Corporate Aerosmith Doesn't Suck
Aerosmith is defined by Drugs and Post-Drugs eras. I've always been a Drugs guy, to the point that I've utterly dismissed, disavowed, and disrespected the post '86 albums. My musical soul is stuck in hazy high school parking lots.
You can get all the classic Drugs Aerosmith you need on the 3-CD comp Pandora's Box, a collection of 70s and 80s hits, outtakes, and live tracks. It's pretty much a perfect box set, ordered chronologically and geared to hardcore fans. My only gripe is the omission of "Combination" from Rocks and "Mia" from Night In The Ruts. I'm like, "Pandora's Box, Imma let you finish but 'Combination' is one of the best Aerosmith songs of all time."
So maybe it's just morbid curiosity but I've decided to really dig into Post-Drugs Aerosmith. We all know the horror stories: song doctors, corny rockers, jailbait videos, sappy ballads, and crimes against humanity ("I Don't Want To Miss A Thing").
Permanent Vacation (1987)
Woe to anyone who bought this on cassette in the 80s and had to fast forward through dreck like "Magic Touch" to get to the hits. But I have to admit the hits are worth it: "Rag Doll" is a strip club anthem and "Dude Looks Like A Lady" is a trans strip club anthem so you've got all bases covered there. But the real keeper is "Angel," an 80s power ballad that's cheesy and hooky and actually a damn good song in spite of itself. "Angel" makes me want to buy a cherry red 82 Camaro and cruise through Seaside Heights with a six of Schlitz malt liquor in the passenger seat.
This one has a reputation as the best of the Corporate Aerosmith albums, the only one that actually sounds like a real band. It still has the usual formula of "big hits 'n lotsa filler," but at least here the filler is strong - "F.I.N.E." and "Monkey On My Back" have actual hooks and riffs as opposed to just a 'formulaic rocker' vibe. "Love In An Elevator" annoyingly sounds like Bon Jovi trying to rewrite "Rag Doll," which is like the most idiotic multiplicity version of Aerosmith you can imagine. "Janie's Got A Gun" on the other hand is probably the most creative Post-Drugs song yet. It actually sounds like Grown Up Aerosmith, which is not something you'd think the world really needs but it works.
Get A Grip (1993)
Okay let's be honest. We're grading on a scale here. I just took a break from Corporate Aerosmith to put on Toys In The Attic. That's a classic album. Fuck this article. Their old shit had so much more style and class and energy and goddamn genius. "Adam's Apple" mixes up aliens, great riffing, and a biblical sex pun, while “You See Me Crying” is the best Aeroballad of the 70s. Plus “Sweet Emotion” and “Walk This Way”? Toys In The Attic rules.
And then we have Get A Grip. Listening to this album makes me hate Aerosmith. It's got cringe 'social commentary' in "Living On The Edge," a preposterous class conscious 'rocker' in "Eat The Rich," and a trio of interchangeable MTV ready ‘ballads’ ("Cryin'," "Crazy," and "Amazing"). Joe Perry even sings for god’s sake ("Walk On Down"). This album reminds me of a Christopher Hitchens quote from his debate with George Galloway - "every time we get to a gutter, there's another gutter underneath." Fuck you Get A Grip.
Nine Lives (1997)
This was actually kind of shocking - I like Nine Lives way more than I should. I know this is Corporate Aerosmith with songwriting-by-committee but it's pretty damn listenable. The hits ("Falling In Love (Is Hard On The Knees)" and "Pink") are as stupid and cloying as ever and there's no single song I'd recommend on its own but somehow I can dig just playing this one through. It's consistent, tuneful, and there's nothing terribly offensive. “Fallen Angels” is strong closing ballad, even a song with a title like “Attitude Adjustment” doesn’t suck as badly as you think. I'm gonna go ahead and say this is the Post-Drugs peak.
Just Push Play (2001)
I was sure this one would be the nadir, even worse than Get A Grip. But surprise again - it's pretty not bad. At least we get some sonic variation. It's not just generic rocker, generic rocker, ballad, rinse, repeat. Yes there's a song called "Trip Hoppin'" and there are elements of clubby hip hop beats here and there but it's nowhere near as cringe as it sounds. Steven Tyler really commits to the gimmick and he gets it over, like Dusty Rhodes in polka dots. I really hated "Jaded" when it came out, mostly for the self-plagiarism with a chorus that seemed lifted from "Lick And A Promise." But it kind of won me over. So did this album and so did Corporate Aerosmith to some degree.
Music From Another Dimension (2001)
On the other hand - nah, I'm good.
So yeah I tapped out early on this Post-Drugs Aerosmith experiment. I just don’t have the spirit to tackle a 2012 Aerosmith album at this point. But I made it a lot further than I thought I would. There's some good music on these albums – I’d rank Pump and Nine Lives above everything else in their discography outside of the classic trilogy (Toys In The Attic, Rocks, Draw The Line).
For those keeping score:
Best Drugs Aerosmith album: Toys In The Attic
Best Post-Drugs Aerosmith album: Nine Lives
Best Drugs Aerosmith Song You’ve Never Heard: “Major Barbara” from Pandora’s Box
Worst Act Of Domestic Terrorism Other Than 9/11: “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”