So – for all the grunge, alterna-indie, post-rocking selectivity of music collection there’s a fair few not-so-guilty pleasures. Amongst those is a large selection (yep, every album and a lot of singles) from a band that are oft described as America’s biggest rock ‘n’ roll band – that’s right; Aerosmith.
I’d like to be able to say something like “I only started listening to them because of Buffalo Tom’s referencing them in the linear notes on ‘Asides From'” or “it was the cover of Toys in the Attic that was on ‘Lifes Rich Pageant” but I can’t. The truth of the matter is, in a similar way to Peter Buck’s statement that “if you grew up in the 70s you like Aerosmith” , if you were watching MTV and taking it all in like a hungry sponge in the 90s there was no way to not know Aerosmith. If you happened to be a 15 year old boy watching Joe Perry blast out a guitar solo on a railroad track then step out the way of a speeding freight-train with that “too cool to give a fuck” attitude in the vid for Livin’ On The Edge, then there was no escape. My first concert was an Aerosmith show – The Toxic Twins Towers Ball. The band were riding their late-90s high, post “Don’t Wanna Miss…” and with an album harder and rawer than they’d done for a while – the superb Nine Lives – it was, really, the ideal time to see them. They were still strong and tight and it was just before the dip that would take over a decade to pull out from, really.
It’s strange, then, that for the way in which my music collection and taste has grown and varied since I first got hold of an Aerosmith album – Big Ones – I’ve still paid attention to the boys from Boston. For all the lack of interest in the band and potential mocking I’d endure from those friends with whom I would share tastes in more ‘acceptable’ music I still plunk on Pump or Rocks when the feeling takes me. I still remember the ‘really?’ look I got when one such friend caught me coming out of a store having bought their last studio album Just Push Play. That was eleven years ago.
11 years…. in that time the band put out numerous compilations, a couple of live albums and a collection of blues covers. There were suggestions of new albums in the works and so much band bickering that it looked like game over. But still, I held out some hope. Call it nostalgia, perhaps, but I wanted to think that they’d come back and it would be good. Joe Perry released an awesome solo album then another not-quite-so-hot album that hinted that he was still firing out the licks… then Steven Tyler sat behind a desk and passed judgement on tweenie-bopper acts… and then it was confirmed: a new album WAS in the works and it was being helmed by Jack Douglas – Aerosmith’s own George Martin. To say I was hopeful was an understatement. Then I heard the first song, Legendary Child, and kinda thought… ‘oh’. I had images of the band desperately trying too hard to capture a sound long gone. I then heard ‘What Could Have Been Love’ and thought ‘oh, well, I’ll wait until it hits the bargain bins’. The buzz around the album involved talk of revisiting old riffs and song ideas and going for that old sound – it sounded like we were to expect some reheated left-overs.
And yet last week on a rare day-off in the week with my wife I found myself in HMV buying the album – Music From Another Dimension – (in Special Edition format for that matter) on the day of release. I then found myself putting it up onto my iPod to play it through my new sound-system (which will make anything sound amazing). Strangely enough, I then found myself fucking loving it.
For a band to go back and play as if they were in their twenties (especially when most of Aerosmith are three times that age) would sound awful – those times are gone and to try and reproduce it would sound sad. But it was never about eras with Aerosmith, it was about the sound, the passion, the fun and the attitude. Something that was desperately missing from Just Push Play. Which is where this works so well: far from going back to the seventies sound Music From Another Dimension takes over from where Nine Lives left off.
Between their last decent album – Nine Lives – and the abysmal follow up, Aerosmith lent a couple of tracks to the Armageddon soundtrack. The big one, the one everybody knows and gave the band some new legs – literally for Mr Tyler – wasn’t the one that should’ve gained attention. There was a track on there that sounded like the next step for the band, what should’ve been the direction and sound to expect on their next album; What Kind of Love Are You On? was hard, gritty, riff-heavy and full of balls. Instead the next we heard was Jaded.
Until now. Music From Another Dimension is everything an Aerosmith album should be; it’s loud, it’s got passion and drive, it’s got guitars ALL over it and it’s got a pounding rhythm that will stay lodged in your head. All topped off with Steven Tyler’s trademark scatting, howling, soul-baring wail and howl. Most of all – and this is probably why I love the band – it’s FUN. There’s no pretension. This is Aerosmith; they came to play. They came to turn it up loud and fuck everything else.
There’s tunes on here that will stay lodged in your head for days – check out Tell Me and Street Jesus. Even Legendary Child is redeemed by it’s placement amongst Out Go The Lights et al. And although you can’t have an Aerosmith album these days without the odd ballad I still don’t think that much of What Could’ve Been Love.
It even got my wife’s attention and she was soon asking to have it dropped onto her iPhone – something she certainly wouldn’t have done with the last couple of Aerosmith ‘albums’. Strangely enough listening to it does spark a nostalgia for the 90s – which is odd as their stock from that period of their career was mostly the work of the late Bruce Fairbairn rather than Jack Douglas (who has done an outstanding job producing this album) – which gave us a weekend of delving into the ‘banks’ for one great tune after another. Finding a time when music was made for the sake of music and what the band had to say – not what a team of songwriters and producers wanted them to use to flog a perfumer.
The overwhelming impression I get from Music From Another Dimension is that this time the band sat down and played together for possibly the first time in a long time and came up with the tunes that they thought sounded great – not the tunes that half a dozen other writers (the most common collaborator this time around is Marti Frederiksen, hence the similarity to Nine Lives methinks), producers and industry folks wanted them to put out. Yes there is a Dianne Warren song on here but there’s also tunes by Tom Hamilton (Tell Me should be ranking up there with Janie… ), Brad Kramer and Joey Kramer along with a decent chunk of Perry / Tyler collaborations. More than that Joe Perry gets to drape his bluesy growl over two songs on this disc.
It’s an Aerosmith as a band, not a product, is back album. In a world of jury-selected music artists and auto-tuned hits, to hear an album by such a large, mainstream act that is unapologetic-ally non-pop, is refreshing. It also makes me think that there’s still hope while music is produced this way. That while the specific sounds that first got me into music back in the 90s may not be there, the soul and reasons for making music are. That there’s reason to believe guys who have seen a fair old dose of life and make music that doesn’t involve programmed loops and 15 year old boys singing ‘baby’ can still produce something vital and tough. It’s good to hope…