By Martin Popoff
It’s been 11 long years since we’ve got new music from “America’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band” AEROSMITH, and millions are wondering, Just Push Play or just push eject?
Well, the band’s 15th album, Music From Another Dimension! can’t help but be a disappointment, if only how so much was said early on within the tortuously slow and interrupted process, how Jack Douglas was gonna produce and how that, somewhat improbably, was gonna help the record sound like classic old school Aerosmith.
Disappointed to say there’s exactly one song on the whole album, ‘Out Go The Lights’, that sounds like old school Aerosmith from the ‘70s, nothing much like the ‘80s, the ‘90s... arguments can be made. But really, Music From Another Dimension! is very much like a heavier, better version of Just Push Play, with about a 10% notch-back on the production excess that—and I’ve been complaining about this since Get A Grip—makes the guitars not sound much like guitars, rather just one of about a half dozen often indeterminate sounds that build the melody of these weirdly corporate, “by committee”-sounding songs the band’s been crafting and assembling since Permanent Vacation and all that record’s bells, whistles and helpers.
Now, ha ha, just to give you further short notation an’ analysis, my rough notes to myself upon first listen (left exact, no editing for our site’s format, typos allowed), in preparation for my interview with Brad Whitford, read thusly:
“1. Luv XXX. Rumbling heavy like Hearts Done Time, cool, complicated. A bit annoying BEATLES psychedelic. Each part more melodic than last, but good song.
2. Oh Yeah. Mid rocker, a little overproduced, hard to tell guitars, sorta Get A Grip-era production. A bit punky.
3. Beautiful. heavy but way over-produced, with poppy chorus. Like a Just Push Play/Nine Lives sound. Not good. Very annoying chorus.
4. Tell Me. Ballad, but folky guitar, but then there’s strings too. One of two OK ballads.
5. Out Go The Lights. Funky with old school production. Like Last Child meets Rag Doll. You can tell this is one of the Jack Douglas ones? Totally different guitar and drum sound from the others. Not that thrilling a song though.
6. Legendary Child. Like Beautiful, so overproduced it’s hard to tell how heavy it is. A heavy Just Push Play track.
7. What Could Have Been Love. Typical crap Aerosmith power ballad. Modulation in the chorus. Horrible. Utterly anonymous.
8. Street Jesus. Mid-rocker. Interesting production and textures again. Fast, Toys In the Attic rocker with shuffle. Like Joe Perry Project New Yorky. Cool pre-chorus
9. Can’t Stop Loving You. New country ballad. Kid Rock. Female guest vocal by a country gal. Carrie Underwood.
10. Lover Alot. Best track on it? Heavy, fast, punky, a bit like Ted Nugent. Interesting sparse production, tight, small, cool changes.
11. We All Fall Down. Crap ballad, piano, strings.
12. Freedom Fighter. Cool heavy one, Joe singing again? Again, tame tone on the guitar. Not a lot of high hat.
13. Closer. Dark ballad, Beatle-esque chorus. Pretty mellow but a bit bluesy and dark.
14. Something. Cool, slow, bluesy rocker, complicated melodies, interesting vocal – is that Joe? One of the best.
15. Another Last Goodbye. Piano ballad with strings, Beatles harmonies. No band/power ballad – straight piano and strings ballad.
Good songs: 8, 10, 2, 14, 1, 5, 12
Ballads: 15, 7, 11, 13, 4
New country song: 9
Over-produced “rock”: 3, 6”
So getting ready to talk to the polite and forthcoming Mr. Whitford (man, he should do more interviews), I wondered, is seven good songs enough, with five ballads and a new country song? (although a couple of those ballads, maybe even three, are non-housewifey and pretty, er, valid). I’d say, sure, ‘cos it’s a long album with a lot going on, as well as, yes, a lot of fast-paced rockin’. Sure, but not emphatically. More like it’s a big step in the right direction, Music From Another Dimension! adequately stuffed with value but alas, not what we were led to believe might be coming (to save the world).
“Some of these are licks we’ve had for a long time,” begins Brad, on where the material comes from. “We just bring what we have, bring it to the table, and say what have you got? There’s licks from the past that just never got past grade school, and we bring them in and say cool, let’s play with this a bit, let’s see what happens. And of course many of them were brand-new ideas.”
