The peak of that second stab at popularity was 1989’s Pump. Pump is a great album. It’s starting to sound a little dated now, but at the time it was as fresh and cutting-edge as anything recorded by bands in their 20s and 30s. But the last song on Pump can be blamed for the current state of Aerosmith.
What It Takes is a slow acoustic number, a broken-hearts song done in the style of a bar-room Country & Western song. In fact, it’s a pastiche of a Country & Western song. Steven Tyler even sings the lyrics in a mock-country style (think Mick Jagger’s vocals on Dead Flowers from Sticky Fingers). But despite all this, it’s still a very good song.
Prior to this, Aerosmith songs had fallen into two camps – straightforward rockers, or slower blues-based mid-tempo songs (with the odd power ballad starting to rear its ugly head from 1987’s Permanent Vacation onwards). But What It Takes changes all that. From their next album, 1993’s Get A Grip, the band thinks it’s reasonably acceptable to litter their material with country songs.
Wait a minute guys, What It Takes was a good song, but it was a pastiche, remember? You were parodying the hillbilly nature of that style of music. This wasn’t meant to be a new direction!
So Get A Grip, aside from the straightforward rockers, is jammed pack full of Country & Western tinged songs – Crazy, Cryin’ and Amazing. It’s heavy Country & Western, but Country & Western all the same. The rest of Get A Grip isn’t too bad, but these three songs, all released as singles, stink up the rest of the album.
The formula then gets repeated through 1997’s okay Nine Lives and 2001’s dreadful Just Push Play. I was momentarily excited by a back-to-basics blues album, in 2004’s Honkin’ On Bobo, but despite a nice collection of blues covers, even this album reeked of Country & Western. They may be classic blues songs, but the instrumentation and arrangement still sounds miles away from the 1970s glory years.
Then we come to Music From Another Dimension! – “the band’s first studio album of all new songs in 11 years!”. They needn’t have bothered. For about twenty years now, they’ve stopped being relevant. The whole Country & Western theme has reached its absolute nadir in the song Can’t Stop Lovin’ You – a duet with Carrie Underwood who, believe it or not, is a Country singer.
Not long ago, I watched a really bad Kevin Costner film. I know that’s quite a vague term, given the number of really bad Kevin Costner films, but this one was particularly bad. Good ol’ Kevin played a good ol’ boy in the American South, who ends up, for reasons too implausible to repeat here, having the casting vote in the American presidential election. The two nominees – played by Dennis Hopper and Kelsey Grammer – make their way to Kevin’s hometown, to woo him with his favourite things in life. In one vignette, Kevin gets to go driving with his favourite racecar driver. Kevin plays in a Country & Western band, so the other nominee invites him to a party where, guess what, his band are on stage all ready to start playing. Kevin steps up and rips into the usual 21st century Country & Western drivel – all broken-hearts and melancholic euphoria, like Coldplay covering a Willie Nelson song. It’s the worst song you’ve ever heard in your life, and more than enough to make you question whether Dance With Wolves was really any good, or just a lucky strike by an actor who has dealt in various shades of mediocrity ever since.
The song he sings really is the low point of a very poor film. If you arranged all of the songs you’ve ever heard in your life from good to bad, this one would be at the bottom end. Surely nothing could be worse than this, right? Then you listen to Aerosmith and Carrie Underwood singing Can’t Stop Lovin’ You – and suddenly, in comparison, you have fond nostalgic memories of that Kevin Costner song.
There’s not a great deal of good things to say about this album – the cover art is terrible (they’ve somehow managed to top Just Push Play in true awfulness) and there’s very little in the way of decent material. Out Go The Lights is built around a nice funky riff, in the style of Last Child, but the rest is just embarrassing.
At least contemporary Rolling Stones albums still sound like the Rolling Stones. Aerosmith sound like a completely different band. Steven Tyler falls back on that horrible scat-style of singing, which just sounds infantile. Other lyrics are just rewritten nursery rhymes, with the odd word changed to try to sound inventive. It all comes across as a band that have run out of ideas (and run out of steam).
Except Joey Kramer. His drumming on the first side of the album is spot-on, and proof that he really is an underrated rock drummer. I guess that’s what happens when you hang around with band members who now trade in Country & Western (and mediocrity).
Hit: Legendary Child
Hidden Gem: Out Go The Lights