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Aerosmith - Music From Another Dimension (Album Review)

Friday, 23 November 2012 Written by Simon Ramsay
Aerosmith - Music From Another Dimension (Album Review)

To say the response to the Bostonian bad boys first new studio album in over a decade has been lukewarm is like saying the good ol' gun lovin' people of Texas are a tad disappointed by Barack Obama's re-election. With mixed reviews and abysmal first week sales in the US you'd think they'd served up the biggest turkey this side of Noel. Thing is, despite numerous flaws 'Music From Another Dimension!' is actually pretty damned good. Although critics have rightly focussed on the album being too long, with too many ballads and too many contrasting styles, it's really not that black and white. Whilst far from perfect, at it's best this is Aerosmith on scintillating form, sweeping away the memory of 2001's characterless 'Just Push Play' with an album that's best described as a glorious mess. A bit like the band themselves really.

ImageNow in their 5th decade together singer Steven Tyler, along with guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer haven't helped themselves in the run up to this release. Any legendary group's first original material in over ten years is sure to come under intense scrutiny, especially when preceded by inter band squabbling and embarrassing public drug relapses. And that focus increased exponentially when Tyler pimped himself out to American Idol. But expectations were really heightened when they claimed the new record the 15th of their illustrious career would be a return to the sound of their seventies classics, with the man who produced them once again in the hot seat; Mr Jack Douglas. Fans began salivating. The backlash was therefore inevitable as the full blooded return to those early era masterpieces hasn't materialised, with the band (mainly Tyler) obviously afraid that ditching their more commercial elements would harm sales figures. Oh, the irony.

The fact that 'Music From Another Dimension!' is initially an overwhelming 70 minute, fifteen song marathon that bombards listeners with an inconsistent mixture of musical styles also explains it's frosty reception. It takes many listens to assimilate, and at a time when people increasingly demand instant gratification that won't be appreciated. However, the guys aren't trying to reinvent the wheel here, the musical direction just lacks cohesion, trying to be all things to all Aerosmith fans without alienating anyone. So what they've concocted is an amalgamation of the swaggering seventies blues based rock & roll with the stadium devouring anthems of the 80's and an onslaught of lighter waving ballads a la the Armageddon soundtrack. Three very different styles which don't flow together as fluidly as one might like.

Problems aside there are plentiful positives, beginning with the album's opening powerhouse combo of 'Luv XXX' and 'Oh Yeah'. The former pulses and pounds with a monolithic monster riff as four of the most talented players in rock and roll lock in to the kind of telepathic groove that's characterised their entire career. Whilst the latter has a ramshackle Rolling Stones vibe featuring sumptuous female backing singers and dripping with loose limbed nonchalant cool. At this point it's as if the proposed seventies resurrection is happening, until 'Beautiful' recalls Aerosmith's anthemic 80's output, conjoining Tyler's manically rhythmic wordplay with spiky dissonant guitars during the frenzied verses, before morphing into a soaring chorus that's pure arena ready ear candy. They falter with the mandolin flavoured 'Tell Me', which feels like a sub par version of MTV mega hit 'Crazy', but momentum's swiftly restored on 'Out Go The Lights', combining a funky lick with more sassy female backing singers, stabbing horns and Tyler on stunning form, rolling out super cool lyrics with the kind of cocksure conviction that rolls back the years.

'What Could Have been Love' is the first classic ballad, and it's a sure fire hit thanks to a wonderfully stirring chorus that could easily propel the album back into the spotlight if released as a single or attached to the right film. Then, with whiplash speed the band perform a dizzying 180 and the album's undoubted highlight arrives; 'Street Jesus'. An old school blues guitar and chain gang vocal explodes into a full throttle runaway-freight-train rocker, hurtling along at a ferocious pace as Tyler spits out his lyrics with the kind of viciously hyperactive venom that'll have American Idol viewers hiding behind their sofas. This is 70's Aerosmith. This is the band that recorded 'Toys In The Attic' and 'Rocks'. This is Perry and Whitford showing why they're one of the greatest double acts in rock & roll history, beginning with an unstoppable riff and peaking with a tasty guitar duel where Brad's classic phrasing is perfectly counterpointed by Perry's unorthodox, edgy picking. It's over 6 minutes long and it's absolutely bloody marvellous!

