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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Aerosmith: Rocks


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 Tallahassee'? Uh, ex­cuse me, has someone substituted the wrong lyrics sheet at the last moment? Were Lynyrd Sky­nyrd recording in the next studio? Oh, all right, just some more irony on the part of the proverbial bad dudes. One of these days, they are really going to get it.

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.


  1. Every time a read a review of this record they same basically that this is one of the greatest albums ever penned by the band. And every time I find a good review of it I re-listen to the album again. And What happens? Nothing. I wonder why hundreds and hundreds of people find this record so excellent. I don't know what to think, it doesn't semms a bad record, but nothing remains in my brain after playing it. I prefer sticking myself to the "Skimo" album by The Residents...because after playing it a lot of things are still jumping inside my head.

  2. Oh... the good ol'days!...
    This is the kind of record that won't ever get old because it's a hell of a R-O-C-K album!

  3. Dean Loves "Rocks" LaCapraraOctober 27, 2011 at 8:46 PM

    This is gotta be without a doubt rock's finest album following the whole ZOSO/Exile on Main St. peak it never scaled again. Not only are the drugs working for the guys high on the stuff (I think only Tom Hamilton was relatively clean but pretended to be addicted via peer pressure), every song is fantastically written and performed here. Nobody working after 1972 can or could touch "Last Child" or side two.

  4. The comment on Rats in the Cellar makes me chuckle. It's 1976 we are talking about, the same year a certain Ritchie Blackmore recorded Light in the Black. Thát's what I call fast.
    Nevertheless Rats in the Cellar is a nice midtempo rocksong.