Brand-new ideas, fine, but much of the production wound up being frustratingly new and shiny as well. As for what was provided by Jack Douglas, “We liked the live recording that he does. We just went in the studio with some of this stuff and cut it live. Did it jamming, old school. But then there are definitely compromises. What we got worked out fine. But my choice would’ve been no ProTools at all, and just do the whole thing analog. But I lost a lot of those arguments to the producers. Producers can get hooked on ProTools because it makes their job easier. I would’ve preferred to go direct to tape. But we did use something called a Clasp system, which is tape and ProTools at the same time. It’s got that tape saturation, so it’s a nice compromise.”
Contrasting his guitar tone versus restless-like-Lifeson Joe’s, Brad figures, “I just like it old school, pure vintage tones, basically plugging in with not a lot of effects. My reference points are ERIC CLAPTON, STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN, people like that; I don’t like it very coloured. Just give me a good clean tone, something that’s as good as I can possibly get. I love that tonality of the Les Paul Gibson, Fender Strat—it’s not rocket science. I like bands that basically plug in and don’t use a lot of effects.”
“I don’t know if it’s difficulty we’re after,” reflects Brad, hit with the idea that Aerosmith make pretty complicated music, a progressive rock of arrangement rather than anything else, track upon track upon track... “Certainly, I wish we did more things outside of four/four, which would make it interesting, add some intensity. But there’s also a real beauty in what NIRVANA did. You know, it’s nothing complicated, so fresh and straight-ahead. Like TOM PETTY. Those songs are simple yet they’re so fucking amazing. You play them in the context of a band and you find out how complex those songs can be.”
Yet your songs are very layered. Who pushes the layers?
“We all do. My reference is to try to be old school, but it’s incredible when we get in the studio. We create a lot of music, put a lot into the songs. We like coming up with stuff that you can put headphones on, that just makes you go, ‘How the hell did they get that sound?’ or ‘Holy shit! Where did that come from?!’”
As to the well-reported squabbles in the band, trying to keep Steven focused etc... “Not a lot has changed,” says Brad, surprisingly laid-back in the eye of the storm. “Certainly, you have to get comfortable in the studio. We have that idea that this stuff is going to live on in history. What you lay down is forever. That can freak you out, but you settle down and that’s what we try to capture. Whether it’s myself and Joe writing, or myself and Steve, we work very organically. It just happens. You get in that zone. We find we can be very creative. But anybody tells you that rock ‘n’ roll isn’t a business, must be just so well-off that it just doesn’t matter. Believe me, not everybody is that well-off. But we just have such a passion for doing what we do. We just love to play. And we have a vehicle called Aerosmith to do this, and you just can’t say no to it. It’s like a beautiful mistress.”
“They both have their moments,” offers Brad, asked if he prefers live work to studio work. “I do take a lot of pride in performance. We feel good about it, and that takes practice; you really have to be ready to do it. We work at it. You have to stand up and be committed to it. But we do move between them. They are two very different venues. Playing in front of people... you just cannot top that.”
So what records from the past, from any of the eras for that matter, does this new one remind you of?
“It’s a typical Aerosmith record,” figures Brad, “in that it has a combination of many elements we like, from that country thing we did to hard rock, beautiful ballads, rhythm and blues. In that respect it’s not much different from the other records that we like. But it’s very fresh, very current, for whatever reason, who knows? We certainly aren’t current (laughs). But we have the passion to make records, so we do it.”
Fortunately for us, Brad’s been quite involved with the writing... Yeah, ‘Street Jesus’ was a riff I had for a good 15 years, jamming around with that, and finally we decided to get serious with it. With this band, ideas, you play around with them, and these are just some I’ve had for the past few years. It’s kind of what we do. Me and Joe are just an encyclopaedia of guitar ideas, and we’ve learned that historically, one great lick can turn into a whole song. So we’re constantly cataloguing things and coming up with stuff.”
“Obviously, we’ve kept it together,” says Brad, asked what Aerosmith’s main contribution to rock ‘n’ roll has been. “You just don’t see that. I don’t think there is anything anybody can throw at this band and we can’t beat it and come out the other side. We’ve gone through everything a band can go through. We’ve gone to hell and back many times and survived. You have to just get out of the way or get on board (laughs).”
Did you ever think maybe this album would never happen at all?
“Many times. Since Just Push Play, which is what, 11 years ago? And then there’s the blues record. But we tried to start this album a couple of times, and it just turned into a disaster. So there were serious doubts, yes. Every day around here seems to be a roadblock...”