artist with a chequered past, and a joie de vivre and erratic lifestyle that bewilders him. As the criminals go to extreme lengths to collect their debts and as Henri’s relationship with Laura deepens, he finds himself faced with situations and emotions that simply cannot be pinned down on his spreadsheets…”

I was in a real funk when it came to reading at the start of this year. Where previously I’d tear through books in giddy delight, I was struggling to make any headway with anything I picked up. I speak in past tense for on my bookshelf, top of my ‘to read’ pile, lay a book that reignited that spark and one that had me glued from the out and kept me hooked until the last moment: The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen.

Tuomainen has rapidly become a favourite of mine. When I ran a list of my fifty favourite reads back at the tail end of 2018 his The Man Who Died – a ridiculously funny and compelling story of a poisoned mushroom farmer (yes, you read that correctly) – made the cut a little over a year after being published. If I ran that list again it would probably still there though it would have strong competition from every book he’s published since each of which have been brilliantly crafted and sit in a genre almost of their own.

His latest – a novel about a man who defines calculated, clinical pragmatism finding himself in a situation for which he could never have been prepared and thrown gloriously funny curveball after curveball – is another essential read from the Finnish master storyteller. Practically dripping in delicious dark humour and genuine laugh out loud moments of comic absurdity, The Rabbit Factor is a bloody brilliant novel from Antti Tuomainen that again proves just how ridiculously talented an author he is.

Reading an Antti Tuomainen novel is a genuine pleasure chiefly because you can feel that he had such a good time writing it too. Not only is there a fantastic skill here – he’s created an original story, peopled it with characters that leave you wanting more of (the staff of YouMeFun need their own novel) and thrown in plenty of plot twists – but the overriding sense is that this is the work of a writer in his element and creating both story and prose with joy. It makes for a glorious read.

From heavy hitting gangsters (and the hilarious ends they meet) to frued, complex financial schemes to keep the his business afloat, the pressing demands of en eccentric workforce, the attentions of the police, plans to get aforementioned gangsters off his back and even a genuinely touching romance, there’s a lot going on in The Rabbit Factor – especially for a lead character who doesn’t ‘do’ the unexpected – yet the story cracks along at a terrific pace to the point that it’s a wonder that Tuomainen manages to wrap it all up so perfectly in just 280 or so pages.

There’s not a dull moment here and a whole lot to love. Another cracking novel from Antti Tuomainen, The Rabbit Factor comes highly recommended and I can’t wait for more.

My thanks (and apologies for taking my time in getting round to this one) to Karen at Orenda Books for my advanced copy.