Released following Cobain’s suicide, I guess this is the first example of Geffen Records cashing in on his death. None of the other contemporary bands that recorded an Unplugged performance on MTV went on to release them on record (except for Alice In Chains and Alanis Morrissette) – the tracks usually found their way onto singles as B-sides (or existed in full only on bootlegs). An Unplugged album was more of a classic rock thing to do – hence the releases by Clapton, Dylan, Bryan Adams and the Page & Plant reunion.
I wasn’t a fan of Nirvana at the time this was released – mostly because I didn’t like that he wasn’t particularly a good guitarist. Learning the guitar will give you crazy notions and put you off bands like that. I later realised that it’s far more important to be a good songwriter than it is to be a good guitarist; a guitar solo is never going to change anybody’s life.
Trying not to like them, and failing miserably as this performance was getting a lot of airplay on MTV, the songs started seeping in and I started to become a Nirvana fan, purely by osmosis.
You know those famous questions – ‘Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated?’ or ‘Where were you when the Berlin Wall fell?’ – the first such question I can remember in my lifetime was ‘Where were you when Kurt Cobain shot himself?’ The answer: travelling home in a taxi, on a Friday night, leaving Middleton and just reaching Chadderton. We asked the taxi driver to turn the radio up, and still shocked, had to explain to the taxi driver who had died.
Aerosmith really know how to disappoint. When I first heard about this record – that it was going to be a back-to basics Blues record, produced by their old-time 70s producer Jack Douglas – I was so excited. After almost twenty years of trying to rewrite their past, and becoming a shadow of their former selves, this idea seemed to make sense. They’ve realised that their Geffen output was sub-par! They’re going back to their Blues influences! And just to make sure it all works, they’ve got Jack Douglas back on board to produce the record! What could go wrong?
This album is so bad it’s offensive. Everything sounds so clean and polished, they end up sounding like the resident jazz band on the Starship Enterprise. Any indication that they were going back to their roots was then completely swept aside when they went out on tour to support the album. The accompanying tour DVD – You Gotta Move – shows them getting massages and travelling to shows separately in private jets.
If there is one good thing to come out of all this, it’s the fact that they started playing their older material on tour. During their Geffen days they pretty much only played Geffen material live. When I first saw them touring Get A Grip in 1993, and then twice touring Nine Lives in 1997, they pretty much only played their Geffen singles, plus a few album tracks from the respective album they were touring, rounded off with an encore of their three big Columbia singles – Dream On, Sweet Emotion and Walk This Way. Since they reacquainted themselves with their older material for Honkin’ On Bobo, they now tend to play roughly a 65/35 split – with their older stuff still taking the minority – but at least they’re playing a decent amount of 70s material and not acting as though it doesn’t exist.
This was supposedly Aerosmith’s comeback album – their first with Joe Perry and Brad Whitford back in the band, and their first on Geffen records – the glitzy record label that had suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the 1980s. Unfortunately for everybody involved, they would have to wait another two years to release their real comeback album – Permanent Vacation – an album that rightfully put them back at the top of the tree.
This isn’t a bad album, it’s just poorly produced (by Doobie Brothers and Van Halen producer Ted Templeman). It feels very flat – and while the sound is very clear, there’s nothing special to grab your attention. This would have been the first studio album that Aerosmith would have released on compact disc, and possibly they were so taken with the new technology that they forgot to actually make a decent album.
The other thing this album has to work against is the fact that some bright spark at the record label decided to get creative with the name of the album. On its release, all text on the sleeve including the name of the album – and even the name of the band – was printed in reverse, and could be read normally by holding up to a mirror. Now I like this, it’s something different, but I’m very aware that a large proportion of rock fans tend to be cerebrally challenged – so this surely would have been commercial suicide. It’s okay when you’re the biggest band in the world and you put out a record without your name on it (eg. Led Zeppelin IV), but if you’re on the comeback trail it might make a bit more sense to actually make it loud and clear who you are.
David Geffen really must have started rubbing his hands with glee during the 1980s. Not only did he have Aerosmith on his new record label by 1985 – but he’d very soon have Guns ‘N Roses joining them, and after that Nirvana. There used to be a time when I could quite happily pigeon-hole an Aerosmith album as good or questionable depending on which label the record was on. Records on their original label Columbia were mostly good, while the stuff on Geffen was always questionable. This no longer works however, as they went back to Columbia in 1997 and have released mainly rubbish ever since.