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.

15 thoughts on “Least to Most: Aerosmith, Part 2

  1. I’ve been reading with enjoyment but not really a big enough Aerosmith fan to have an opinion. ‘Dream On’ is great though, and I like the singles from Rocks enough that maybe I should check that one out.

  2. While I know at least one or two songs from each Aerosmith album and generally like their music, I haven’t explored their albums in greater detail. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d probably go with their eponymous debut or “Toys in the Attic.”

    Unfortunately, I’ve never seen them live. Have you?

    • Toys is a classic. I’ve seen them just the once on their Nine Lives tour in ’99 at the top of a bill that included Lenny Kravitz, the Stereophonics and The Black Crowes. All tore the place apart and I think – judging by future ‘play the hits and get off quick’ set lists – it was a good time to do so.

      • That sounds like a great lineup. Unfortunately, these days, Aerosmith mostly seem to play in Vegas. It must be nice not having to travel, plus, I’m sure the money ain’t shabby either. Kinda sucks big time for the fans though!

      • Yeah: they’ve become a circus act in so many ways it’s a shame. I think it’s more about lifestyle maintenance at this point but then they’re in their seventies now so I can’t blame em.

  3. For me, Done with Mirrors is the comeback album only because it brought me back to the band. I knew the band from my brothers and I loved Bootleg and Toys, but Mirrors was the first I found on my own and as a result it is a personal favorite of mine (not their best of course, but one I love)

  4. For somebody who thinks they’re pretty familiar with Aerosmith, there’s an awful lot of stuff by them I don’t know. After the first few albums, my knowledge is kinda spotty, limited to either their hits or some deep tracks. I’m not sure whose idea it was to do “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” but proper punishment would have been anything from immediate expulsion from the band up to and including cyanide in their tea.

    I may have mentioned this in the last post but the first album – raw as it is – is still my favorite. That was my entry point and damn if it doesn’t sound like a bunch of (non-lady) dudes hitting Bunratty’s club in Allston or just blasting it out on Commonwealth Avenue. Your (and others’) concern is that the production isn’t good. I say the production (for rock and roll) is just right. Stick a mic in front of an amp and go. You know, just fuck it. Sun Studios.

    BTW, I have never rated Perry as highly as some others do. But recently a friend took up bass (ex-drummer) and he and I have been fucking around with “Walk This Way.” I learned Perry’s solos and while they’re largely blues-based, they’re tricky and pretty clever. I did not give him enough credit.

  5. Nice job getting rid of Boris Trump. We were as puzzled by your country’s choice of this guy as you were by ours. He seemed to us like a clown or just a (sort of) journalist/entertainer like Piers Morgan (friend of tRump.)

    • Ha. If it had anything to do with the public he’d have been hung up by his short and curlies a long time ago.
      This was enough of his cabinet and mps realising their future careers were at risk more than anything resembling backbone or decency.
      We vote for party here and the party leader, by default, becomes PM. It means we don’t get a Presidential style “control is mine!’ leader but, at the same time, we now won’t have any say over who they insert as the next PM – it’ll be members of the conservative party (collectively called ‘a toss of c*nts’) and Tory MPs – unless they try to flex and call a general election.
      However: good riddance to bad rubbish. I hope the door cripples him on the way out

      • Well, you see how well voting does for us. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3,000,000 but we have this stupid fucking relic called the Electoral College which favors small and rural, i.e., red states. The same dynamic is prevalent in our Senate.

        Add to that the fact that the right-wing noise machine continually (since Trump) pounds out a drumbeat of “Democrats cheat.” And the Republicans are trying to put all their local election monkeys in place. All of which adds up to It May No Longer Matter Who You Vote For, Republican Fascist Goon Squads Will Win.

        I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to check in on our hearings. If the Department of Justice does its job, Trump will go away. If not, he may well come back. With him in charge, a conservative Supreme Court knocking down civil liberties left and right and weekly mass shootings we are all on edge over here. I used to joke about leaving America but I have started considering it very seriously. We are in a deep downhill slide and even old affable Joe can’t stop it.

        Anyway, I can’t wait to see Who’s Next over there. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

      • Well yeah, but her emails….

        The electoral college is a strange one just as the ‘first past the post’ system we operate here instead of proportional representation (especially as someone who’s voted Green consistently and seen only one MP from that party despite ever growing vote share) – the issue is that if someone gets in power as a result of it then it will only ever be the opposition saying it needs to be reviewed. Labour may now be calling for a change, for ex, but all the while they were in the hot seat they left it.

        I had – until it went ape shit here the other day – been paying more attention to your politics than ours, especially the Jan 6 hearings and the diabolical overturning of Roe vs. Wade. It seems, at least to an outsider and I’m curious if the same is true for you, that momentum seems to be building behind it daily as the more they reveal more give them new evidence. Is this how it seems to you?

      • Yes, clearly momentum is building and more of the rats are ratting. Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony (watch it if you have time) was a tipping point. The White House lawyer is testifying behind closed doors today.

        Let us, however, recall that Fat Orange Slime Trail has more lives than a cat. In addition to all the lawsuits he’s survived, he has also survived two impeachments, the Mueller investigation and the Southern District of New York’s investigation.

        Also note that while the court of public opinion has indicted Trump, the bar is WAY higher for court. They have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump had corrupt intent and they need to find a jury of twelve impartial (!) people. Read this:

        https://www.forbes.com/sites/alisondurkee/2022/06/14/can-trump-be-charged-as-result-of-the-jan-6-committee-investigation-heres-what-to-know/?sh=4ab28b4b49e9

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