Why Aerosmith sucked in 2001-02.
How America's greatest rock band sold their souls.
This introduction is a crock. I wrote the whole thing and now I'm writing an introduction, so this isn't really an introduction at all. I'll keep it short then: Let me just say that I'm a big Aerosmith fan of the classic era but also the new era. I even loved Nine Lives. There you go. I give plenty of respect to Aerosmith elsewhere on the site.
They lied to us. The head of Columbia said of Just Push Play that Aerosmith had taken the creative process entirely into their own hands. "I mean 100%", he emphasised. Hmmm. Well, that's funny, because A&R man John Kalodner, the dude who's basically called the shots on what made Aerosmith records and what didn't since 1987, still gets a credit in the liner notes. The album is co-produced by Tyler and Perry, yes, but with Mark Hudson and Marti Frederiksen. Notice that Hudson and Frederiksen don't just get engineering or recording credits; they're producers. That means that they were involved in making decisions about the arrangements and instrumentation of the songs. There isn't a single song on the album written without outside writers; even Get a Grip had moments which were entirely the band's own creation. There is "Fly Away From Here", however, which was written by Frederiksen and Chapman, entirely without involvement from the band. Now, I'm not that much of a purist; I don't mind the presence of outside writers or even the occasional cover if the result is a good record. But how dare they play their fans for fools and claim that they'd taken the creative process into their own hands 100%?! If anything, the evidence suggests that Aerosmith had less creative input on Just Push Play than any previous album. They didn't write the songs on their own, they didn't arrange the songs on their own, they didn't choose the tracks for the album on their own, they didn't produce the album on their own, and they did have a record company boss telling them what to do. What were they playing at? Did they think that saying they'd taken over creatively was really going to appease the diehards who didn't like the new poppy direction? Do they think we're idiots? Well they should think again because all they've done is angered the fans. The album doesn't even contain any Aerosmith signatures, so their claim isn't even a credible one.
Ballad overkill. When Aerosmith came out with "Angel", Tom Hamilton was worried that it was too wussy and the fans would hate them for it. He was wrong; the fans largely embraced it. As long as a rock band make sure that the vast majority of their work is rock, they can get away with anything. Because Permanent Vacation was a kicking rock record, "Angel" fitted in fine as a nice change of pace. They could have done "I Just Called to Say I Love You" and the fans would have put up with it. It's when the ballads start to take over that problems begin. Even then, however, fans can be tolerant; Get a Grip also had some of great rock and so it was one of Aerosmith's biggest sellers in spite of its huge ballad content. The problem with Just Push Play is the lack of diversity. A great album has to have changes of speed, light and shade, different colours and emotions to create an interesting sonic landscape. Just Push Play never really rocks so instead it sort of meanders along. "Fly Away From Here" would be fine as a contrast, but in the middle of all this it's just… rubbish. Besides which, the band don't even like ballads and they admit it! Tom was against doing "Angel". Joe Perry just hates ballads and always thought that Aerosmith shouldn't do any. He admits they've grown on him but you only have to see or read one interview with him to see he's not bubbling over with enthusiasm for the mushy numbers. "I never thought Aerosmith should do any ballads at all," comments Perry in their autobiography Walk This Way. "To this day, Tyler says I ruined his career by making him write 'Angel'", admits John Kalodner, while Steven explains, "Half of me loves them [ballads], the other half is whispering, 'You f***in' wimp, don't put any more of that s**t out!" If you have a band playing music they don't even like, it's fairly obvious they're not going to do it convincingly or well.
Drum loops. Rock fans are hostile to technology. Aerosmith's brand of rock is a timeless thing. I realise that it's backward and pointless to oppose the use of sequencing on records but the fact is that rock & roll Aerosmith-style should be primal, basic, and earthy. When things get too sophisticated, it kind of loses the point.
Where are the other three? I've always thought it sucks when just one or two members of a band get all the attention. Even if the rest of the band are seemingly unimportant, every musician has his own distinctive sound, and everybody's personality affects the overall chemistry of the band. As a result, every member of any band is always an essential part of what that band is. In Aerosmith, Joey Kramer, Brad Whitford, and Tom Hamilton are severely underrated. On those early records, Joe Perry would come into the studio, lay down his parts, and leave. Brad would stay through the night, getting the parts right, laying down all the tracks. As a result Aerosmith's classic rhythm guitar attack actually has a lot to do with Whitford, and he also had his own, more calculated approach to soloing. Aerosmith are set apart by swing-feel drum parts and great grooves from Joey Kramer. Between them, the "other three" are wholly or partly responsible for such huge Aerosmith classics as "Janie's Got a Gun", "Sweet Emotion", "Last Child", "Nobody's Fault", and "Permanent Vacation". Producer Jack Douglas said that Joey Kramer should have had more credits because "he was the rhythm master who'd say 'I've got the rhythm and it could be song.'"
