AEROSMITH: ROCKS (1976)
1) Back In The Saddle; 2) Last Child; 3) Rats In The Cellar; 4) Combination; 5) Sick As A Dog; 6) Nobody's Fault; 7) Get The Lead Out; 8) Lick And A Promise; 9) Home Tonight.
The Day At The Races to Toys' Night At The Opera, Rocks mines the same depths and extracts the same amount of precious metal — if not actually more, because, now that all the holes have been drilled, the flow is made even easier. The general critical consensus tends to think that, although it was the big hits on Toys that continue to make Aerosmith a household name, Rocks is, overall, more consistent, and pounds harder all the way through. Well: there certainly is no 'Big Ten Inch Record' on it, and for many, this argument will be decisive.
Without getting into fights over quality, let us just notice that Rocks is much thicker than Toys. Since drugs, internal fighting, and changing times had not yet corroded the band's creative spirit, they were still willing to try out new approaches and techniques, which, in the case of Rocks, amounted to more overdubs, an overall heavier sound (some of the riffs here rank among the band's most brutal), various small experiments with song structures, and a damn high tax on Tyler's vocals which he has, nevertheless, been able to pay for several more decades of concert life.
Another important personal achievement is that second guitarist Brad Whitford steps into his own element as well: not only is he directly responsible for writing two of the album's best songs, but he plays lots of lead guitar throughout, and his quaky, trebly, at times, almost threateningly psychedelic textures are a great contrast to Perry's «earthier» riffs. Simply put, Rocks contains some of the greatest bits of twin guitar interplay on an American rock'n'roll band album; with this record under their belt, Aerosmith were now completely immune to the «Stones clones» accusation, since they now rocked way harder than their older brothers. In all likeness, in 1976 Aerosmith were the world's greatest rock'n'roll band.
The major hit, still overplayed on classic rock radio, was 'Back In The Saddle', a goofy tale of cowboys, barrooms, and the sex drive, and that is the spirit of Rocks all right. There is no danger here, no incentive to run for your life or to lock up your daughters: when Tyler sings "I'm calling all the shots tonight, I'm like a loaded gun", you know that, in reality, his protagonist is so full of booze (and shit) that a single punch of the nose is prone to make him keel over — not to mention that whether "this snake is gonna rattle" indeed is highly questionable. But there is no question at all that no average Joe is ever going to match the tearing intensity of Steven's 'I'm ba-a-a-a-ck!', every instance of which leaves aching gashes across my own throat from merely hearing it, or the unbelievable high pitch of the final 'riding high!'. He may be dead drunk all right, and unable to get it up when it comes to real action, but boy, what an image — with an attitude like that, few brave men will be able to call the bluff.
The rest of the album never lives up to the opening punch, but this is not so much slighting the album as merely stating the fact that 'Back In The Saddle' is in its own class. The good news is that Rocks totally lives up to its name: the next seven songs, from start to finish, do rock like crazy, and manage to do that in lots of different, but equally exciting ways. 'Last Child' starts out deceivingly, with a mournful line borrowed from the Beatles' 'I Want You', but in a matter of seconds becomes a cocky, swaggering funkster that is about... going back to the plough? 'Take me back to south
Also of particular note are 'Rats In The Cellar', with its breackneck speed that tries to outdo 'Toys In The Attic', and that evil, evil break in the middle, with its punk riffage and bluesy harp; and, of course, Slash's favourite song, 'Nobody's Fault', where Tyler drops the comedy and tries on a true apocalyptic mood. The usual saying is that the song is about Californian earthquakes, and so it is, literally, but Tyler is trying to move it beyond that level, to turn it into a macabre pamphlet on man's stupidity (it does remain a little unclear whether the point is that man is so stupid that he cannot prevent earthquake damage, or that man is so stupid he has been sent earthquakes in punishment, or both), while Bradford contributes the correspondingly «rumbling» music. The song would have made Black Sabbath proud, and it is no surprise that quite a few metal bands have covered it with reverence.
The incessant, insane ass-kicking only stops on the last track: 'Home Tonight' is another textbook example on how one should tackle the art of the power ballad — by not only writing a decent melody, but also giving it a great arrangement, with sharp electric pianos and gruff, garage-style distorted guitar breaks instead of anti-musical synths and genetically engineered guitar substitutes. And the sense of humor is back, too, with the Beatles quote (everyone knows, after all, that Ringo Starr was the first person in the world to say 'Now it's time to say good night', although, in gentlemanly fashion, he immediately ceded the copyright to Lennon/McCartney).
Rocks is so very much mid-Seventies, and yet, so very much timeless, still a delight after all these years — it is exactly the same age as myself, and here's hoping I might never get old enough for it. Thumbs up from all sides, of course. This is how Aerosmith are going to be remembered by future generations, the children of the children of the children of 'Crazy', 'Cryin', and 'I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing'. No question about that.