Wednesday 28 February 2018

Worst to Best: Aerosmith

Worst to Best: Aerosmith

Hi, my name is Jared and I’m an Aerosmith fan (hi Jared!). You might be wondering how I ended up like this, and from what I can tell, it's probably a common story. You see, I’ve been dabbling in Aerosmith off and on since I was about 14 years old. It was a casual casual easy thing, you must understand. My friend introduced me to the crew, played me some of their more popular singles and I was curious, even buying a couple of their albums here and there. Oh, and boy, when Armageddon came out? Well, everyone was doing Aerosmith back then, weren’t they?

And then life went on. Yup, life went on without Aerosmith. The cool kids left them behind not long after that film, and I moved with them, because I didn’t want to look foolish. There were better bands out there, or so we were told. Aerosmith was for old people, or so we were told. Their bluesy hard rock licks became something better suited for nostalgic alone times, nothing more than a dinosaur joke when the name came up in public, some of us almost embarrassed of our long gone youthful dedication. Some of us, even refusing to admit the brief fling had ever happened.

The thing is, though, I’ve always had the taste for it. And once you get a sniff of the Aerosmith, no matter how long it’s been, it’s always somewhere on your mind—a dull nag, a certain excitable flair every time you hear a Perry riff or witness Tyler’s lips stretching out—there is a quick tingle even if you hide the sparkle well. It’s in these reflections that the blessing of age becomes apparent, as when Aerosmith announced their supposed final Aero-Vederci Baby! Tour, I nearly collapsed from a sudden panic attack, realising that this could be it. This could very well be my last chance to get a shot into my veins from the mothership, and it didn’t matter if no one understood, because this was my destiny. I immediately logged onto their website and frantically clicked a bunch of random links, filling out my credit card details until I had successfully purchased a ticket for their show in Lisbon even though I live in London.

So I flew over to Portugal, strolled into the venue, pushed reasonably close to the front, and stood there with a smirk, a beer in each hand, and a cigarette smoking from my mouth because no one seems to care over there. And then... they burst onto the stage... and I knew I was in trouble. All those past memories of Aerosmith, all those years of juvenile intoxication, it bubbled, resurfaced, amplified. I had never heard these songs so loud before. They were being created right in front of my very eyes, over there. This was not a prerecorded experience. This was the real thing. The A-grade quality, the good shit, manufactured by the chemists themselves, who were over double my age and at least twice as sexy. I never did find out what happened to that cigarette.

After the high-speed freight train of a setlist ran me over and then backed over me again, I stumbled out of the venue and eventually found my hostel with my mind wiped clean. My whole life had changed, and even if I was over 40 years too late, I swore allegiance to the Blue Army right then and there, be damned if my friends didn’t understand. I returned to London and started from the beginning, listening to each album in chronological order in a hunger, desperate to locate the slightest scent of that magic I had been previously seduced by, and what’s more, I often found it. I took note of the songs I liked. I put them together in this 6h20m 86 song playlist, the Best of Aerosmith. I priced a tattoo. I read their memoir. I quit my job. And I told everyone... everyone... that Aerosmith were the only band that mattered in the whole world.

The truth is, I’m ok now. I went all the way to the top, I touched the tip of the Aerosmith wing, and then I plummeted back to Earth, screamin’ like a demon. Everything fades, and I’m grateful for this fact, as there was no way I could have kept my engines revving at that number. I’m still dealing with the aftermath. But I regret nothing. Mark my words: your stance means very little to the history channel, Aerosmith are legends, hard rock royalty, blues-metal gods. Their place in the textbooks might not be as widely respected or as applauded as loudly as some of their forefathers, but any rock band that came from the late-70s/80s era will tell you the same thing. Aerosmith ruins lives.

Here are all of their albums, ordered from worst to best, according to me myself.

Worst to Best: Aerosmith: 15. Honkin’ on Bobo

15. Honkin’ on Bobo (2004)


For the record: Honkin’ on Bobo is far from Aerosmith’s worst album. The reasons why I have labeled it as such, however, are inarguable, watch as I raise so many red flags that eventually you will agree that this offering was essentially begging for stern scrutiny. My primary argument against its honour, is that it doesn’t legitimately qualify for this list, as Bobo is a collection of 11 cover songs from the 1950s/1960s blues era, with only one (surprisingly great!) original composition. Furthermore, in context of their overall catalogue, this contribution also came out when their career was already quickly losing credibility, not to mention that this was their final release for eight years, sold as a ‘back-to-their-roots’ record, which stank of a desperate regression to relocate some sort of a former relevance. Nevertheless, as tired as it read on paper, it was anything but, as the absence of authentic Aerosmith material appeared to take the pressure off, allowing each member to flex their performance without concern, stripping back the production and having a blast with their signature energetic dirt (reportedly only recording these tracks when they were in a good mood). I have minimal hostility and fans were pleased with the result, but it’s just not truly Aerosmith, is it?

