Author: BD Joyce
- Artist: Aerosmith
- Album: Aerosmith
- Year of Release: 1973
- Country: USA
- Label: Columbia
- Format: Jewelcase CD
- Catalogue Number: 474962 2
One of rock’s true giants, Aerosmith are presumably now strolling down the closing straight of a stellar career lasting half a century, quite miraculously sporting the very same 5-piece line up that appears on their very first, self-titled effort, released in 1973. Although clearly not their greatest album, and indeed not even a great album at all, it is nevertheless a fascinating document of the embryonic period of a band that, would only really be truly born on their third album. Even at this early stage though, the charismatic pairing of Steven Tyler and Joe Perry (infamously referred to as the “Toxic Twins” as a result of their extensive, but rather non-scientific, chemical experiments) was capable of producing sublime moments, if not sustaining them over the course of a full-length. It is fair to say that in terms of musical output alone, they do not belong in the company of John and Paul, Mick and Keith, or Page and Plant, but what they may lack in terms of classic songs, they more than make up for in terms of the extra-curricular activities that inspired their spiritual successors Guns ‘N’ Roses and Motley Crue to emulate more than simply the hard-edged blues boogie and histrionic vocal gymnastics that are the hallmark of the Aerosmith sound, in their own bid for rock ‘n’ roll immortality.
Aerosmith would go on to write sharper and more memorable songs than most of the material that appears on their debut, but one of the most appealing characteristics of Aerosmith is the tangible hunger and desperation of a lean, mean band ready to make their mark. This is especially apparent on the superb ‘Make It’, that commences the album in an avalanche of insistent, pounding bass, and serrated boogie guitars. A memorable, chromatic guitar melody leads a catchy chorus, an early harbinger of the band’s hit-making abilities, albeit presented in something of a low-key package. Clearly reminiscent of the British bands that inspired them, most obviously the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith very much offer themselves as a tougher alternative, street-walking punks looking for trouble, as opposed to British hippies searching for themselves.
On other tracks, Aerosmith do not quite manage to sound as dangerous and menacing, however. ‘Somebody’ is rather traditional, and a little staid, although it’s redeemed by a wonderful instrumental mid-section that bisects the more forgettable parts of a mediocre song. Similarly, ‘One Way Street’ is oddly jazzy, not unlike Blue Oyster Cult at their more adventurous, but fundamentally too polite to truly take flight in the way that one imagines the band hoped it would. Again though, moments of inspiration, specifically the piano flourishes that adorn the chorus and an extended outro based around a pleasingly funky chord sequence, add layers of sophistication that nearly rescue what ultimately feels like a failed, but worthwhile experiment. In the same way, ‘Movin’ On’ dips a toe into the deep pool of 60s psychedelia, but it doesn’t amount to much more than timid cod-Hendrix guitar figures, and any atmosphere that is generated by a more interesting instrumental section, featuring some trippy, liquid guitar sounds dissipates too quickly, as the band lack the bravery to develop the song into more epic and progressive territory.
The more throwaway tracks are over-shadowed, however, by two towering Aerosmith classics that frankly represent the twin reasons that anyone with a less completist mindset than this listener should pick up this record. ‘Mama Kin’ is a nothing short of a titanic rock ‘n’ roll shitkicker, the aural equivalent of getting kicked out of one bar after one two many bourbon and cokes, only to roll straight into another, where the good times continue to flow as easily as the Charles River carves its way through the centre of Boston, the band’s hometown. Even ‘Mama Kin’ is eclipsed by the magical ‘Dream On’ though. Very much a proto- power ballad in structure, before a raft of 80s cock-rock bands (including Aerosmith themselves during their MTV-assisted re-emergence) truly popularised the form; Aerosmith’s version is more subtle than its more bombastic successors. As the delicate descending piano figure leads into Tyler’s impassioned vocal, shadowed by an acoustic guitar tracing the same melody, it is immediately clear that we are in the presence of greatness. A palpably different atmosphere temporarily takes hold of the album, and Tyler holds the listener enraptured, building from the lilting opening lines to the skyscraping climax of the song, the surprisingly world-weary lyrics suggesting that even at the relatively tender age of 25, the vocalist had seen a little too much of the darker side of life. Tyler’s vocals on this track are noticeably much closer to the voice that we become more familiar with on subsequent albums – for the rest of Aerosmith, Tyler seems reluctant to give in to his natural flamboyance, and as a result we get a more muted and restrained performance, melodic, but without the individuality that would characterise the band’s later work. With ‘Dream On’ at least, Aerosmith present us with something already fully formed and beautifully realised, and it’s no surprise that it’s stood the test of time in the way that it has.
Overall, as strange as it seems to be to describe a debut album in this way, Aerosmith is very much a transitional record. Struggling to completely transcend their influences, Aerosmith is a funkier and more fluid record than much of their later work, on which they display a paradoxical tight looseness of the kind that AC/DC perfected on Back In Black. On their debut, it’s simply looseness. Consequently, at times, the record feels meandering and slight, although the flipside is a lightness of touch that was generally lost and never recovered as the band’s career developed through Toys In The Attic and Rocks. Unavoidably, the spectacular brilliance of ‘Dream On’, puts the rest of the set in the shade, a small boy glancing heavenwards at the base of a skyscraper, wondering what it would be like to view all of the world from such a vantage point. It may not all be as good as this, but Aerosmith is undoubtedly an enjoyable insight into the early phase of a legendary career, as well as the last audible evidence of certain facets of the Aerosmith sound which would in the future exist only as inspiration for a less wide-ranging future output. As such, it’s worthy of your time, if not your worship.