Then, another startling tonal shift. 'Can't Stop Loving You' is a country inflected rock duet with Carrie Underwood and whilst fans have been a little sniffy it's actually a cracking ballad that isn't too far removed from the likes of 'What It Takes'. The record immediately goes catatonic again as the rocket fuelled 'Lover A Lot' hits turbo thrust, with cool bass led verses accelerating into a wonderfully repetitive vocal refrain that'll be buried inside your head for weeks. True to form, another love song follows and the Diane Warren penned 'We All Fall Down' ticks all the boxes; Slow burning verses seguing into an overblown, heartfelt chorus. It's decent enough, but the constant, almost apologetic, need to drop a ballad after every rock track is annoying and doesn't help the albums haphazard flow.

The last four songs are a mixed bag. Two more ballads arrive in the shape of the forgettable 'Closer' and the superb 'Another Last Goodbye', featuring Tyler on piano backed solely by an Orchestra. The main problem is that two of the remaining tracks are 'sung' by Joe Perry, which is surely an ego placating concession as his gnarled vocals aren't what anyone wants to hear on an Aerosmith album. Richie Sambora he ain't. Whilst his first track, 'Freedom Fighter', is a cracking piece of music that just about succeeds despite his groaning, 'Something' is the album's one true stinker and the less said about it the better.

The deluxe edition of MFAD includes three additional tracks. 'Up On The Mountain' is sung by Tom Hamilton, who makes Perry sound like Pavarotti. 'Sunny Side Of Love' is mediocre pop that wouldn't have made 'Just Push Play' and 'Oasis In The Night' is Mr Joe Perry crooning a ballad. It's as bad as it sounds. They're pretty dreadful and aren't worth the extra expenditure, although the accompanying DVD isn't too shabby, featuring the band blasting through rousing live renditions of 'Same Old Song And Dance', 'Rats In The Cellar, 'Oh Yeah' and 'Train Kept A Rollin'.

The primary problem with 'Music From Another Dimension' isn't the music, but the lack of leadership, focus and direction within the band. The album is at least 4 songs too long and way too ballad heavy. It's perplexing when you consider that both 'Toys' and 'Rocks' were 9 song albums just shy of 40 minutes. Had they been brave enough to make MFAD that economic it could have been a classic. Another gripe is the concessions the band have made. You sense relationships are so fragile everyone is treading a little too carefully, particularly around their live wire singer. It's clear the other guys aren't bothered about chart success and courting publicity, but Tyler craves extra attention and everything has cynically been put in place to make that happen: An album that appeals to every Aerosmith fan. A country rock duet. A Diane Warren track. Barely audible, much publicised backing vocals from Johnny Depp and Julian Lennon. It smacks of being overly concerned with things that shouldn't matter, rather than just creating a great record that lets the music do the talking. With that in mind this album really needed legendary A&R man John Kalodner, who guided Aerosmith back from the dead in the eighties. He was the guy who stood up to them. On the 'Making of Pump' DVD you see him telling Tyler certain bits aren't strong enough, giving them direction and really lecturing the band. Nowadays, there are too many yes men involved and the album has suffered as a result.

Once all's said and done this is still a very enjoyable listen that's nowhere near the disaster it's been made out to be. The sad thing is, with smarter decisions and a little more self control it could have been exceptional. The album actually begins with a Twilight Zone style voice-over, inviting the listener to enter a different reality. This is clearly planet Aerosmith, and it makes total sense. They exist in their own universe and 'Music From Another Dimension' is the product of a band badly in need of a reality check. So, will this be their final album? There's enough to suggest more material would be welcome, but unless there's a major turnaround in the way the band operates which is unlikely given the contrasting, increasingly fractious egos involved the days of great Aerosmith albums may well be consigned to a dimension known simply as the past.

'Music From Another Dimension' is out now on Columbia Records.

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