Worst to Best: Aerosmith: 14. Music From Another Dimension!

14. Music From Another Dimension! (2012)


Before you even listen to Music From Another Dimension! (Aerosmith’s “final” record), you know that you’re not in Kansas anymore. Observe their least witty album title, their most off-brand artwork, their first original collection in 11 years, and their longest runtime to date (20 minutes over an hour), which was preceded by an array of stage injuries, rehab stopovers, American Idol appearances, and break-up rumours. And then, when you actually listen to the damn thing, all of your greatest fears come true. Naturally, Joe Perry’s fingers may still be on fire with a respectable amount of decent tracks scattered throughout this assembly, but the majority of the album in question sounds confused and exhausted, dragged down by inexcusably limp production and a bloated sense of self-worth in dire need of generous trimming. The only redeeming factor here is that Aerosmith are being (or at least trying to be) Aerosmith, back to their core, not modernising themselves, acting their age, old, dated, almost dead. Otherwise, it’s a sloppy, depressing, and unmemorable album, with tormented fans begging the band to call it a day, rightfully labeling this release a “mistake” and “their worst ever”. But not me. I urge the band to give it one more go. Please, for the love of God, don’t leave us like this.

Worst to Best: Aerosmith: 13. Just Push Play

13. Just Push Play (2001)


The artwork of Just Push Play sums up this record exquisitely: it's still the same old trashy Aerosmith, except polished to glimmer, one highly (over)produced album where all the hard work and money behind its birth is glaringly evident, and this is exactly the problem. By livening up their colours with poppy icing and forced hip hop influences, this is Aerosmith daringly/desperately lunging towards relevance, panicking to better fit into the industry’s modern playing field, attempting to slink into a new generation of fan’s ears, and doing so completely wrong. Instead, they only managed to distance themselves from absolutely everyone, stuck in the middle of a very spacious crowd, the epitome of when selling out does not pay. The deepest pity of all, however, is that every song on offer here could have been fixed up nicely with a few minor tweaks whilst stripping off the gleam, but for some reason, that board meeting never happened. Rather, we find an iffy slip-up around just about every corner, the cringe almost toppling the redeeming factors right over, in more ways than any other Aerosmith release. Sadly, I do recognise this as a case of "damned if you do" (catch up to contemporary standards) and "damned if you don’t" (shamelessly repeating your trusted formula), but in all fairness, for a blunder, this is still almost good enough.

“It was a learning experience for me. It showed me how not to make an Aerosmith record.” - Joe Perry

Worst to Best: Aerosmith: 12. Done with Mirrors

12. Done with Mirrors (1985)


Mirrors! Everything was cut into a perfectly straight line, neat, promising, ready for inhalation. After a six-year absence, Perry was back. Everyone was completely drug-free (despite the cheeky title innuendo). And the record was billed as their big comeback, quivering exec’s pockets and fan’s zippers alike. You’ve got to hand it to Aerosmith then, as they really went full force for it, yet missed it completely. The main issue probably came with the rusty dynamic between members, still trying to find themselves and retreating into safer ground whilst they did so, sticking to the hard rock formula which had made them famous, recoiling to recapture the live magic with yet another back to basics record. This approach made for a moderate Aerosmith offering at best, no massively memorable hits, the most obvious songs chosen for singles, softened with a little bit of filler padding (which a 35-minute record has no space for). So, naturally, it flopped a bit, no one hated it, no one was mad for it, it was badly produced, it lacked the vigour, and it sounded unfinished. However, it did have enough value to keep its head above water, and if nothing else, it was an important stepping stone for what shortly followed. But that's a different story.

