Eleven years. Few bands would survive such a gap between new albums, although we did at least get an album of covers a mere eight years ago, so we’re not quite talking guns ‘n’ roses standards here. Even so, eleven years is a long damn time, especially if the last album was the tepidly-received ‘just push play’ and the band in question subsequently spent their time touring, falling out, really falling out on (and off) the stage and even getting involved in American Idol. Still, this is Aerosmith and fans expect a little drama, whilst it’s easy to forgive anything of a band that have written and recorded some of the world’s most enduring rock ‘n’ roll classics, and the hope was always there that they might erase the ballad-loving excesses of their recent past with a new album, especially following the ‘Honkin’ on Bobo’ tour which was widely considered to see the band returning to their blues roots.
So, after all the fights, rumours, threatened line-up changes and tentatively raised hopes, is ‘Music from another dimension’ the album Aerosmith fans have been waiting for? The answer is a comfortable yes for, whilst it is a long album – at least two ballads over its fighting weight – for the most part ‘music from another dimension’ is the sound of a band remembering why they started making music in the first place and having a whole lot of fun in the process. Part of the reason for the band’s restored confidence is the return of long-time producer Jack Douglas who does a grand job of providing the band with the glossy sheen they acquired on their latter day albums, whilst making sure the music remains on the right side of rocking (this is the man behind albums such as ‘toys in the attic’, ‘rocks’ and ‘get your wings’ after all) and he deserves credit for making sure that the expensive sheen that coats this album polishes the sound without softening the many blows that Aerosmith land over its duration. Also along for the ride, for one track at least, is the less welcome figure of Desmond Child – but we’ll come to him in due course – first of all we have a whole lot of rock to get through.
I’ll be honest – I love Aerosmith. Not everything they’ve done, to be sure, but their early albums in particular are, for the most part, stone-cold classics that can be played anytime and they never get old. I wanted this album to rock – which can, of course, also lead to abject disappointment – and so, when opening track ‘Luv xxx’ kicks off with a huge riff and an appropriately sleazy lyric, it is a moment of pure joy for the Aerosmith fan. Steven Tyler is still one of the greatest singers treading the boards today (if you doubt this claim, listen to ‘dream on’ and be quiet) and the song has the heavy feel of mid-period classics such as ‘Love in an elevator’ – a good start then. The band maintain the pace with ‘oh yeah’, a swinging track with soulful backing vocals that captures the hedonism and naivety of the seventies, a particularly rare quality in these cynical and knowing days. ‘Beautiful’ draws a line between the harder rock of Aerosmith and their more pop sensibilities, offering up a fast paced, hard-rocking verse that showcases Steven Tyler’s devastating sense of scat rhythm and a slower, distressingly addictive chorus that will jam itself into your cranium for days after hearing it. ‘Tell me’ is the first of the album’s ballads, operating in a similar vein to ‘I don’t want to miss a thing’, albeit more subtle in terms of arrangement, and even recalling the Beach Boys in the sublime backing harmonies. ‘Out go the lights’ is a woozy, laid-back rocker complete with cow-bell, bar-room attitude, horns and huge soulful chorus-lines, and it is here that Aerosmith most readily recall their seventies heyday – melodies and attitude effortlessly gelling as Joe Perry and Brad Whitford throw down a succession of gutsy riffs. It’s an early highlight of the album and, crucially, whilst the band pretty much throw everything but the kitchen sink at the track, it doesn’t sound like they have.
