Author: BD Joyce
- Artist: Aerosmith
- Album: Get A Grip
- Year of Release: 1993
- Country: USA
- Label: Geffen
- Format: Jewelcase CD
- Catalogue Number: GED24444
Following their stellar tenth album Pump, which saw the band refine and perfect the sound of modern Aerosmith after a number of transitional efforts that charted their attempt to climb out of the rut that they spend more than the intended night in, it is no surprise that Aerosmith continued to utilise a sound that in many ways has defined them for much more of their career than the sound that initially caused their rise to prominence in the first place. As such, there is much to enjoy here, even if the self-confidence that came with the stratospheric success of their renaissance caused them to fall victim to an extent to that scourge of many a rock band – hubris. A familiar scenario in rock ‘n’ roll, the band’s feeling that they could now do no wrong, that they were bulletproof, led to the release of an overlong album on which the killer to filler ratio is a little less favourable than that which we found on Pump. We should not wish to eliminate this kind of hubris altogether – after all, this kind of vaulting ambition coupled with the capability to pull off a ground-breaking vision has been responsible for some of the most fascinating albums ever made – Physical Graffiti, The Beatles’ White Album, and Electric Ladyland to name just a few. More often though, the result is flabby self-indulgence, on which the reality fails to match the aspiration. The bands listed above were all progressive in their own way, expanding from their origins through successive albums that experimented with a variety of sounds and genres – indeed this diversity could be said to be a key component of their wide appeal. It is not unfair to Aerosmith to suggest that the core of their appeal is their comparatively narrow breadth of sound, and that their success has been a result of an ability to weld memorable singalong choruses to raucous riffing, and leaven the mix with the occasional ballad. Therefore, it is perhaps inevitable that 15 sprawling tracks of Aerosmith attempting to stretch a little beyond the fundamental principles that had served them well over the course of two decades was a bridge too far. The outcome is a good, but not great, album.
Although Get A Grip is hindered by flaws that could have been addressed with more judicious editing, this is not to say that the album is a complete failure. Even at its most meandering and patience trying, Aerosmith’s swagger and vibrancy is fully present in a way that it simply wasn’t on Night In The Ruts for example. Most importantly, a sense of joy and fun pervade the atmosphere of the record. At its best, Get A Grip showcases a number of the band’s strongest and most enduring songs, including a trio of quasi-ballads that are undeniably monstrous songs, even if they provoke some conflicting emotions with their obvious and calculated pop appeal. It was possibly not her pop appeal that saw the worryingly young Alicia Silverstone cast in the videos for ‘Amazing’, ‘Cryin”, and ‘Crazy’, but the partnership was extremely successful for both parties, and the ubiquitous presence of these promos on screens worldwide across 1993 and 1994 ensured huge sales for a third consecutive album.
The big singles cast a long shadow across the rest of Get A Grip, and the inconsistency of the rest of the album might cause one to question whether it is just a vehicle for the hits, but there are other joys to be found once the eyes adjust to the dimmer light among the silhouettes. After a pointless, but mercifully brief intro, which mystifyingly incorporates a brief snippet of ‘Walk This Way’, ‘Eat The Rich’ commences proceedings in fine style. One of the few truly hard-rocking tracks on the record, and something of a nod to the band’s earlier days, the song is driven at speed by a thunderously rhythmic and wonderfully greasy main riff, Perry snaking his way around the fretboard, forever building new shapes from the same limited materials. The song is a great example of the strides that the band (and their rapidly multiplying compositional partners) have made since the dark days of the early 1980s. Where once the quality of the riff would have been asked to carry the full weight of the song like an overworked mule, here it is just one thrilling facet of a song that develops through an understated verse which recalls their spiritual protégés Guns N’ Roses, with Tyler uncharacteristically singing in a much lower register, before yet another weighty riff is paired with an infectious and powerful chorus. The lyrics strike the right blend of sardonic, risqué humour and memorable hooks, and as a whole, ‘Eat The Rich’ makes for a tasty and satisfying meal.
As ever, Aerosmith are guilty of front-loading an album that starts like an unstoppable juggernaut, but finishes like an unreliable sports car that needs its engine tuned. ‘Eat The Rich’ is swiftly followed by the seriously groovy title track, boasting a filthy and monolithic bass-heavy feel that suggests the strangely appealing alternative history of mid-90s era Soundgarden as an 80s hard rock outfit. Not for the first time on Get A Grip, Aerosmith also recall their now-contemporaries Guns N’ Roses. An unusual case perhaps, of a band being influenced by another band who would not even have existed in the first place were it not for the inspiration of the band that they in turn are now influencing. ‘Fever’ maintains the momentum with a blast of up-tempo, shit-kicking country-rock, not very far away from the kind of sound that Jason And The Scorchers came close to popularising around the same sort of time. Basic in the best possible way, the song is full to the brim with ringing open chords, nifty licks and a virtually flammable rhythm section performance in which Aerosmith become the world’s best produced bar band, topped off by a firebrand turn on the harmonica from Tyler, all five members channelling their younger selves knocking out covers and originals as they toured Boston, New York and nearby cities on the hunt for the record deal they craved.
