Author: BD Joyce
- Artist: Aerosmith
- Album: Draw The Line
- Year of Release: 1977
- Country: USA
- Label: Columbia
- Format: Jewelcase CD
- Catalogue Number: 474966 2
If, on their previous album Rocks, Aerosmith just about kept the train a rollin’ on the track, Draw The Line is very much the sound of that train careening out of control and smashing through the cartoon stop sign warning the band that they are about run out of rails. In a couple of short years, the band’s drug use had escalated to the point that in Joe Perry’s words, “We were drug addicts dabbling in music, rather than musicians dabbling in drugs”. Somehow though, despite the fact that in many respects the creative process that resulted in Draw The Line was fractious and uneven, and consequently the album is occasionally an incoherent mess, held together by producer Jack Douglas’ sticking tape, it’s generally never less than interesting, and frequently far better than it deserves to be, as if Aerosmith are draining the final reserves of their songwriting tanks before running on fumes for much of the next decade.
Not uncommonly, Aerosmith begin the album in fine form, with the title track. Realistically, although there are a number of very enjoyable songs to be found as the album progresses, ‘Draw The Line’ is the only certifiably classic song to emerge from the band’s fifth album. A quick glance at Aerosmith’s setlists for the past 3o years attests to this fact. ‘Kings And Queens’ may be taken from the vault and dusted off from time to time, but fans of this record hoping to see it recreated live will generally be rewarded with ‘Draw The Line’, and ‘Draw The Line’ alone. Never a band to let a good idea go to waste when you can mercilessly wring it of every last cent of value, Draw The Line opens with the rip-roaring title track, the main riff played by Joe Perry on the bass, just about emerging triumphantly through an oddly murky production which threatens to suffocate the life out of the album, but for some reason enhances its bewildered feel. If this sounds familiar, that might be because Rocks opens with the rip-roaring ‘Back In The Saddle’, the main riff played by Joe Perry on the bass, just about emerging triumphantly through an oddly murky production which threatens to suffocate the life out of the album, but for some reason enhances its bewildered feel. Aerosmith are clearly happy to recycle a formula that works for them, but thankfully regardless of the undeniable similarity to its slightly older half-sibling, ‘Draw The Line’ is good enough to stand on its own two feet; another undeniably infectious rock song that has stood the test of time.
From the high point of the title-track, the album gradually, but captivatingly, falls apart over the course of its short runtime. One can almost hear the studio ennui set in, as the band scrabble to piece together enough fragments of ideas to populate the record, all the while drifting in and out of the studio, but rarely occupying it collectively for long enough to produce something as coherent as their previous brace of albums. As a result, the listener encounters a scattershot collection of experiments, some intriguingly successful, some less so. Only occasionally does the album coalesce into something that approaches the lean, streetwise hard rock that made the band so successful, although when this does happen, such as on the fantastic ‘Get It Up’, or the fun, horn-powered boogie of ‘I Wanna Know Why’, the band are able to briefly bottle the lightning that they once generated so easily. ‘Get It Up’ doesn’t quite join the top tier of Aerosmith classics, but it’s certainly one of the best of the rest – an exhilaratingly loose slide guitar workout, featuring call and response vocal and guitar interplay that betrays their 50s rock ‘n’ roll influences, and an unstoppable groove containing some delightfully funky drumming from Joey Kramer. Even on such an ostensibly upbeat song though, the lyrics reveal something of the band’s circumstances – it’s hard to imagine AC/DC or Led Zeppelin employing a chorus that declares that they “Can’t get it up”!
The most successful experiment contained on Draw The Line is Joe Perry’s ‘Bright Light Fright’. Joe Perry’s because, on introducing the fully-formed demo to the rest of the band (a demo that was hastily rediscovered by Perry in a frantic bid to find enough songs to rescue an album sagging under the weight of Aerosmith’s narcotic consumption), he discovered that they were less than enamoured with the punk-country racket and were not keen to record the track. It says something for the state of the band at that time that given the general distaste for the song, it still made the final cut – presumably there were few alternatives. With Tyler refusing to sing, Joe Perry recorded the lead vocal, and while lacking the soul, personality and histrionic abilities of his non-birth Twin, his voice is more than adequate, suiting the relentless, pounding song, little more than two chords embellished with an insistent vocal and screeching saxophone solo and none the worse for it. There’s little else like it in the band’s back catalogue, and as such, it stands out from the rest of the LP.
‘Kings And Queens’, while clearly a song that the band are more proud of, given its release as a single and infrequent live appearances, straddles the line between success and failure, never quite committing to either. Again a vague country feel can be detected, perhaps due to the mandolin that appears throughout the downbeat track. While the listener can agree that ‘Kings And Queens’ achieves an approximation of the dissolute opulence of fading royalty that Tyler states he was aiming for, and the melody does gradually burrow its way under your skin, the song never quite reaches the heights that the band perhaps imagined it would. Ultimately, ‘Kings And Queens’ is a would-be epic that just doesn’t show enough progression and development to justify that description, and the lasting impression is one of slight disappointment.
The final third of the album does little to assuage this. The cod-disco of ‘The Hand That Feeds’ is thankfully not a sound that the band have ever resurrected, and while ‘Sight For Sore Eyes’ covers more familiar ground with a pleasing groove, it’s a little too close to ‘Play That Funky Music’ for comfort and lacks a truly memorable chorus. ‘Milk Cow Blues’ is in fact an excellent conclusion to the album – essentially a 12 bar that expertly balances economic groove with catchy melody – but the fact that it’s yet another cover of a blues standard (this one written by Kokomo Arnold, who himself has a fascinating history) indicates the paucity of ideas that bedevilled the band at this point in their history, and which would begin to fatally undermine the band’s career from this point forward, at least until their late-80s comeback.
With Draw The Line, Aerosmith do exactly that, neatly dividing the first part of the career from the long decline that will follow, as the personal and personnel issues that would beset the band overwhelm the musical output for some time. Draw The Line is a harbinger of what is to come, but mostly escapes being pulled beyond the event horizon of the black hole that will eventually engulf the band. In fact, there is a case to be made for the album occupying the ‘underrated hidden gem’ position in the band’s discography, although that honour probably deserves to be bestowed on Get Your Wings. Even at its worst, it’s not beyond salvation though, and at it’s best it approaches the majesty of the previous two albums; Draw The Line is a fascinating portrait of a band reaching the end of its tether, but still able to access enough inspiration to compose two-thirds of a compelling album. They may blemish their record a little by including the other third, but there is enough to enjoy here to ensure that this can be forgiven.