Worst to Best: Aerosmith: 11. Draw the Line

11. Draw the Line (1977)


When considering (the aptly titled) Draw the Line’s dismal reputation, it’s important to sympathise that this was Aerosmith’s fifth album in five years, which would be enough to burn anyone out, yet was not even a crumb to their troubles. By now, the members loathed one another, and the core Tyler/Perry dynamic were hardly even involved with the process, reportedly disinterested in the whole project from the very beginning. They had money and success, which meant the record’s budget was relatively open (they still went over) permitting the lethargic luxury of writing in the studio without any rehearsals. And, of course, the consecutive years of running full speed with their noses glued to the cocaine trail had started to catch up quickly, which is why this is often referred to as their #1 drug album (and if you know the context of Aerosmith, that's a pretty fucking big statement). Still, there’s nothing obviously wrong with this release (except perhaps the lack of inventiveness or any explosive hits), as it blasts forward perfectly, one non-stop hard rocker, the group refusing to slow their pace, never turning soft, and in the end, that's what truly matters. Due to their brand, it sold well and charted high (#11), but dropped out of sight soon after, known as the downturn towards their very first decline. They took a break after this one.

Worst to Best: Aerosmith: 10. Aerosmith

10. Aerosmith (1973)


Time has been kind to Aerosmith’s self-titled debut album, fans often presenting it as an optimal example of how spirited the band used to be, one proper tacky American rock outfit, long before they lost their blues filth to a more commercial-y ballad-y path. But for me personally, I have one major gripe with this record. And before you start guessing, let me stop you right there and inform you that, no, it’s not the often criticised lifeless production, as this rough atmospheric charm added to the bar-like quality within my ears. Oh, and also, no, it's not the influences that they wore so shamelessly on their scarves either (Stones, Yardbirds, Zeppelin, Dolls etc) even though that's a common disapproval too. Rather, my principle scorn comes with Tyler himself, as the singer deepened his vocals due to performance anxiety, and this removed so much of Aerosmith’s signature nature from the product, that it’s almost a completely different band. But if we ignore all of that, no one can deny that this was a fantastic career starter, their dirtiest offering to date with one sharp edge, crude bite, and, of course, Dream On. What I love even more than this, however, is that their introduction held no telltale signs of what was to come, as a generic and “of the time” work, running the risk of fading into nothing, just another one of those many cool lost bands of the era. It's pretty rad that this is not what happened. Not even close.

Worst to Best: Aerosmith: 09. Night in the Ruts

09. Night in the Ruts (1979)


After earning the first two-year gap in their recorded history, Aerosmith returned to the studio refreshed and inspired, ready to reclaim their legacy. Just kidding! They were fucked! There was a sudden severe financial turbulence due to their disproportionate exuberant lifestyles; the drug use had escalated into a much harder category; and their live shows were famously catastrophic—all of which came to an exhausted meltdown after Tyler couldn’t remember how to write lyrics anymore, and Perry quit the band in the middle of these very sessions. At a loss, the band quickly recorded three cover songs to fill in the Joe cracks, but nothing could distract from the obvious: the dream was crashing down. The wheels were falling off. And yet... the results were still remarkably satisfactory. The critics claimed that they were happier with this record in comparison to the former Draw the Line, welcoming the return of hard blues and dirty metal, whilst Aerosmith themselves have always spoken fondly about the spooneristic Night in the Ruts in hindsight. Certainly, it’ll never be dubbed a fan favourite, but I consider this to be one dishonourably underrated trademark Aerosmith offering, perhaps never fully realised, but definitely on to something or other, and deserving to be cherished much higher than it unfairly has been.

Worst to Best: Aerosmith: 08. Rock in a Hard Place

08. Rock in a Hard Place (1982)


Talk about rocks and hard places, this 1982 offering is, without a doubt, the least Aerosmith Aerosmith album ever made. It’s the only record without Perry, and guitarist Whitford left during the recording too, which left Tyler mostly up to his own spices, meaning: three years of production time and $1.5 million flushed beneath an increasingly dangerous drug habit. Consequences of said intoxication can be clearly heard within these songs, for while the signature guitar-driven hard rockers may still be the epicenter, experimental studio trickery and synthy/vocoder gimmicks made a desperate appearance too, one obvious exertion aimed towards more contemporary audiences. So take this shift in a shameless direction with the loss of two essential members, and naturally, you have snobby fans who shunned and undervalued this record for all the wrong reasons. But with an open mind, Rock in a Hard Place is way better than everyone thinks. Perhaps it’s dated worse than many others due to 'modernized' 80s techniques, true, but in my opinion, it’s the most interesting release the Aerosmith brand ever put together, still today, unchallenged as so. Saying that, there is a certain relief to its floppage, because if this new Aerosmith incarnation was a soaring success, then there would be no need for Perry anymore, and we do need Perry.