On recent Aerosmith outings, however, the other three seem to be missing in action. The rumours, however, are not pretty: Brad Whitford is said not to be allowed to write songs for the band anymore and Tom Hamilton has claimed that Tyler and Perry won't even return his calls about getting together to write.
Where's the vibe? In Aerosmith's Behind the Music episode, Tyler makes an important point: with so many classic Aerosmith songs, how can you define the Aerosmith sound? Walk This Way, Mama Kin, Pink, Janie's Got a Gun, Dream On, Livin' on the Edge, Hangman Jury, Back In the Saddle… all quintessentially Aerosmith, all totally different. Aerosmith, Tyler concludes, is about a vibe. He's absolutely right. There's a distinctive Aerosmith swagger, a leering, sensual, funky thing; an air which is all their own. It simply isn't on Just Push Play. It's all sanitised and nice. Aerosmith are influenced by rock, blues, funk, R&B, soul, rock 'n' roll, classical, and even some jazz. It gives their music a serious authenticity. At their best, Aerosmith carry within them a musical heritage that traces its roots back over hundreds of years. For white rockers, Tyler and Perry understand and perform funk and blues with frightening soul. Joe Perry listens to stuff like James Brown and the Meters, so the funky Aerosmith sound is totally authentic. The only time such a thing flashes its head on Just Push Play, however, is the title track, a weak retread of "Walk This Way".
O, yeah? Another greatest hits set. There is some justification, however: up to now the band have never been involved in choosing the songs for any of their compilations. Well, so they claim. It's pretty hard to believe they weren't involved Big Ones when they wrote and recorded two new songs specifically for it, but there you go. I don't think the world needed O, Yeah because the first disc is basically the same as Greatest Hits and the second is essentially Big Ones, and A Little South of Sanity is an excellent 2CD overview of the band's entire career. But that's not really what I'm here to moan about; it's the two new songs. Does anyone know if they actually are outtakes from JPP or not? Well, it doesn't matter because they might as well be. Jack Douglas commented, "You know, it's all business. It's not fun anymore, it's just business. Steven is not writing about what he feels. I mean WHAT THE HELL does 'Girls of Summer' have to do with how Steven feels? All of those early albums came from places he was comfortable with. I would say, 'Steven, does this really mean something to you? Tell me honestly, is this something you're really feeling?'"
Stop trying to be something you're not! Have you seen the video for "Girls of Summer"? I have too, so I can empathise with your suffering. The worst bit is when the music stops and there are all those kids talking like wannabe gangsta rappers by that car -- it's a Porsche or something. What has that got to do with Aerosmith? Good grief, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry may be the world's coolest 50-somethings, but that doesn't change that they are 50. So what is all this Eminem crap appearing in the middle of the video? Why are the lyrics in the "Just Push Play" booklet written like this: > u all up in de kool-aid > but u do not know de flavor > ? This is Aerosmith, not fourteen year old girls sending text messages to each other on their cell phones! Stop trying to be cool! The second someone tries to be cool, they immediately stop being cool. In Aerosmith's case, this is made even more stupid by the fact that when they are themselves, they really are cool.
It's not even working! If you're going to sell out, you'd better make it worthwhile -- ie, you had actually better sell. Just Push Play, however, has become Aerosmith's worst-selling studio album since Done With Mirrors. It certified platinum in the first month and has not shifted since. Remember that platinum means only that a million copies were shipped out to dealers, not that they even sold that many. According to SludgeScan, Aerosmith had moved 1.2 million copies of JPP in America but when you think of the promotion they got -- the superbowl, the appearance with Kid Rock, the Dodge commercials, the MTV airplay, the VH-1 coverage, and the fact that they are Aerosmith with a huge fanbase, platinum is actually pretty pathetic. Maybe Just Push Play could be in some small way justified if people liked it, but the fact that sales all but stopped cold after the first month says it all.
The good news: Honkin' on Bobo, the long-awaited, Jack Douglas-produced, blues album is here. Let's hope this marks the end of the Aerosmith-as-pop-band era.
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