Two words: Jack Douglas. That’s who’s got old-school Aerosmith fans excited about this album, their 15th. Who better to steer them back to the magic of the old days than the New Yorker who produced them from 1974 to ’78, a purple patch that made them legends.
Douglas is Aerosmith’s George Martin. The group got him back in to mix 1998 live album A Little South Of Sanity, and he shared production credits – as he does here – with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry on Honkin’ On Bobo in 2004. Bobo – a collection of covers paying homage to their roots – was the comeback album that time forgot, Joe Perry trying to get the band back on the rails, but Tyler’s heart (or head) wasn’t in it.
This, though, is a “proper” Aerosmith studio album, because Tyler is trying, too, which means he’s cracking the whip over the whole band. And it shows. This time it’s serious… Music From Another Dimension sees the band looking to wipe the slate clean after the insults flying between Tyler and Perry, the criticism of the singer’s stint as an American Idol judge, and the poisonous whispers that this album (at one time to be produced by Brendan O’Brien) has been a work in progress for going on four years (at least).
Three words: Just Push Play. That’s what’s got old-school Aerosmith fans worried. Released back in 2001, it was utter bilge. Jaded? You said it, guys! This time round the band needed to bounce back in style, as they did with 1987’s Permanent Vacation, their first made clean and sober… There are echoes of Vacation almost immediately on opener LUV XXX which, after a splendidly silly Twilight Zone-style voiceover explodes into life with a big guitar hook-line, a monster groove from drummer Joey Kramer, and Tyler putting his tongue in your ear to deliver a ‘Love three times a day, there ain’t no other way, it’s in your DNA’ refrain. It’s a Tyler/Perry composition, prime-time Aerosmith and a dead-cert set opener.
Oh Yeah follows in a righteous, Stones-y groove, sounding almost like Rocks’ Lick And A Promise revisited, but softened by backing vocals sung by 18-year-old American Idol alumnus Lauren Alaina – an unexpected twist. Third song Beautiful is the first of four to feature a co-credit for Marti Frederiksen and mixes a big singalong chorus with Tyler’s half-rapped vocal. By this stage, though, they’ve dropped a couple of gears, and you’ve forgotten all about Jack Douglas and are getting tense waiting for the Big Ballad.
On their website Joey Kramer talks about taking it “back to old Aerosmith” but the seeds of doubt are sprouting, and the acoustic intro and mandolin hook to bassist Tom Hamilton’s Tell Me won’t ease your fears. It’s not bad – more Janie’s Got A Gun than Sweet Emotion – but wouldn’t have seen the light of day in the 70s.
Just a quarter of the way through the massive 15-song tracklist (there are three more on the Deluxe Edition!) and Music From Another Dimension is in need of a bit more Douglas. And right on cue, he delivers… Out Go The Lights is trademark sassy swagger dripping with innuendo (and horns), and could have been on either of the first two albums, but for the girlie vocals. And, after a harmonica solo, the song “ends”, then goes into a jam – sweet! Better still is the album’s highpoint, and the other song that almost reaches seven minutes, Street Jesus. The brainchild of Brad Whitford, this has the band rockin’ like you wouldn’t believe. Like a bastard son of Rats In The Cellar, this really does sound like a Rocks out-take.
There are other big rockers – notably Legendary Child (a self-referencing Walk This Way spin-off) and Lover Alot (hectic, slightly left-field) – but none beat Street Jesus. Not even the two sung/drawled by Joe Perry: the gun-toting Freedom Fighter and Something, with a slow-burning Come Together-esque groove. With an eye on the Big Hit they couldn’t, of course, turn down Can’t Stop Loving You (on which Tyler duets with country star Carrie Underwood – gulp!), or three out-and-out ballads. The best of these are Dianne Warren’s We All Fall Down and the epic finale Another Last Goodbye (co-written by Desmond Child) – both vocal tour de forces for Tyler, recalling how Aerosmith used to close their albums way back when. At least it ends as we remember.
In retrospect, though, the fact that 21st-century Aerosmith have put everything they’ve got into Music From Another Dimension makes it a schizophrenic listening experience. There is a cracking 10-song playlist here, but as a 15-song, 68-minute album – despite so many links with their glorious past – it falls a little short. Gutted.