Aerosmith – Pump

Author: BD Joyce

Aerosmith – Pump
  • Artist: Aerosmith
  • Album: Pump
  • Year of Release: 1989
  • Country: USA
  • Label: Geffen
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: GFLD 19255

Aerosmith’s enduring status as true rock royalty might deceive the listener into assuming that their remarkable 1980s renaissance was in some way inevitable. However, the more lowly status of some of their 1970s contemporaries shows that the band’s recovery, both commercial and critical, was far from assured. The likes of Ted Nugent, Foghat and Styx all sold millions of albums throughout that decade, and while they may not reside in total obscurity by the end of the 1980s, they languish some way beyond the mainstream rock horizon at a time when Aerosmith are embraced not only by their old audience, but also by a generation of new fans, for whom they represent a connection to the almost mythical golden age of rock ‘n’ roll, when it was a brand new cultural phenomenon, as opposed to the mostly retro genre that it is today. Some uncharacteristically smart decisions, and a decent chunk of good luck saw Aerosmith riding the crest of a wave following the enormously successful Permanent Vacation, and sensibly, the band disregarded the title of the album that had brought them back from the brink, and opted to strike while the iron was hot, heading back into the studio a year after it was released to record its follow-up, Pump. It is only natural to question the ability of the band to produce another set of strong material in such a short space of time, but in fact Aerosmith surpass the already extremely solid Permanent Vacation with an album that offers an almost perfect blend of the band’s harder-edged earlier sound with the precision song-writing suss of its predecessor.

The band’s stated intention was to dial back some of the more overbearing production touches that made their previous album such a product of its time, and to “strip off a little of the fat” that weighed down the overlong Permanent Vacation, and this is something that they unquestionably succeed in doing, despite the presence of a number of short instrumental interludes that connect the individual songs together. We’re some way off The Wall here; Aerosmith are not aiming for a concept album, but these interludes do manage to add a certain amount of unifying ambience, and are brief enough to avoid detracting from the songs themselves. Where Permanent Vacation gradually and impressively ratcheted up the anticipation of what was to come across a long, drawn out intro, ‘Young Lust’ dives straight into the action with a perfunctory, but spirited, chord sequence providing the backdrop for a rip-roaring vocal performance by Tyler, who sounds vibrant, and full of manic energy. One can feel the urgent need to make up for lost time spilling from him, as he relates his umpteenth tale of sexual conquest. If a gentleman never tells, Tyler is as boorish as they come, but perhaps we should also remember that it pays to write what you know.

The vigour and vitality of the excellent ‘Young Lust’ is not a flash in the pan, and the band maintain the high quality throughout an album that demonstrates a level of consistency that they only rarely matched previously, and certainly haven’t since. There is little in the way of filler here, and that which there is never plumbs the kind of risible depths that they have sunk to from time to time at their worst. Both ‘F.I.N.E.’ and the superb ‘Love In An Elevator’ are splendid examples of modern-day Aerosmith at their most agreeably sleazy. The former is built around a delightfully filthy bass-heavy sound, which recalls the kind of tone that made the likes of ‘Back In The Saddle’ and ‘Same Old Song And Dance’ so compelling, but with a more cunning vocal melody that the band now have the confidence to place front and centre of a bright, but not overly slick mix. The kind of simple, but memorable, chorus that 1980s Aerosmith specialise in is just about infectious enough to surmount the disappointment that the listener feels when discovering that the titular acronym stands for ‘Fucked Up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional’, One imagines that this is the kind of tediously ‘tongue in cheek’ answer the unreconstructed Tyler would give in interviews, when asked a question about the kind of women he associates with, ignoring the fact that if they do indeed display any of these character traits, it is more than likely because they’ve spent years being gaslit by sexist men. ‘Love In An Elevator’ is even better – a gigantic, priapic groove working perfectly with singalong verses and a chorus containing deceptively clever counterpoint vocal harmonies, which add an additional layer of interest that more traditional stacked harmonies following standard intervals would not. These harmonies are fully revealed by the a cappella outro, which functions in the same way as the deconstruction of the arrangement for the previous album’s ‘Dude (Looks Like A Lady)’, intriguingly showing the band’s workings that help them achieve full marks on this particular exam. Unlike ‘F.I.N.E.’, this track also strikes the right lyrical balance, with the standard juvenile puns and ribald wordplay raising some genuine smiles – “I kinda hope we get stuck / Nobody gets out alive / I’ll teach you how to fax in the mailroom honey / And have you home by five”. Rock ‘n’ roll should be amusing and outrageous – like many of their peers though, Aerosmith are a much more likeable band when they steer clear of overt misogyny.

