Friday, March 29, 2013
Released In November
Prior to Aerosmith putting out Music From Another Dimension!, their first album of new material since 2001's Just Push Play, expectations and anticipation from fans was sky high, especially after the release was delayed by four months. Decades of band dysfunction and more recent acrimony between lead singer Steven Tyler and bandmates Joe Perry (guitar), Brad Whitford (guitar), Tom Hamilton (bass), and Joey Kramer (drums) made it seem as if one of America's legendary rock bands would never get their shit together and deliver a new record. In the week before the album's release, a perusal of a couple of Aerosmith fan forums indicated that the fanbase was not pleased whatsoever with what they were hearing via either leaked downloads or pre-release streams of the album, with griping about the abundance of ballads and lack of memorable rockers dominating the conversation. Apparently a lot of the Aerosmith faithful voiced their displeasure by taking a pass on purchasing it - the album sold an anemic 63,000 copies in the U.S. during its first week, a steep decline from the 240,000 copies sold (also in the U.S.) of Just Push Play in its first week, even when you factor in the much shakier state of the music business nowadays.
I'm right on board with the aforementioned assessments of Music From Another Dimension! Of the album's bloated fifteen tracks, five of them are ballads, with another song (the mid-tempo "Tell Me") bordering on ballad territory. I actually quite like a number of the power ballads that Aerosmith has recorded in the latter half of their career (like "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing"), and a couple of the lighter songs here make for the album's most memorable material (the epic "We All Fall Down" and "Another Last Goodbye"), but stocking a full third of your record with such safe fare feels like shameless pandering for a radio hit. The worst example of this is the colourless "Can't Stop Loving You", with Carrie Underwood duetting with Tyler (and I say that as an Underwood fan). Despite their American Idol connection, the pair's 35 year age difference (adding an uncomfortable creepiness to the romantic back and forth wordplay), along with Tyler's career-long reputation for raunch-heavy lyrics and Underwood's devout Christian background make it a bit of an unlikely pairing, even if things are kept clean on the song. That's not the case for a lot of Music From Another Dimension!'s other lyrics, though, as the "A sign on the wall that hung on a tack said liquor in the front and poker in the back" line from the decent "Out Go The Lights" illustrates. The funk-drenched song, augmented with female background singers, horns, harmonica, and cowbell, provides one of the rare bright spots of heavier music on the album, although the repetitive and nearly three minute long coda that drags it on to almost the seven minute mark undercuts the overall end result. Only "Oh Yeah", "Lover A Lot" and parts of "Street Jesus" stand out amongst the rest of the tracks, and just barely so. "Street Jesus" is a bit of an odd duck - portions of it are plodding and bland, but then it kicks in a couple of different times to a double-time shuffle that recalls the band's classic "Toys In The Attic", producing the most energetic moments on the album. In some textbook examples of "why did they let the guitar player sing?", we have the truly awful "Freedom Fighter" and "Something", with Perry on lead vocals. Including their newest, I've listened to all 15 studio albums Aerosmith has recorded and "Something" was hands down the worst song I'd ever heard from the group...at least until I subsequently heard one of the bonus tracks from the album, the Perry-sung "Oasis In The Night". His thin and off-key warble is completely devoid of the rough-around-the-edges charm of other rock guitarists who sometimes take over lead vocals, like, say, KISS' Ace Frehley or the Stones' Keith Richards, at times stepping into the unlistenable territory of a Lou Reed. And Perry terrorizes the microphone on yet another ghastly bonus track titled "Up On the Mountain". It's amazing that after more than 40 years into Aerosmith's career, Perry still hasn't realized he should just stick to the six string and his bandmates haven't also adamantly demanded that he do the same.
Even without the unpleasant stain of the Perry-sung tracks, Music From Another Dimension! is disappointingly forgettable, especially from a veteran band with a lot to prove after a lengthy absence.
Related post: my January 2012 review of Tyler's Does The Noise In My Head Bother You? autobiography