‘Legendary child’ keeps things moving in a rocking direction, Joey Kramer’s drums providing a heavy-duty backdrop to Perry and Taylor’s harmonies, whilst tom Hamilton’s bass offers a sinister edge to the verses, keeping the band on the dark side while Steven outdoes himself on the verse vocals. ‘What could have been love’ (co-written by Marti Frederiksen – one of the many outside collaborators on the album) is less successful – a sickly, piano led-ballad, it falls on the wrong side of Bryan Adams-style cliché and it sounds remarkably out of place on the record. Fortunately it is not a lasting trend and ‘Street Jesus’ heads straight back into blues territory, the riff that comes roaring out for the chorus pure, vintage, beautifully bluesy Aerosmith. Next up is ‘can’t stop lovin’ you’, a duet with country star Carrie underwood, which works far better than ‘what could have been love’ and which benefits from Carries rather beautiful tones. However, it is nowhere near as cool as the hard-edged ‘lover a lot’ which has a mean swagger and a memorable chorus to it, the track proving to be another of the album’s many highlights.
Time for another ballad, this time written by Dianne Warren, and it’s another sickly, sugary effort that does its best to derail the flow of the album with its string-laden sentimentality and it’s a relief when it limps to an end and ‘freedom fighter’ (complete with contribution from Johnny Depp) kicks off with a countrified riff and a politically-charged attitude that brings to mind Neil Young’s heavier work. ‘Closer’ is a gritty blues song that contrasts a searing verse with a more traditionally poppy chorus whilst ‘something’ is a similarly bluesy track with a southern drawl and you wonder why on earth they left such a brilliant track till near the close of the album. Saved for the grand finale, Desmond Child rears his satanic head on ‘another last goodbye’, and if the title doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the content, then the song-writing credit certainly will. You can’t begrudge Aerosmith an emotional closing track, I guess, but why they have to insist on it sounding like the finale to a Michael Bay movie is beyond me, although it has to be noted that Steven delivers a stunning vocal performance.
At fifteen tracks and over an hour in length ‘Music from another dimension’ is largely a very strong album. The ballads are, for the most part, unwelcome distractions from a record that otherwise does a good job of adding to Aerosmith’s impressive legacy, but you can’t help but wish that the band would learn from past mistakes, have confidence in their own skills and dispense with the hired help. Aside from co-writers, the cast of supporting musicians reads like a telephone book, when all fans really want is for Aerosmith the band to rely on themselves for a change. That said, the ballads are a small price to pay for an album of the overall quality of ‘music from another dimension’ and more often than not you can hear the band recapturing a magic that many feared lost during the years of arguments and ructions that dogged the band in the run up to this release. For faithful Aerosmith fans this album is, largely, a triumph and a fitting addition to a back catalogue that boasts some of the greatest rock albums of the last half century. A touch overlong, perhaps, but then Aerosmith have earned the right to be indulgent if anyone has, and the overall record has a defiant swagger that was hinted at on ‘Bobo’ and which is delivered here with a wry smile and a salacious wink – ‘music from another dimension’ is a richly rewarding experience.
Special edition notes
In these days of deluxe, super-deluxe and extra-super-deluxe, did anyone really think we’d get away without a special edition of the record? Happily the band have decided their coffers are full enough and so we’re spared the bank-balance emptying vinyl/wooden coffin/inflatable full-size stage version and instead the album comes as an oversized digi-pack housing three discs and a poster for only a few quid more than the basic edition. For your money, aside from the shiny packaging (and we all like shiny things) the ‘poster’ is hardly worth shouting about (being roughly the size of a computer keyboard it’s more likely to inspire mirth than awe), but the extra CD provides a further three tracks including ‘up on the mountain’ which features Tom Hamilton’s first ever lead vocal, whilst the DVD provides a beautifully shot four track live set (including a blistering ‘train kept a rollin’’ featuring Johnny Depp), a rambling conversation with Tyler and Perry (which makes you wonder what on earth they were like on drugs) and some basic but reasonably informative interviews with the band members. As extra features go it is hardly earth shattering, but the live footage is truly remarkable and the bonus tracks an enjoyable coda to the album. ‘Smith fans will undoubtedly have opted for this version already, but for the uninitiated or unconvinced it may be preferable to go for the single disc version, rather than splash out for some rather basic extras.