‘Love In An Elevator’ was an obvious first single, and the rest of the singles from the album were similarly well-chosen, representing as they do the best of a solid clutch of songs, primarily on the strength of choruses that elevate them above the perfectly competent album tracks. ‘The Other Side’ is superior Stones-esque boogie, with an insistent Motown-plagiarising vocal melody. This description isn’t lightly suggesting that it is reminiscent of a much-loved sound; the melody was literally plagiarised from the Four Tops ‘Standing In The Shadows Of Love’, to the extent that an out of court settlement resulted in the band giving the Motown in-house hitmaking team of Holland-Dozier-Holland a songwriting credit. Irrespective of the melodic provenance, however, it is supremely well-matched to the bluesy bluster of the guitars, and only the unnecessary and synthetic horns and keyboards detract from a strong track that could have been even better, had the production team had the courage to strip things back a little. ‘Janie’s Got A Gun’ is the standout song and centrepiece of the album. For a band that traditionally has two settings, uptempo blues-rock and piano-based ballad, the earthy, soulful blues of this track is a startlingly different texture for the band to explore, and even more surprising is the fact that the experiment is totally successful. Matching the solemnity of the music, the lyrics offer an unusually serious narrative covering the story of the abused Janie, who takes lethal revenge on her abuser. It is striking that Tyler’s lyrics do not judge, but instead offer an explanation of events and allow the listener to form their own opinion on the morality of Janie’s summary justice, and it is an impressive feat for the band to utilise ambiguity in this way, in the context of a back catalogue that is often anything but. The stirring subject matter is wrapped in the comforting clothing of a strong and unforgettable hook, some dextrous harmonies, and a soaring bridge section that is cinematic in its widescreen ascending melody. And on an album stuffed to breaking with splendid, versatile lead playing, the steel guitar solo played by Joe Perry on this track is a blazing masterpiece of aggressive tone and staccato licks.

The final single, ‘What It Takes’, closes the album in what will be familiar style for the seasoned ‘Smith fan: yet another ballad. Thankfully, taking its cues from the superlative exemplar of the form, ‘Angel’, which so decorated Permanent Vacation, style is very much the operative word here. It is not as exquisite as its forerunner, but when the longingly winsome chorus flies, it ascends with the power and beauty of a flock of doves, carried heavenwards on the spiralling currents, unimpeachably sweet and pure. Elsewhere on Pump, some heavy-handed and intrusive production touches sully songwriting that simply doesn’t need superfluous bells and whistles, but here the gentle accordion melody that adorns the chorus is a perfectly judged addition to a resoundingly successful song, and another example of the increased level of self-confidence with which Tyler is able to project himself through the band’s softer moments.

Pump is the perfect successor to Permanent Vacation. Doubling down on the measured and heavily melodic song-writing, but eschewing some of the more staid elements of the somewhat stultifying production of that record for a more organic and lively sound, Aerosmith do everything that they did right on that record, but more so, and without the pastiche and gimmickry that afflicts an otherwise enjoyable album. It is by far the most consistent and cohesive piece of work that they have crafted since Rocks, and if the band had the courage to cut the three worst tracks (and it has to be emphasised that even the likes of ‘My Girl’ or ‘Monkey On My Back’ have their moments, and are at the very least competent), we could be discussing a classic to rival that album and Toys In The Attic. Classic it may not be, but Pump absolutely occupies the next tier down, and remains the strongest of the band’s ‘reunion’ albums and one of the best mainstream rock albums of that era of hard rock music. Pump exemplifies everything good that anthemic pop-rock has to offer, but with an authenticity at its heart, that ensures that it continues to transcend the scene that birthed it, and remains as listenable as ever, well into the 21st century.

Score: 85%

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