Author: BD Joyce
- Artist: Aerosmith
- Album: Music From Another Dimension!
- Year of Release: 2012
- Country: USA
- Label: Columbia
- Format: Jewelcase CD
- Catalogue Number: 88725 44281 2
A once prolific band, Aerosmith released their only album of the 2010s as 2012 was coming to a conclusion. The band had not been especially productive in preceding decade either, with only a single album of fully original material hitting the racks, together with this album’s predecessor, 2004’s Honkin’ On Bobo. The latter was ostensibly a covers album, although it did contain a single new composition, the mediocre ‘The Grind’. Before that came the band’s worst album, the mostly terrible Just Push Play, on which the band tried and failed to update their sound for the 21st century. The strained circumstances surrounding the writing and recording of this album did not bode well, speaking of a band who had possibly even lost interest in writing and releasing new music altogether. In an era of declining record sales, hastened by both the illegal downloading and file-sharing booms of the early 2000s, and then the nascent streaming industry that has now come to dominate music consumption, it is certainly the case that Aerosmith had no imperative to push themselves through the rigmarole of the recording process, only to put out an album that would most likely be derided as significantly inferior to their classic 1970s output, purely to create an excuse to tour the world playing the greatest hits set that they had been hawking for the best part of 20 years already. Still, after years of internecine conflict and solo activity, during which the future of the band itself was in doubt, one imagines that perhaps Aerosmith felt that they did have something to prove after all, and so we were gifted Music From Another Dimension!
The awkward exclamation of the title is a fairly good guide to the musical content of what is currently Aerosmith’s final album. Including the rather clichéd artwork, the package is supposed to evoke a B-Movie aesthetic, but the conceit only really holds as far as the brief, and faintly embarrassing, snatches of dialogue which bookend the album, portentously announcing that the listener is now to surrender their control to some kind of extra-dimensional force. It is understandable that towards the tail-end of the band’s career, they are seeking a new angle, looking to break out of a particular way of doing things, but the issue specifically with the direction that Aerosmith are taking here is simply that they do not have the compositional capability to match the musical content to the artistic concept. There are, of course, numerous bands that have adopted the language or sonic signifiers of space rock or metal, embracing the endless possibilities offered by the evocation of the infinite. However, the likes of Hawkwind, Cave In and Pink Floyd were fundamentally more ambitious and eclectic than Aerosmith’s more earthbound sound, forever rooted in the traditional structures and harmonic ideas of rock ‘n’ roll and blues, and the idea of Aerosmith being able to cast aside the shackles of 40 years of operating within a relatively narrow set of parameters to embrace the free-wheeling experimentation required to live up to the billing of this album’s title is inconceivable, and so it proves. Of course, an alternative possibility might have been to adopt the kind of camp, rockabilly sound deployed so effectively by The Cramps to create their schlocky style, but the sort of authentic grit and grime required to embody the sort of low-rent perversity needed to make that believable at this stage of the band’s career is unsurprisingly beyond them.
Also beyond them, more disappointingly, is the ability to construct a coherent album, and Music From Another Dimension! is a bafflingly schizophrenic album, which frequently sounds like a compilation of disparate bands. Musical schizophrenia is often something to be encouraged, and indeed for many bands, the diversity of their sound is the very reason for their success. However, there are a number of bands, Motorhead, AC/DC and of course, Aerosmith, who have built a career from staying in their lane and maximising small variances in a core sound, developing gradually, if at all, over a prolonged period of time. Here though, Aerosmith offer simply offer a collection of songs with little in common, that does little more than expose the clear divisions between the members of a careworn band. Even more perplexing, a small handful of the tracks included on this album are among the best that the band have produced since Pump, and to hear these co-existing with some of the worst tracks the band have ever put their name to underlines just how much of a mess this album is.
To deal with the better tracks first, it is no surprise that Aerosmith sound most convincing when operating in ‘rudimentary rock’ mode. After the sluggish and lifeless opener ‘Luv XXX’, which repeats some of the production mistakes that so marred Just Push Play, even despite the presence of Jack Douglas in the producer’s chair, the rolling boogie of ‘Oh Yeah’ is a total bolt from the blue. Up-tempo, deftly augmented with subtle horns, not unlike The Rolling Stones’ ‘Bitch’, ‘Oh Yeah’ attains an effortless cool that Aerosmith have rarely exuded since they cleaned up their act in the mid-80s. It’s not the blockbuster hit it might have been, had they managed to affix their once customary huge melodic chorus to the more than competent verses, but the uncomplicated delight of hearing them sound so spontaneous and off-the-cuff creates a nostalgic glow that atones for some of the more tedious moments of the album. ‘Out Go The Lights’ is even better – the band building up a huge head of steam via a thunderous, strutting slice of funk-rock. The production sounds suddenly clear, the guitars are gigantic, and the drums swagger like prime ZZ Top or Clutch, the chiming cowbell always a signal for the kind of full-throttle good-time rock ‘n’ roll that one feared was a distant memory for Aerosmith. Tyler’s staccato vocal delivery perfectly utilises the acres of vacant space left by the instrumental arrangement to pull everything together into a latter-day classic only let down by an interminable outro that threatens to undo all of the good work with nearly 4 minutes of unnecessary and unproductive jamming.
