Drugs…Addict…What do these words describe? It is simple. They describe Aerosmith! Rock band certainly doesn’t describe them because at this point, drugs were way more important than being musicians as that was what they spent most of their time doing..drugs!
As a result of this massive drug problem, their manager, David Krebs, thought he needed to get them away from the drugs so he shipped the band to an old Convent in Armonk, New York. But what David didn’t take in to account that drug dealers are basically Grubhub, especially if your names are Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. Place an order and they will deliver and that they did…in droves. So much so that Tyler and Perry were less involved in this album than any other. But it did give the rest of the band, Tom Hamilton, Brad Whitford and Joey Kramer more say in to what was going on with the album.
Producer, Jack Douglas, was back and did the best he could. The music is pretty straight-forward blues rock & roll and far less fancy stuff than prior albums. Heck, he was lucky to even finish recording the album with everyone still alive. The album took forever as they worked on it from June to October of 1977 as Joe and Steven were so drugged up all the time that they could only record in little increments of time. The album finally saw its release on December 9, 1977 and although the album did sell over 2 million copies (by 1996) and went to #11 on the Billboard Charts, it is still perceived as a lesser album than the prior two. It is also believed to be the beginning of the end as the tensions and drug use would eventually reach a breaking point.
My version of the album isn’t anything special. It was released in either 1977 or 1978 as I can’t seem to find it on discogs as my vinyl has PC 34856 on the left side above stereo on all the ones on discogs show JC 34856. Mine is also weird because it has a bar code on the back which I didn’t think was around at that time so mine could be later, but later versions weren’t on vinyl. I am missing the inner sleeve which has the Aerosmith logo on one side and then album credits on the other. My version has a cream paper sleeve, but at least it had that to protect the vinyl. I do love the caricature of the band on the front cover which was done by famed artist Al Hirschfeld who has done numerous black and white caricatures of famous celebrities. And that is all the backstory I have, let us get to the music.
The album opens with the first single and title track, “Draw the Line”. The song sounds so raw and it actually sounds like an old recording and in a good way, not like a bad production way. There is some cool bass work on it by Hamilton, but what is really cool is Whitford and Perry’s guitar work as they seem to be playing off each other. Tyler sounds great on this one, giving it his all and his bluesy vocals fit the old school sound of the song. But the shining moment for Tyler is the screaming verse towards the end…classic Tyler!! The song did okay as a single, but barely missed the Top 40 landing at #42.
Next up is “I Wanna Know Why” which is nothing short of a straight up rock track. You have session player Scott Cushine on piano and Stan Bronstein on Saxophone who both jam out during an instrumental break. The guitar solo is handled by Whitford on this song and Tyler just belts out the lyrics in the only way he knows how.
“Critical Mass” is an unsung hero on the album. Led by some great bass work by Hamilton and Perry on guitar, the song grooves on nicely. Throw in a little Tyler on Harmonica and you have the makings of killer track and one of the more interesting ones on the album with Tyler at times, attacking the lyrics with a verocity that is unmatched. The song’s intensity and jam-like feel make it a standout.
“Get It Up” was released as the third single, but it failed miserably as a single, but still a great song. It is full of slide guitars by Perry and listen to Kramer’s drum work on this one as it is pretty sweet. Great fills and a nice beat that drives the song forward. I’d read that this was their attempt at a pop song, but I don’t hear it as how many songs have the slide guitar. The chorus is poppier, catchy and a little more upbeat, but this to me is a simple rocker. There are some great backing vocals by Karen Lawrence (L.A. Jets) and many layers of Tyler’s vocals which could make it more of a poppier song I guess.
Joe Perry takes over vocals on the final track on Side 1, “Bright Light Fright”. This is not a track the other band members liked…at all. Perry has said the song was inspired by the Sex Pistols and I think I can hear a little of that as the song has a hard-driving, raw attitude. Perry delivers the lyrics in a frantic pace and he isn’t a Tyler, but it ain’t bad. Stan is back on saxophone and I like a band that can have multiple singers, but when you have Tyler, why. It is a rare instance to get Joe on vocals and if I’m not mistaken it has never been played live. Despite it being a little rough around the edges, it isn’t a bad track and definitely brings something new and different to the album.
Side 2 kicks off with one of the band’s best song called “Kings and Queens”. The song feels epic, grand and far beyond anything else they have ever done. The bass is extremely heavy, it has a mandolin by Jack Douglas, a banjo by Paul Prestopino, Tyler on piano and the rest of the band all in a world of their own making. Lyrically it seems more like a Zeppelin or even early Genesis as they delve in to sorcery, knights and swords and stuff. Tyler gives what might be one of his greatest vocal performances as this song hits the mark on every aspect. It is so out of left field, yet so magical. Pure perfection!
“The Hand That Feeds” starts off with some Tyler screams which sounds silly following a track as powerful as “Kings and Queens”. You do get some great drums and more fine bass work and another solo by Whitford, but there is still something lacking from it overall. It feels a little unfinished and more like filler.
Next up is “Sight for Sore Eyes” which has a co-writing credit from David Johansen of the New York Dolls. It was a song that took Tyler months to write the lyrics and it shows. The song is flat and another that doesn’t quite fill complete. Tyler doesn’t sound vested in it, but at least the rhythm section of the band is still showing up and laying it down. You have Perry on the solo and it isn’t much to write home about.
The final track is a cover of “Milk Cow Blues” by Kokomo Arnold which is an old blues tune back from the 30’s…that is the 1930’s if you are reading this later in 2030. The song itself, vocally, leaves a lot to be desired, but musically the guys jam out on it which when the do get to the jam session in the middle, it is worth the wait, but still not a killer track.
- Draw the Line – Keeper
- I Wanna Know Why – Keeper
- Critical Mass – Keeper
- Get It Up – Keeper
- Bright Light Fright – Keeper (1/2 Point)
- Kings and Queens – Keeper
- The Hand That Feeds – Delete
- Sight For Sore Eyes – Delete
- Milk Cow Blues – Keeper (1/2 Point)
The Track Score is 6 out 9 Tracks or 67%. Which is not too bad, but there is a definitely a decline in output with the increased tensions and drug use. They still managed a couple classics with “Draw the Line” and definitely with “Kings and Queens”, no doubt. The first half of the album is 10x better than the back half as the filler does get thrown in towards the end. The album shows the effects of being drug addicts first and musician seconds, but still a lot to like and that is why the score won’t be terrible just not up to the standards of what we had seen previously. I am going with a 3.5 out of 5.0 Stars thanks mostly to “Kings and Queens” as that is too good not to give the album a little extra bonus point. The decline has started and how long will it last before the band is back on top…it will be a while for sure but let’s not pass judgement until we’ve heard them all.