To locate the last time Aerosmith sounded like a real hard rock band without any pretensions towards commerciality you would have to go back some nineteen years to 1985's 'Done With Mirrors', the band's first album back with the original quintet after Joe Perry and Brad Whitford left in some turmoil in 1980. After that album went unrecognised Aerosmith went on to become one of the biggest bands in the world in any genre, through huge selling albums such as 'Permanent Vacation' (1987), 'Pump' (1989) and 'Get A Grip' (1993). To many fans these albums were not in keeping with the original spirit of the band, all albums featuring one too many power ballad and hardly aggressive displays of rock. So while tracks like 'Angel', 'Janie's Got A Gun', 'Living On The Edge', 'Amazing' and 'Don't Want To Miss A Thing' became the bands most well known tracks they paled next to the bands 70's heyday and authentic rock classics like 'Last Child', Big Ten Inch Record', Get It Up', Jaibait,' 'Lightning Strikes' and.....yeah. Add to this the relative flops that were 1997's 'Nine Lives' and 2001's 'Push To Play' and you had to wonder if this was a band who would ever rock properly again and if they even remembered how.
A glimpse that they might however is evident on the bands latest release, the blues covers album 'Honkin' On Bobo.' Comprised of eleven remakes and one original, the album sees Aerosmith going back to their roots and covering tracks by old blues legends like Willie Dixon and 'Big' Joe Williams, as well as throwing a nod towards acts like Fleetwood Mac in their original 60's blues guise. To some recording a covers album is an act of desperation, indicating a band who have run out of ideas. I suspect Aerosmith have. This album though has given them the chance to rediscover the fire lost so many years ago, and become the band they were thirty years ago, although far less superior to other 70's titan's like Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, UFO and the Scorpions (for that matter just about everyone). It also shows the band isn't scared to lose sales, the album perhaps appealing only to hardened fans, and certainly not the casual fan turned on by the bands recent bland fare. The album debuted in the top five and quickly drifted off upon release, but to a group of men in their mid fifties, this could be seen as irrelevant considering all they have acheived in years past.
Opening the album is 'Road Runner', which was initially popularised by Bo Diddley, but bought to life by The Who in the seventies through their explosive live renditions. Aerosmith never capture The Who's power, but it's an energectic run through. So is 'Shame, Shame, Shame', where the band flex their boogie muscles, a vintage display of classic rock and roll, with Joe Perry finally showing some life on the guitar, a reminder as to why he was so revered. Where the band really captures form is on 'Baby Please Don't Go', made a staple by Them in the sixties. This is the heaviest the band has sounded in sometime, and harkens back to their 'Train Kept A Rollin' cover in the 70's. If you listen without prejudice, it almost could be 1973 again. I'm not smitten with the drawn out slow blues of 'Never Loved A Girl' or 'Back, Back Train' (the latter with Joe Perry on lead vocals).
'You Gotta Move' regains some momentum, another staunch rocker, before lone original 'The Grind' blows things appallingly. Masquerading behind an initial hard riff, it soon degenerates into familiar Aerosmith ballad shenanigans, suggesting the band hasn't overcome their deficencies yet. Of the remaining tracks, 'Stop Messing About', Perry's second lead vocal, is clearly the heaviest and upbeat. 'I'm Ready', 'Temperature' and 'Jesus Is On The Mainline' are hardly enthralling, proving the album is far from perfect, but polarised by the tracks which do work. At this late stage in their career it will be interesting to see if the band can pull one more acceptable album out of their collective selves, this time of all original material that rivals what they have done here. I confess to hardly being the worlds biggest Aerosmith supporter, but if they could manage one more 'Rock In A Hard Place' I'd be slightly curious to partake in it.
Chances of that?