AEROSMITH: DRAW THE LINE (1977)
Some of the juiciest records in rock happen to be «crash albums» — made during that one particular period where everything is falling apart under the pressure of too much fame, too intense touring, too stubborn record company executives, too stressed personal relations, and, of course, way too many samples of heavy substances. It is completely unethical to expect such albums from your favourite artists — comparable to expecting extra profits from your plantations once you really start putting the whip to those lazy slave bastards — but, after all, no pain, no gain.
On the other hand, not everyone is entitled to a proper «crash album». You cannot be talentless (no one will give a damn about your going down if you never truly went up in the first place), and you have to time it carefully — not too soon, because that would be sort of pretentious («who do they think they are? one platinum album and they're already snorting more coke than my wife does at our home parties?»), and not too late, because if you do it past your creative prime, the results will almost certainly be so pitiful that you won't be able to inspire even one future generation of heroin addicts.
Considering all these things, Draw The Line is one of the absolute best crash albums that can be found on the market. It's just like Rocks, only with the polar signs reversed: same sound, utterly different side effects. An album that the band didn't really feel like recording (not the «proper» way that the studio expected it to be recorded, anyway), but plowed on regardless. They were still young and brawny, already professional, and completely wasted, and Draw The Line is like a reckless, totally drugged out party, with the level of self-exposure reaching up to the skies.
Think of this: Draw The Line is the only Aerosmith album not to feature even a single ballad — meaning that the band really put the commercially-oriented department of their collective brain on hold. The sequencing is about as abysmal as the ugly band caricature on the album sleeve: instead of elegantly closing the record with another gentlemanly goodbye like 'Home Tonight', they shut it off with a rippin' version of 'Milk Cow Blues', a blues-standard-turned-rock'n'roll that used to serve as a great album opener (e. g. The Kink Kontroversy). The mix, overall, is as muddy and dirty as the one on Exile On
From the opening power chords, slide intro, and massive, unforgettable riff of the title track, and right to the very end Draw The Line rocks just like Rocks. Not all the songs are expertly written, but neither is this a songwriting disaster, as some claim. 'Draw The Line' did not become Aerosmith's last major Seventies' hit for nothing — Perry's melody ranks up there with their finest. On 'Get It Up', he effortlessly switches from rootsy slide to growling funky metal over the course of one and the same riff; how cool is that? And 'Sight For Sore Eyes' is their most exciting venture into the realm of sweet sleazy funk.
That said, it is true that the groove is more important for Draw The Line than the chord sequences. Perry's hoodlum chops have gotten even hoodlum-er, and he offers us yet another proof to being the American counterpart of Keith Richards — by getting one vocal solo spot per album on an entirely self-written song, showing that he has got no singing voice whatsoever, and still somehow getting by merely on the convincing strength of the performance ('Bright Light Fright', a song that, in 1977, he could have easily donated to Keith and no one would have noticed: "It's the dawn of the day, and I'm crashed and I'm smashed, as it is I'm feeling like my chips are cashed"). Whitford, unabashed, adds light and color to Perry's gloom, more responsible for the party spirit of the album than anyone else. And Tyler, never forgetting how to pharyngealize on key, delivers some of the most piercing screaming of his career, be it in the climactic verse of 'Draw The Line' or on the rabid screaming of "daaaahhhctor, daaahhhctor, pleaaaaahse!" in 'The Hand That Feeds' (a much-maligned song, by the way, but which I have always liked for its sheer madness).
Stuck in the middle of this debacle is 'Kings And Queens', a song that shows exactly how crazy they were at that time — to the point of writing an amateurish prog-rock epic! If the rest of the album fit in relatively well with the angry punk explosion of 1977 (closing our eyes on a total lack of the «socially conscious» factor), 'Kings And Queens' singlehandedly aligned them with the rest of the dragons that the Pistols were out there to slay. For a reputation-killing five minutes,
In a way, this is even more ridiculous than classic Uriah Heep material, but this is where the power of context comes into play: the sheer weirdness of hearing this in between 'Bright Light Fright' and 'The Hand That Feeds' adds a pinch of surprise value. Had they written it four years before and placed it on the same record with 'Dream On', this might have been judged as a corny, disgusting move (young ambitious whippersnappers who think that rock music cannot be taken seriously unless it is «serious», i. e. telling people about St. George and the dragon); on Draw The Line, it is like a bizarre, unpredictable action of a mental patient. (And it is not all that bad from a melodical standpoint, either — there, now I've said it).
If I were a professional determinist, I would probably set out to prove the theory that, after Draw The Line, the band had but two choices: within a decade, either all of its members, or, at least, the «Toxic Twins» of Tyler and Perry would be dead from various drug- or drink-related accidents, or they would have to end up with Permanent Vacation. Their taking the latter choice was depressing for us true grit lovers, but sane and healthy for them, and, like all good Samaritans, we must be happy for their corporal and mental regeneration. The good news is, we don't necessarily have to participate in it. If the price for this breathtaking exploration of The Lower Depths with Draw The Line were Desmond Child and Diane Warren, I'm willing to take it, because Diane Warrens will come and go, but "Checkmate, honey, beat you at your own damn game, no dice honey, I'm livin' on the astral plane" will stay forever. Resumé: with the brain shut off completely, annihilated by the vile flank assault of 'Kings And Queens', the heart takes center stage and issues the album a thumbs up from its very bottom.