However, at the point at which hopes are raised of a non-stop white knuckle ride of an album, ‘Livin’ On The Edge’ brings a dramatic change of pace and feel that is rather jarring despite the high calibre of the song itself. On this track, one becomes aware that the band nurse an intense need to be perceived as serious and mature songwriters, after years of gleefully plumbing the depths of low culture. The song itself is superb – twinkling, almost drone-like guitars, and dextrous harmonies working cleverly with the chromatic chord sequences of the guitars, and memorable melodies bolstered by multi-tracked harmonies, which stack voices atop one other in a way that enables them to amalgamate almost into a single voice, reminiscent of prime Queen. Here, it would be churlish to argue that the band failed to meet their objectives, but in creating the simultaneous existence of two Aerosmiths which co-exist uneasily throughout the rest of the album, the band create a conflict in the mind of the listener that prevents the album from cohering into a unified statement, and this fatally undermines the overall assessment of this work. This feel is underlined by the sudden appearance of ‘Walk On Down’, a rare Joe Perry lead vocal, a complete throwback which stands out like a sore thumb amidst the glossy tracks which surround it. Generally speaking, I’m mostly an enthusiast for nu-Aerosmith, but given a glimpse of the kind of loose and effortlessly cool workout that could have sat comfortably on Rocks, I can’t deny that I find my resolve wavering a little, and wishing just briefly that the band would embrace this side of their personality once more.
From this point forward, Get A Grip swings wildly between mature, mainstream rock, infrequent blasts of more raucous rock ‘n’ roll, and pure filler. The desultory ‘Flesh’, pedestrian cod psychedelia of ‘Gotta Love It’ and simply dull ‘Can’t Stop Messin” all fall into the final category, although the last of that trio can at least be excused by the fact is was added as a UK-specific bonus track, and therefore never intended to be an integral part of the record. Why the splendid non-album track ‘Deuces Are Wild’ could not have been added in its place is a mystery. ‘Line Up’, co-written with Lenny Kravitz is marginally better, but even this feels like a rewrite of the excellent ‘Shut Up And Dance’ which distinguishes itself in a blaze of horn-augmented funk, with some of the heaviest guitars on the record pounding out an unforgettable syncopated riff that brings their earlier sound right up to date, and benefits from a full and polished production.
Sprinkled liberally across the second half of the record are the songs that were responsible for the band’s huge sales during the mid-90s, the aforementioned Silverstone trilogy. So bankable were Aerosmith at this point in their career, that both their previous and current labels were releasing best-ofs and box sets more often than the band were producing new output, and despite the generally obvious and repetitive track-listings of these compilations, they reliably shifted units in the millions globally. The best of the trilogy is ‘Cryin’. A portentous crash of chords dissolves into a sweet arpeggiated verse, with synths unobtrusive enough to add a subtle additional layer, rather than an overbearing distraction. A spectacular vocal performance from Steven Tyler brings drama and dynamics, and melodically, the song is one long hook, a yearning verse transforming into a soaring chorus that seems plucked from the heavens themselves. The song climaxes as the band dramatically drop out, and Tyler nails one more theatrical high note, and not unlike ‘Angel’ on ‘Permanent Vacation’, the track is a masterful display of entirely calculated brilliance. After something so perfectly pitched, ‘Crazy’ feels like a pleasant, but pale imitation, employing the same vaguely 1950s love song formula, but failing to generate the same level of magic from similar ingredients. ‘Amazing’ is better, but although one can’t deny that the John Lennon plays Elton John feel of the verse is well-executed, overall the track feels a little staid and predictable. It is ‘November Rain’, if Axl Rose had managed to dissuade Slash from adding the epic guitar coda that allows that particular song to jump into a whole other realm of heroic majesty, a majesty that sadly eludes the ultimately hyperbolically titled ‘Amazing’.
As we evaluate Get A Grip, it seems strange to note that it is an album that is nearly thirty years old. Partly because these songs were the first Aerosmith songs that I really became familiar with and therefore it is difficult to accept that the passing of time since I was initially bewitched by their particular brand of hard rock has been so substantial, and partly because in some ways the album marks the start of an ongoing final phase of the band’s career. An odd reflection, when this ‘phase’ has lasted for longer than the rest of the band’s entire existence, but the reality is that at this point it is clear that Aerosmith have settled on a set of parameters that they intend to sit comfortably within for the rest of their career. As such, Get A Grip is both the perfect representation of the modern sound of Aerosmith, and also a bittersweet farewell to the band that they once were, but will never really be again. At times joyous and triumphant, at times uneventful and plodding, Get A Grip is an album that contains many moments to admire, but rather fewer to truly love.