AEROSMITH: NINE LIVES (1997)
1) Nine Lives; 2) Falling In Love (Is Hard On The Knees); 3) Hole In My Soul; 4) Taste Of India; 5) Full Circle; 6) Something's Gotta Give; 7) Ain't That A Bitch; 8) The Farm; 9) Crash; 10) Kiss Your Past Good-Bye; 11) Pink; 12) Falling Off; 13) Attitude Adjustment; 14) Fallen Angels.
No less than eight outside songwriters this time, ranging from real old friends like Richard Supa (who'd already worked with the band on 'Chip Away The Stone' in the late 1970s) to trusty workhorses like Desmond Child to completely unbelievable surprises like Glen Ballard (of Alanis Morissette fame!). The biggest disappointment is actually Mark Hudson, the man who singlehandedly reinvented and rejuvenated Ringo Starr's lackluster solo career — but not before saddling Aerosmith with the triteness of 'Livin' On The Edge' and the ridiculousness of 'The Farm' (at least he also takes responsibility for the second best song on the album, 'Crash').
On the other hand, having to feed so many mouths must have gotten the band's minds off the idea to expand their role as godfathers of / spokesmen for «MTV Rock». Nine Lives does not have as many imperatives in its song titles, as many Alicia Silverstone videos, and as many obnoxious, hypocrite lyrical banalities as Get A Grip. These are its good sides. The bad side is that there is no sense of purpose to the record. The band's old-school rocking instincts, its natural propensity for pathetic power ballads, and the mainstream pop pull of the outside songwriters all seem to mingle in one sticky, viscous, ponderous lump where it is no longer possible to distinguish «ballad» from «boogie», «teen pop» from «hard rock», and «sincere» from «forced». Upon first listen, it is bizarre; subsequently, it is just boring.
The record starts out with a promise. 'Nine Lives', as an appetizer, is their ballsiest track to open the proceedings since at least 'Let The Music Do The Talking'. That gruff opening chord, the little feedback bit, the funny «Steve Tyler outscreeching the local feline competition» bit, the lyrics that fall back on the exquisite innuendo principle instead of yer basic foul-mouthing, the drive, the guitar tones... old Aerosmith back? Not quite. It may take a couple listens to understand that the balls are, unfortunately, quite low on life-giving content. For one thing, there is no distinctive riff; just a fast tempo against which Bradford and Perry play a bunch of basic blues-rock and power chords. For another, the chorus ("Nine lives, feelin' lucky...") is pure MTV pop again. Perfect for a headbanging session? No doubt. Timeless classic? No way.
And then the record, head forward, dives into that strange, strange muck. 'Falling In Love Is Hard On The Knees' — what the hell is it? Should it rock? Should it bring tears to your eyes? Should it get you to dance at the local night club? All of these, some of these? Is it even a good song? It's about as catchy as the average Lenny Kravitz song, and just about as nutritious. What the heck are 'Hole In My Soul', 'Ain't That A Bitch', 'Kiss Your Past Good-Bye' (in the latter's case, dock a point for Tyler explicitly uncovering the pun in one of the choruses) — fist-punchers or tear-jerkers? With Get A Grip, you knew the three ballads and could easily program them out if they annoyed you more than the rockers; with Nine Lives, it is not so easy, because all dividing lines have been blurred. If the melodies were great, this might even have been an asset. As they are, it is a troublesome bother.
I must confess, though, that 'Ain't That A Bitch' is a fine performance; the melody is generic power-balladry, but the mix of slide guitars, strings, blues-rock solos, and Tyler's crescendo from «lazy» to «schizophrenic» is a vast improvement on the technique of, say, 'Crazy'; one may not go wild about the pomposity, but the song aspires to more than straightforward dumb teen bait, and it is hard not to at least tip your hat to the amount of work that went into it. The same applies to quite a few other tracks as well; some fans may complain about overproduction, but, if you ask me, overproduction is fine as long as it gives you something to concentrate on rather than the limp songwriting levels.
True «dumb teen bait» does not really start until 'Pink', which was, of course, the biggest single, the most famous video, and the Grammy-winning song off the album. With a title like that and lyrics like "pink on the lips of your lover, 'cause pink is the love you discover", it is not difficult to understand the primary target audience of the song, arranged as loud, but toothless pop without any Aerosmith trademarks whatsoever (shame on you, Joe Perry). But let us cut them some slack: when you are a fifty-year old rock star, you have to be extra meticulous about finding new ways to attract freshly pubescent girls, or you risk getting stuck with an old, ugly wife forever.
Little bits of experimentation on the album mostly fall flat, or land like heavy boulders on your toes. 'A Taste Of India' has Glen Ballard, who'd already once saddled Alanis Morissette with Eastern influences, for better or for worse, lending the same overtones to Aerosmith, except that, as one could guess, for Tyler «a taste of India» does not surmise a trip to the Taj Mahal, but rather something a bit more flesh-related. The effect is dirty cheap. 'The Farm' begins and ends with snippets of The Wizard Of Oz, again suggesting unhealthy sexual fantasies about getting it on with the Tin Man and Scarecrow at the same time (the lyrics make no sense, but "somebody get me to the farm" somewhat echoes 'Last Child', yet, again, with more emphasis on the "I ain't no Peter Pan" part, if you think like I think what they think).
Overall, Nine Lives is a cooling-off record; it is much less teen-geared than Get A Grip, and thus, comes off as nowhere near as insulting for Aerosmith's adult audience. But it also contains fewer guilty pleasures, and it's dreadfully long, too; when half of your album consists of overproduced mid-tempo rock-ballads, you do not really need to extend it over an hour. So take your pick: the disgusting titillation of Get A Grip or the more restrained, but boring pop strains of Nine Lives.