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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Aerosmith: Done With Mirrors


AEROSMITH: DONE WITH MIRRORS (1985)

1) Let The Music Do The Talking; 2) My Fist, Your Face; 3) Shame On You; 4) The Reason A Dog; 5) Sheila; 6) Gypsy Boots; 7) She's On Fire; 8) The Hop; 9) Darkness.

Reunion! Things happen fast with this band — at the time when their progenitors, the Stones, were just entering the crucial splintering phase, Aerosmith were already welcoming back their lost guitarists. Joe Perry, in some of his interviews, remembers how Rick Dufay pulled out of the new-look Aerosmith of his own free will, stating that this will never work unless the «Toxic Twins» get back together. No idea about Jimmy Crespo, but the dry fact is that by late 1984, all five original members were back together, although still high on drugs much of the time.

Unfortunately, the momentum was lost. The world had already shown a clear lack of interest in the old Aerosmith sound through the diminishing sales of Rock In A Hard Place, and then three years of complete studio silence finished the job. With hair metal on the rise, capturing the mar­ket niche formerly occupied by trashy Seventies' rockers, Aerosmith had to adapt — sacrificing their integrity — or to fade away to the status of a small cult band. It is our big luck, then, that in 1985 their minds were still too clouded by substances for them to see it properly.

Of course, Done With Mirrors is no longer the Aerosmith of old. Much of the fault lies with the outside circumstances: having signed a new contract with Geffen Records instead of the old Co­lumbia association, they dumped their old producer, Jack Douglas, very much responsible for engineering the classic Aerosmith sound. New guy Ted Templeton (of the Doobie Brothers and Van Halen fame) had a solid agenda behind him, but either he was intent on molding a new-look Aerosmith for the new decade or he had little interest in the band as such, because the unique magic that made up the band is gone.

Fellow reviewer Mark Prindle couldn't have stated it better when he mentioned that, all over Done With Mirrors, «the guitars sound like walls, not like the electrical currents and loose wires of classic Aerosmith». But is this really Joe Perry's fault? The old boy is definitely trying, and, even though only a few riffs are memorable (generally at the beginning of the album), with a lit­tle more care this could have been another Draw The Line. But when the guitars are flattened and splattered, muted and muffled, hidden under pillows, glossed and glued together as if someone were afraid that people would laugh at Joe's obvious lack of virtuoso technique — quite possible to expect of a producer guy whose main protégé was Eddie Van Halen — you know that the Ei­gh­ties are upon us indeed.

Granted, it could have been much worse. The drums could have been reduced to electronic pulp, instead of simply made to sound pompously big and non-rock'n'rollish. There could have been a synthesizer invasion, but the record is mostly keyboard-free. All of the songs are self-penned, and the ballads are pretty much non-existent (with a little effort, one could call 'Darkness' a ballad, but certainly not when it picks up tempo). The choruses are catchy (with a few exceptions, such as Brad Whitford's 'The Reason A Dog', which seems to me about as underwritten as its title), Tyler is in his usual vocal form — so perhaps we'd better just get over the sad deal with the production and count this as another solid offering from the band?

Perhaps, except that there is a clear, if subtle, change in the agenda. On Rock In A Hard Place, the agenda still went something like «don't mess with the bad boys of rock'n'roll»; here, it is «you may not believe this, but we are still the bad boys of rock'n'roll». "Nobody gonna get my rock­'n'roll", Tyler screams on 'Shame On You' — hmm, was there any doubt about that in the first place around 1977? And what's with all the self-quoting? "Back in the saddle gets you sore" ('My Fist, Your Face')? References to Aerosmith and Joe Perry in 'The Hop'? Even musical quotations — when 'Let The Music Do The Talking', a re-recording of the best song from Perry's short solo career, starts the record off with a bang, it's like all the problems never happened, but then all of a sudden it goes into the riff of 'Draw The Line' for a few bars, and you realize, with fright, that this little bit kicks much more ass than the rest of the song. That's when you know, for sure, that the band's golden days are properly over.

And yet, let us be fair. Together with Rock In A Hard Place, this album has pretty much slipped through the cracks of the public conscience and the critical appreciation. People have a strange habit of associating the goodness of Aerosmith with chart positions and total revenue: for most listeners, these were the «dark years» for the drugged-out band, steadily on the decline ever since chemicals began to get the better of them around 1977 and then beginning to «come back» ten years later. But the «comeback» was actually just a change of master — freed from the iron rule of drugs, the band sold themselves to fashion.

Done With Mirrors may not be a very good re­cord, a sharp quality drop-off from the former level, but there is no doubt that, at this point, Aero­smith were still doing what they wanted to do. Their tragedy was that no one else wanted them to do it — and that they could not get over it, and so their heart was not perfect with rock'n'roll their God, and Aerosmith did evil in the sight of rock'n'roll, and went not fully after rock'n'roll, where­fore it was said unto Aerosmith, «surely will rock'n'roll be rended from thee, and given to thy betters». But all that was still a couple of years away; Done With Mirrors, in the meantime, may be threatened with a thumbs down for the exe­cution (including the rather silly gimmick of the «mirrored» writing on the sleeve), but still gets a thumbs up for the effort.

4 comments:

  1. Nice review! I'm not a 100% sure about the thumbs up, but in comparison to later efforts, I can def. see it.

    And the biblical bit at the end was rather Samuel Butlerish.

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  2. Dean "Aerosmith on Drugs = Bliss" LaCapraraOctober 27, 2011 at 8:38 PM

    First off, heroin/cocaine/other chemicals will ultimately destroy even the strongest people unless they kick awful habit. Tyler et al thankfully did so and put out a few good songs after 1985's amazing comeback that barely anyone knows about or hates (are you shitting me?) if they bothered hearing it. Faves include "Shame on You" and "The Hop" but honestly their masterpiece of the 1980's & beyond is "My Fist Your Face." Only the first song drags but I'll accept it.

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  3. This does have a tossed off first take feel and a lot of songs sound undeveloped but at least they were having fun playing together again. The sloppiest sound that is Gypsy Boots and Shelia makes it the perfect garage record that Aerosmith ever did, even if they themselves didn't like this record. I still think it's a B plus record and the last we would hear of the true Aerosmith sound before the song doctors altered the sound forever more.

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  4. Briefly walking through here to point out (six years later) that "Darkness" was only available on CD and not on the LP (not sure about the tape 'cause I don't have that, but I assume not, as that's usually how tapes are) -- which is madness because the album is only about 32 minutes without it. I guess Geffen Records was really trying to push the CD format at the time, or something.

    Which worked, because it's pretty much one of the better songs on here (and I did snap the CD up on the cheap after hearing it online). The rest of the album, except the opening track, is kind of flat, under-written, and doesn't do much with any of its more interesting ideas (I remember liking the sounds they were playing with at the beginning of "Shela," but they didn't do anything with them.). Keep "Darkness" and "LTMDTT" as they are, and there's enough ideas for an excellent 20-minute EP at best, but only a middling 35-minute album.

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