In 2012 a branch of the Spanish National Research Council released the results of a study that examined the way music had changed character since Bill Haley first rocked around his clock back in 1954. They discovered that as the years passed, successful musicians used fewer chords and fewer chord progressions and increasingly utilised the same sounds, and that productions reached a uniform level of loudness. In other words, whatever the genre, everything began to sound a little bit like everything else. It’s why a songwriter like Diane Warren is as happy writing for Beyonce is she is for Eric Clapton. And why Steven Tyler can head out on tour this month with a band led by Nashville tunesmith Marti Frederiksen, who’s written for Carrie Underwood but also has a long history with Aerosmith, co-writing much of Just Push Play as well as Tyler’s 2011 debut solo single (It) Feels So Good.
So while news of Tyler’s country album was predictably greeted with much wailing and wringing of hands, there’s absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t be able to pull it off. Aerosmith have always played roots music, from Milk Cow Blues to Honkin’ On Bobo, and for the album the band’s frontman surrounded himself with the right people. Writers include Chris Distefano, Rhett Akins, the Warren Brothers and Hillary Lindsey – who’ve scored hits for country music’s current elite – plus the Cadillac Three’s Jaren Johnston, and at least some of the strings are being pulled by Mr Nashville himself, producer T Bone Burnett.
And yet despite the stellar cast, it sounds as if none of the big names were keeping an eye on quality control, because We’re All Somebody From Somewhere is a bit of an over-produced mess. At 15 tracks it’s about five songs too long, and although Tyler’s in glorious voice throughout, the music doesn’t offer much support. Ironically it’s the songs that sound most like Aerosmith’s uber-hits – the ballads that put him in a position to take this southern detour – that are most focused. Maybe it’s the familiar territory, but opener My Own Worst Enemy, Gypsy Girl and What Am I Doin’ Right are all lovely, wistful songs; stripped-down, banjo-led versions of the type of tune that saw Aerosmith dominate MTV in the 1990s and turned Alicia Silverstone into a household name.
Elsewhere it’s not so good. Love Is Your Name is a hipster-folk chugger that could be a Mumford & Sons or Of Monsters And Men cast-off, while Hold On (Won’t Let Go) is a rambling, distorted folly that can’t decide if it wants to be Nashville or Nine Inch Nails. I Make My Own Sunshine is so deliberately twee (the opening lyrics are ‘Everything is wonderful, everything is great’, and ‘Let’s make a rainbow, look for a pot of gold’ pops up a minute later) that you wonder if it’s been written with the express aim of soundtracking TV adverts for hotel comparison websites or attractive cellphone bundles. Worst of all there’s a pointless remake of Janie’s Got A Gun, which introduces ponderous acoustic guitar and see-sawing cello it an attempt to give it some southern gothic gravitas but only serves to remind you that the Aerosmith original is better. It all finishes with a meat-and-potatoes romp through Erma Franklin’s classic Piece Of My Heart, loosely modelled on the Big Brother And The Holding Company version but with verses that come within recoiling distance of cod-reggae, and a chorus wrapped in country fiddle.
The best song is the upbeat single Red, White And You, which is at least fun, but even this sounds like it was written by whatever cookie-cutter team it is that feeds the faceless country singers you hear while idly browsing inflight radio. It follows a clear formula, with lots of clever rhymes and the kind of flag-waving tropes – Tom Petty on the radio, American girls, the 4th of July, Summertime Blues, cut-off jeans, good ol’ boys, sweet potato pie – that typically feature in the songs Nashville doles out to lesser-known country stars. But why on earth would you bring such a song to someone like Steven Tyler without any attempt to tailor it to his musical personality or story in any way?
We’re All Somebody From Somewhere sounds like an album conceived as a therapy project, one in which all the interesting corners of Tyler’s persona have been neatly rounded off. There’s no pizazz, very little spirit, not much sparkle and no sex. It’s as if he wanted to make a grown-up album, and in the process succeeded only in growing old. Darius Rucker has nothing to worry about, but it’ll probably sell millions.