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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Aerosmith: Aerosmith


AEROSMITH: AEROSMITH (1973)

1) Make It; 2) Somebody; 3) Dream On; 4) One Way Street; 5) Mama Kin; 6) Write Me A Letter; 7) Movin' Out; 8) Walkin' The Dog.

In the beginning, «The Bad Boys of Boston» were not all that bad. Aerosmith's de­but is loud and raw, but to call it «dirty» would be pushing things; it is even considerably milder than Rolling Stones' records from 1971-72, and the Stones were the particular band that Aero­smith were intent on not just defeating, but obliterating in the big game of sleazy and smutty.

Perhaps it is the «backlog syndrome» that is really responsible. All of the songs here, minus one Rufus Thomas cover, are credited to lead vocalist Steven Tyler (one co-credited to lead guitarist Joe Perry), and at least some of them had been written or at least conceived as early as the 1960s, when the art of songwriting still implied certain standards of decency. What Tyler wrote was ir­reverent, kick-ass blues-rock, to which guitarists Whitford and Perry added a tiny touch of glam, and the results entertained, but did not overwhelm.

Nevertheless, Aerosmith did sound like no one else from the very beginning. Take, for instance, the opening lines of the near-classic 'Mama Kin' — today, they sound awesomely familiar, but in 1973, few, if any, bands really played like that. The principal role model are the Stones, but Whit­ford and Perry add an extra bit of technicality — not too much, just enough — that Keith was al­ways too lazy or too snobby to bother out, without, however, making a big fuss over it. From the start, they could play in a more complex and precise manner than the Stones without sacrificing the fun and raw energy (running a little ahead of the train, the Stones could never have written anything like 'Toys In The Attic', if you know what I mean).

This does not mean Tyler (and Perry) wrote better songs than the Stones, or had cooler guitar tones — but it does mean that questions like «why listen to Aerosmith at all when they're just an American clone of the Stones?» are really pointless, and, in most cases, stem from all sorts of biases, from rampant anti-Americanism to being allergic to the sight of Steve Tyler's facial fea­tures (the latter problem I can certainly understand, but then it's all in the eye of the beholder, and, besides, it is no mean feat being half-Cherokee, half-Italian).

Anyway, there are some excellent barroom blues-rockers on the album — apart from 'Mama Kin', whose opening chords were soon to be shamelessly stolen for Patti Smith's 'Ask The Angels' and Blondie's 'One Way Or Another', there is the powerful show-opener 'Make It', the seven-minute harmonica-drenched epic 'One Way Street', the dry, gritty, sex-driven 'Somebody', and even the Rufus Thomas cover rocks quite effortlessly (they do not shy away from pinpointing their idols, since the Rolling Stones also had a cover of 'Walkin' The Dog' on their debut album).

On the other hand, there are no truly memorable riffs: the best ones are standard, well-known blues-rock phrases that have been given a little dusting, and the worst ones are just ordinary 12-bar-based accompaniment. Most of the excitement centers on the guitar tones and Whitford's to­tally self-assured, intricate style of stringing chords together; yes, and Joe Perry delivers a couple red-hot solos. Likewise, Tyler has not yet grown into the laryngeal monster we all know and fear; his voice might even sound annoying on some of the tracks, and his forced «throat explosions» during the climactic moments of 'One Way Street' are somewhat out of control.

In the middle of all this we find 'Dream On', a song I used to professionally hate for the exact same rea­son that it has been entered in gold letters in the Big Rock Songbook — ushering in the genre of the Power Ballad. Of course, some might say that the first Power Ballad was really Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway To Heaven', or the Carpenters' 'Goodbye To Love', or even Hendrix's 'Little Wing' — but of all these early candidates, it is 'Dream On' that most faithfully satisfies the stereo­type. Big, pathetic, anthemic, building up from sad, silent complaint to explosive prayer without really changing the melody (unlike 'Stairway', where the «soft» and «power» sections are really two different songs somewhat clumsily sewn together), it is the stereotypical «monster ballad» of the 1970s, and its echo still resonates all around us.

But it is really a good song; taking more than half of its time to get to the climax (the 'Dream on, dream on...' chorus does not even begin until the three minute mark!), it totally delivers with its epic ascending guitar line and Tyler's transition to falsetto during the culmination. Its mentality is really that of a gospel song, along the lines of the Stones' 'Let It Loose' or 'Shine A Light', only delivered with a transparent sense of pain and desperation, and that is what makes it different from the ordinary, clichéd power ballad (check out the Who's 'Love Reign O'er Me' for a similar case). Particularly stunning is the realisation that Tyler, if his account is to be believed, wrote the song on the piano in friggin' 1965 — had it found its way on record back then, it would have cer­tainly put him on the pop map already in his teens.

Joe Perry, notably, did not like the idea of balladeering at first, and was only convinced to record it because of the necessity of generating a radio hit. Turns out that he made the right concession: without 'Dream On', Aerosmith would be forever pegged as a «passable debut», but with its pre­sence, even the lesser numbers are given extra solidness in the context, and a thumbs up rating is guaranteed properly and sincerely.

5 comments:

  1. Nicely written, as usual. But also, interesting, because you seem to have become a major Aerosmith fan. Will look forward to reading your opinion of Led Zeppelin... when you get to the Ls.

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  2. Well... you seem to have taken a sudden interest in raw bluesy hard-rock like this. In time propably granted for you, but I still remember harsh comments you made about Aerosmith in particular way back when. Well whatever... Dream On is a REALLY good song btw!

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  3. The true genius of Dream On is not in the melodies (I'd love to change the World has better ones ánd parts are similar to the chorus of I need a Man to love indeed), the build-up (Child in Time can't be surpassed in this respect) or the simple riff, but in the interplay of the instruments, notably the two guitars. Oh yes, it's simple, but it precedes the first part of Metallica's One with more than 15 years ánd is equally effective. Moreover I don't think anybody had done that before.

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  4. The guitar playing and the drumming on this one are kinda sloppy, and the mix seems to be poor as well. Tyler's affected vocals on most of the tracks don't help either, had he sung with his true voice on the whole album instead of only on Dream On the sound would have improved substantially. Still it manages to be an enjoyable, if somewhat amateurish album.

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  5. This album was greeted with yawns and so whats when it first came out. There's so much revisionist history surrounding this band. In reality they weren't well thought of here in Boston. I remember me and the other guitarist from my band smoking a joint, listening to this on his car's cassette player and saying "these guys suck".

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