AEROSMITH: NIGHT IN THE RUTS (1979)
The burning-out was accelerating almost exponentially by this point; still, the band were all set and poised for Draw The Line Vol. 2, another equally delightful mess of dirty bad-boyism without a cause, and, doubtless, would have managed a perfect duplicate if, midway through the session, their clueless management had not sent them on yet another tour in order to repay the accumulated debts. The tour became a personal disaster and broke out the five years of Tyler/Perry feud, with Joe slamming the door midway through; he was quickly replaced by Jimmy Crespo, a strong hell-raiser in his own right but lacking Perry's songwriting talents and personality.
As a result, the album is seriously flawed, although, to the band's credit, the Perry part and the Crespo part do not seem too disjointed or incompatible. Once you disentangle them, the difference is obvious: with Crespo, they keep falling back on Tyler-dominated power ballads ('Remember', 'Mia'), and poorly conceived covers (the Yardbirds' 'Think About It') — a long distance from Perry's sleazy boogie that rules the rest of the record (although it is also Perry's playing, not Crespo's, that we hear on 'Reefer Head Woman', an obsolete piece of generic 12-bar blues that last saw the light of day around 1973). However, the sequencing is intelligent enough so that the weaker material seems strengthened by the powerhouse numbers, not vice versa.
Besides, «weaker» does not mean «worthless». The decision to go ahead with their cover of the Shangri-La's classic 'Remember (Walking In The Sand)' as the lead single was ridiculed at the time, and still remains controversial, but, in all fairness, Tyler gives a good reading, and the song, with its mix of overdriven teenage pathos and unforgettable melodic moves, had been screaming for a power-ballad arrangement for at least a decade, so one can only rejoice that it was Aerosmith who got there first, and not, say, Bon Jovi. Plus, it gives Steve another opportunity to reach for those hysterical high notes that fit the song's heartbroken mood; considering that original singer Mary Weiss could never reach that high, it is only too just that she herself shows up to sing backing vocals on Tyler's version (but definitely not just that she was left uncredited on the original single release).
And, while 'Mia' starts showing the first signs of balladeering pomposis that ate up the band's soul a decade later, it is still fairly interesting; at the very least, it leaves you wondering why Tyler decided to dress this harmless little McCartney-style piano ode to his daughter in Gothic overtones, minor chords and echoes and sorrowful solos and ghost-whispered name-calling and all. Fortunately, today Mia Tyler lives the prosperous life of a heavily tattooed «plus-size model» rather than a nightmarish Edgar Allan Poe heroine, so Daddy's spook thing must not have worked.
The hardcore Aerosmith fan, however, will hardly want to bother with the ballads; the album's true meat is to be found among the ass-kickers and ball-breakers. The straightforwardly autobiographical 'No Surprize' is a worthy sequel to 'Draw The Line' as an album-opener; the main riff is not as memorable, but the punch is comparable. 'Chiquita' is not a Latin dance number, as the title might want to suggest, but rather a thunderous glam-rock rave-up in the old style of 1972-73, all big waves of distorted guitars and mean-sounding brass backing. 'Cheese Cake' is way too derivative of Led Zeppelin's 'When The Levee Breaks', but done the nasty Aerosmith way (it's about what really matters, after all — wild sex in the working class, not some meaningless apocalyptic shite). And both 'Three Mile Smile' and 'Bone To Bone' are solid funky rockers that still manage to totally satisfy the formula, if little else.
In short, if we did not know about the awful happenings in the Aerosmith camp at the time, it would be impossible to firmly guess that Night In The Ruts shows something wrong with the band. At worst, there is a slight shortage of material — which is why the generic blues of 'Reefer Head Woman' crawls back — but every great artist, even in peak forms, is sometimes liable to including a bit of filler. Technically, and under great scrutiny, the cracks start to show, but overall, Night In The Ruts is just another solid Aerosmith album from their best decade. Turn off your critical brain, which is often prone to confusing «faint beginning of the slide» with «artistic catastrophe», and let the heart direct your thumbs up.