CATALOG CRAWL: AEROSMITH, Part 4 (1987-1997)

Aerosmith got their second wind when they teamed with Run-DMC for a rap/rock hybrid redux of “Walk This Way.” With a reestablished sense of cachet to protect, they introduced a record-making formula on their next album that would dominate the remainder of their career: namely, work with a pop-savvy producer of the moment who can craft hits for modern radio and also bring in the top songsmiths-for-hire who can aid in crafting such material.

Many an old-school Aerosmith fan blanched at this state of affairs and tuned out but the truth is that the group managed to find an impressive balance between commercial demands and their earthy, old-school rock swagger for at least a decade. The following overview covers the four studio albums that make up what Schlockmania considers the last meaningful era of the group, which effectively came to an end when they did that awful power ballad for the Armageddon soundtrack.  Prior to that unfortunate moment, they assembled a quartet of albums worthy of attention to their fans…

PERMANENT VACATION (1987): This quintuple-platinum affair produced three top-20 singles, thus guaranteeing the band a second leg to their career. It’s also the album of this batch that plays it the safest, particularly the oft-derided power ballad hit “Angel”: this is the kind of sap that any ’80s glam band could have recorded, right down to its whiney chorus. That said, “Rag Doll” fuses the band’s distinctive swing to a cool, Dixieland-influenced arrangement and “Dude Looks Like A Lady” is potent fusion of high-tech AOR record making and the band’s hard rock chops. The material between the hits is underrated stuff: the jazzy shuffle of “St. John” and the blues-on-arena-rock-steroids of “Hangman’s Jury” are classic Aerosmith that benefits from slick, disciplined arrangements, “Girl Keeps Coming Apart” is a charming fast funkster and the steel drum-accented title track has one of the band’s all-time catchiest choruses. There’s even an oddball instrumental and a respectable cover of Beatles chestnut “I’m Down.” It’s a bit uneven overall but there’s both fire and focus here that portends better things to come.

PUMP (1989): After proving their commercial viability, Aerosmith set out to prove their artistic viability here. The result rocked harder and added experimentation that harkened back to their ’70s glory days while still delivering credible singles. It’s also worth noting the two biggest hits here were totally band-composed: “Love In An Elevator” is a complex AOR/glam hybrid with cool call-and-response verses and Beatles-derived harmonies while “Janie’s Got A Gun” is a dark social commentary piece with an adventurous, jazzy melody and a dynamic arrangement that blends hard rock riffs with exotic string and electronic embellishments. “The Other Side” is another hit fleshed out by sleek vocal harmony hooks and authoritative horns. Elsewhere, fiery horndog rockers like “Young Lust” and “F.I.N.E.” are balanced with moodier fare like the rootsy life lesson “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even” and there’s several exotic, genre-bending instrumental interludes that add additional ear candy. Even requisite power ballad “What It Takes” rises above the norm with a heartrending Tyler vocal and an earthy, almost zydeco arrangement. It’s the triumph of their later years.

GET A GRIP (1993): This long-in-the-making album rose above grunge’s commercial slaughter of hard rock to become another singles-packed hit for the band. It dabbles in the stylistic restlessness of Pump but leans more towards the chart-conscious craft of Permanent Vacation. The singles were all sturdy enough to occupy MTV and radio: “Eat The Rich” is a barnstormer with twisty riffs, “Livin’ On The Edge” marries acoustic folk and Beatlesque harmonies to arena rock stomp and the album delivered no less than three power ballads with blues lament “Cryin’,” amplified blue-eyed soul exercise “Crazy” and, best of all, “Amazing,” a post-psych production epic that throws out love lyrics to create a heartfelt anthem for addiction survivors. The social commentary bits aren’t as insightful as Tyler thought they were and the album’s 62-minute length means there’s at least 10 minutes’ worth of filler here… but it’s hard not to get caught up in the album’s colorful, elaborately layered labyrinth. Underrated album tracks: the relentless swagger of “Shut Up And Dance” and “Flesh,” a cool experiment with hypnotic psychedelia-meets-electronica flourishes.

NINE LIVES (1997): The band recorded their return to Columbia twice with different producers but it’s surprisingly coherent, sounding like an evolution of Get A Grip: it’s the same length but has tougher production from Kevin Shirley and greater track-to-track consistency in how it’s programmed. The hits have all the precise craft you’d expect: “Falling In Love (Is Hard On The Knees)” is a keen rocker with loop-de-loop pop hooks, “Hole In My Soul” tempers its power ballad sense of melodrama with Beatle-esque melodic trappings (a trusty Aerosmith weapon) and “Pink” wraps the usual Tyler lyrical horniness in a surprisingly sweet, mellow country-rock package.  In the album track area, you get fast, intense rockers with a surprise punkish edge like “Something’s Gotta Give” and particularly “Crash” while other tracks indulge Aerosmith experimentation, such as the film noir-ish, sax-laced intro to “Ain’t That A Bitch” and how “Taste Of India” plays like Metallica circa the black album crossbred with Bollywood soundtracks. Call this corporate record-making if you like but it’s consistently strong.

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