Worst to Best: Aerosmith: 07. Get a Grip

07. Get a Grip (1993)


As part of Aerosmith’s big comeback binge, Get a Grip may not have been the most thrilling from the team, but it is their best-selling album worldwide (not to mention that the associated music videos put Alicia Silverstone on the map), so it deserves all the respectful praise that I’m happy to gift it with. Of course, they were still hiring outside collaborators to help rejuvenate their creaky bones at this point. Of course, their cocks were aimed directly at the 90s MTV screen scene. And, of course, these disloyal principles would always churn out slightly iffy moments which have aged a touch sideways. But what it lacks in their former reckless rockstar destruction, it makes up for with a spiritedness beyond their years, following the Aero blueprint to the margin: fast, sharp, punchy hard rocking songs, with the odd power(ful!) ballad thrown in to moisten the heartbeat, all cleaned up to shout within an enormously spacious production value. Above even this, Grip is a hits album, housing some of the most adored Aerosmith concert staples to this very day, and when considering the seven singles released from a record which ran for over an hour, I guess we can say that they really... milked it. Geddit? The cover artwork? Ha!

Worst to Best: Aerosmith: 06. Get Your Wings

06. Get Your Wings (1974)


Yeah, sure, Aerosmith’s debut was great, but their second attempt, Get Your Wings, was a far more significant step up the stairway ascending towards noble stardom. The band had begun to explore their individual styling by weaning their influences out of their veins, whilst visibly seeping their own special brand of dirty confidence which dribbled from their pores—so much so, that Tyler even used his real voice this round! Hooray! The additional cash thrown towards the production output didn’t hurt either, as the youthful chemistry and hyper sex drive of these mid-20-year-olds had never sounded better, manifesting into a much harder rock record, rolling along with the blues groove which is necessary to make a true Aerosmith release. Actually, this is the very first true Aerosmith release, if we think about it. So just imagine everyone’s disappointment when the buying public weren’t quite ready for it, Get Your Wings failing to grow into the massive success it deserved to be, and yet, in hindsight, we can now value this as a very loud indication of what was to come. And what was to come... came very soon indeed, as this was the band’s final album of obscurity, moments before they exploded all the way to hell.

Worst to Best: Aerosmith: 05. Permanent Vacation

05. Permanent Vacation (1987)


When 1985’s Mirrors failed to be the reinvigorated comeback record everyone had been promised, the Aerosmith base camp panicked, and pressed the emergency button, their final line of defence. Outside writers were called in to guarantee smash hits. Bon Jovi’s producer was summoned to make the guitars sound fucking huge. A Beatles cover was thrown in to secure credibility. And they all had the one same goal in mind: to create songs which would fuel the radio into first place whilst feeding the stadium crowds such boisterous bangers that everyone would forget how much money they’d spent just to be there. This means that Permanent Vacation is arguably Aerosmith’s silliest, most nauseating, and most shameful record to date. What makes it even worse, however, is that the plan totally worked! The album was a gigantic triumph, embraced by the commercial market, now known as Aerosmith’s true second wind, and admittedly, it does sound like the band had a spark lit under their asses for the first time in years. Their hard pop-rock performances were polished to shine, each track had a joyous spirit in the middle as if they were finally having fun again, and when it was good... it was as good as anything they’ve ever done. And it’s all good, baby!

Worst to Best: Aerosmith: 04. Nine Lives

04. Nine Lives (1997)


And this is where me and every other fan/critic collide. I wear my bias in daylight, confessing this as the first Aerosmith record which made an impact on me, licking the insides of my 14-year-old ears, and every listen since bringing me right back to those impressionable days. 20 years have come and gone, and I revisit this album often, defending it all the way into my old age, and taking personal offense to the unwarranted accusations so many have been far too hasty to make. Fuck you, as every song on Nine Lives works perfectly for me, I hear none of this filler you are whining about, all the while the band sounded energised and full of attitude, flawlessly balancing their heavy rockers with comfy ballads, tied together with an Indian flavouring sprinkled throughout. Musically? Vocally? Lyrically? Compositionally? Top performances from all parties, as truly an inexcusably unsung Aerosmith classic. Still, thanks to an opening run of impeccably solid single choices, this offering did top the Billboard Top 200 and win a Grammy, with everyone (even the skeptics) since agreeing that this was the band's last good album. But in my head, Nine Lives is so much more. It's as great as anything they’ve ever done. My Aerosmith record, you can’t have it.