‘Legendary Child’ follows, and strangely opens by reprising the vocal melody from ‘Out Go The Lights’, shifted to the guitars. This is presumably intended to give the album the feel of an uninterrupted and improvisational live show, but in keeping with the half-arsed nature of the overarching concept of Music From Another Dimension!, this is the only such instance of creating a segue between songs on the record, and therefore adds little. When the song proper commences, the instantaneous reaction is to be swept up by the unstoppable syncopated groove, of the kind that Aerosmith have rarely executed so convincingly since the better songs on Get A Grip. Slowly, however, comes the realisation that the groove sounds rather familiar, and eventually the listener is able to identify Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Wanton Song’ as the source material, just one of a number of similarly monstrous tracks on their magisterial Physical Graffiti. Of course, Led Zeppelin themselves were well-versed in the lifting of riffs and melodies from folk and blues, although they were also adept at transforming that kernel of inspiration into something greater. The shadow cast over the otherwise splendid ‘Legendary Child’, is that almost all of the thrill and excitement of the track is derived from the component that is stolen, apparently uncredited, from another band. It’s possible that the similarity is coincidental, but it’s also hard to imagine that no one involved in the recording process noticed, and clearly the band decided to carry on regardless, and it leaves something of a bad taste in the mouth that lingers to the conclusion of the album.
It takes some time to get to this conclusion. Since the advent of the CD, Aerosmith have rarely missed the opportunity to use all of the available running time (although thankfully we’ve been spared the double-album), and Music From Another Dimension! is no exception. Had the album contained the handful of excellent songs already described, together with a couple of the middling efforts – ‘Street Jesus’ with its enjoyable Wildhearts / Jason & The Scorchers hybrid, combining twanging riffs and ringing open chords in a heads-down race to the finish, plus the ramshackle, grizzled blues of ‘Freedom Fighter’ would do just fine – before cutting off at 40 minutes after the obligatory pedestrian ballad, the album could easily have been considered an adequate offering, if not quite deserving of the ‘return to form’ description. The remaining 9 or 10 songs of unremittingly dreary material, which generally finds the band in ‘country ballad’ mode drags the album down below the waves, however, and the humane thing to do would be to attach weights to it, say farewell, and gun the motor towards the shore.
The dreadful nature of much of the worst parts of the album would almost be amusing, were there not so much of it to trudge through. ‘What Could Have Been Love’ is a painfully forgettable ballad, which is indistinguishable from the kind of fare that could crop up at random on any FM country & western station in America. Not only that, but where previously Tyler’s vocal character and multi-octave pyrotechnics might have pulled the band unscathed through their more monotonous tracks, the years have finally caught up with him and he sounds strained in the higher register, as he also does on the lazy pop-rock of ‘Beautiful’. Shortly after ‘What Could Have Been Love’ comes yet another attempt at perfecting the country ballad, this time with country star Carrie Underwood on board. It’s not really what this particular listener wants from the band, but in comparison to much of the rest of the tracks on the album, it at least boasts a strong vocal hook, and a solid performance from Underwood. However, it is ultimately too far from the band’s core sound to fit even within the expanded repertoire that they have slowly evolved into over time, and should probably not have been released under the Aerosmith banner.
Nearly a decade after the release of Music From Another Dimension!, it appears increasingly unlikely that we will enjoy the dubious benefit of another Aerosmith album. While Joe Perry has kept fairly busy, releasing material both on his own, and with his ‘all-star’ band Hollywood Vampires, the musical bent of these ventures is very much the blues / rock ‘n’ roll that Perry has leaned towards throughout a career in which he has sometimes been critical of the band’s less hard rocking material. With Tyler releasing a solo country album during the same period, this only serves to reinforce the apparent disparity between what one imagines Perry wants to be playing, and Tyler’s more varied musical vision. As such, and bearing in mind the reduced importance of the album as a cultural artefact, it is entirely possible that this will be the final musical statement of Aerosmith, excluding the continuing stream of live albums, reissues, compilations and box sets that will surely never end. If it is their epitaph, it will be a disappointing one. It may not duplicate some of the worst elements of Just Push Play; it’s mostly not embarrassingly unbecoming of their history, but it is mostly too slick, too one-paced, and just too uninteresting to merit repeated listening. One can only hope therefore, that Tyler, Perry et al can indeed get it together for one final time before they hang up their gear for the last time, if only to ensure that they have an opportunity to go out with a bang, and not the anaemic whimper of this album.