Worst to Best: Aerosmith: 03. Toys in the Attic

03. Toys in the Attic (1975)


Toys in the Attic marks that sweet spot all rockstars are salivating for: when the drugs are still correctly blending with the creative juices, and (thanks to years of non-stop touring) the individual member cogs had unified as one confident machine. Take this with a cleaner production value, and we must once again emphasise the magical dynamic between the Toxic Twins. It was here that Perry proved himself as a virtuoso capable of composing riffs as recognisable as any guitarist in all of the rock heavyweights, whilst Tyler’s Attic deliveries were some of his most unique, spilling his seedy lyrical themes out from the inside of his cock alone. Unfortunately, the band were unable to shake the clutches of critical Zeppelin/Stones comparisons just yet, but they were getting super close, finally managing to achieve what they’d always set out to do: creating one of the better albums ever made by anyone, and as a result, placing Aerosmith on the map under their own name, armed with a massive radio hit or two now firmly secured within their repertoire. Like, I dunno, Walk this Way for example? The song which broke them into the mainstream? And also revitalised their career in the 80s when they recorded that new version with Run DMC? The new version which single-handedly invented rap-rock? Was any of this a good thing actually?

Worst to Best: Aerosmith: 02. Pump

02. Pump (1989)


Reportedly “making up for the lost time”, newly-sober Tyler traded his long-suffocating drug addiction for a rampage of sexual pursuits with equal vigour. And these immoral quests screamed nice and loudly on Pump, one high-speed full-steam charge ahead into a dirtier, coarser manifestation of their standard polished commercial comeback offerings. But while the overexcitable heart of Tyler is complemented by some of Perry’s most inventive finger work (conspiring together to build doors just to kick them down), this hard energy is still nothing more than energetic petrol, propelling a fundamentally pop-oriented craft upwards, sticking to the roof of my mouth as potentially the hookiest Aerosmith product on the market. Point proven with its singles which were all gigantic hits, like when Janie’s Got a Gun won the band their first Grammy, or when Love in an Elevator became their first #1 Mainstream Rock Track, or when I personally said What it Takes was up there with the greatest breakup songs ever written. In fact, to date this is the only Aerorecord to have three Top 10 singles in its arsenal, standing tall as one important career highlight, adored by the world, and living up to its name completely. Pump is right, mate! I’m fucking pumped!

"Pump changed my life. I'd been listening to bands like The Cult and The Mission and then discovered this album that was about fucking from beginning to end... It just blew me away." - Justin Hawkins, The Darkness

Worst to Best: Aerosmith: 01. Rocks

01. Rocks (1976)


After the preceding Toys in the Attic album had shone the fame spotlight directly into Aerosmith’s bloodshot eyes, one would worry that their creativity candle may be snuffed out by this fresh pressure, but nope, the additional attention only served to water their dirt, as they blossomed under demand, finally where they were always supposed to be. Meet Rocks, the crudest, most heaviest record in the band’s entire armoury, the Bad Boys from Boston only getting louder and more merciless, artistically grinding up against the strict hard rock boundaries with an onslaught of spunk, shooting in her eyes with passionate intent, whilst the band’s chemistry was at an all-time high—and I’m not (only) talking about the drugs here. Surprisingly, what truly works in Rocks’ favour above all else, was the lack of hit songs, as they preferred a steady half-hour charge of reliable quality, no radio pity, blasting out the other side as one of the most classic hard rock albums to ever set fire to the genre (according to Mötley Crüe, Metallica, Guns N' Roses, and Nirvana). Basically, it changed the game forever, and I wouldn’t dare fuck with that, so here we are, the best Aerosmith album ever made, done.

“I first heard Rocks when I was 13 or 14. There was this girl, Laurie, and I'd been trying to get into her pants for what seemed like forever. She was the hottest chick in school and just exuded—no, excreted—sex appeal. One day I rode my BMX bike over to her place. We smoked a bunch of pot, and she started playing me records. [...] From the moment she put it on and "Back in the Saddle" started playing, I was glued to the album. She just vanished into the shadows, and I completely forgot about her. [...] After I digested the album six or seven times at this chick's apartment, I just got up, grabbed my smokes, jumped on my bike and went home. I never did get laid. But not too long after, I picked up my guitar, and I've been doing this ever since.” - Slash, Guns N' Roses