I know I’m walking back on previous comments here and there, but I’d urge you all to go out (or click on Spotify or whatever) and reappraise Aerosmith’s career after Joe Perry rejoined the band in the mid-’80s. It’s schlock, but like Mommie Dearest and Andy Warhol paintings, it’s some beautiful schlock that’s not without artistic merit.
I get that it’s fashionable to shit all over ’70s rock bands who persisted in the ’80s. As I said above, I’ve been guilty of this myself. Not without good reason, either. But the more I look at what Aerosmith did from Permanent Vacation to Get a Grip, the more I’m impressed with the songcraft of their comeback years.
Tim Collins, the band's manager, whom Steven Tyler once accused of killing his children, famously said that if he could get Aerosmith off drugs, they’d be the biggest band in the world by 1990. He wasn’t far off. 1989 was the year I started paying attention to rock & roll, and while I loved Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe a hell of a lot, for reasons I can’t explain in retrospect, if anyone asked my favorite band, I would have said, without hesitation, Aerosmith.
First and foremost, when I think of Aerosmith’s reunion-period work, I’m thinking about their ballads. Few people did them better than the Bad Boys From Boston, who, after collectively going into rehab, started cranking out some of the best power ballads in an era full of them. Permanent Vacation had “Angel,” which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 with a little help from Desmond Child, a professional songsmith who had previously worked with KISS, Bon Jovi and Joan Jett. Nice work if you can get it.
The band apparently learned something from their collaboration with Child and liked having money to spend on something other than cocaine. They turned out two tracks with Child on the next album, Pump, both of which charted all right (“What It Takes” even reached No. 1 on the U.S. mainstream rock chart), but neither of which is particularly memorable, although “F.I.N.E.” is a decent little bluesy track with some standout Tyler bawdiness (“Ain’t got no rubbers now it’s rainy all the time, honey”). The best tracks on this record are the rockers, not the ballads, of which “Young Lust” and “The Other Side” are the best.
Pump also produced two absolute monsters written by the band, “Love in an Elevator” and “Janie’s Got a Gun.” The former is a lovely little piece of overproduced schlock that acquires more kitsch value with each passing year. The latter probably would have been largely ignored if it weren’t the requisite “message” track every hard-rock band was expected to slap on their record to offset the utter ridiculousness of lines like “kiss yo sassafras.”
The band then proceeded to make a zillion dollars and a bunch of incredibly clever videos with a little album called Get a Grip. From the second you see the cover featuring a pierced cow udder, you know you’re in for a whole lot of silliness. “Eat the Rich” is a bit … well, rich, coming from guys with money coming out of their ears, but it’s a solid rock song hearkening back to the band’s earliest work. Only two songs, “Fever” and “Walk on Down,” didn’t receive ample massaging from song doctors. But when you’re listening to the triumvirate of songs that featured Alicia Silverstone in the videos (who, as far as I and every other 13-year-old boy I knew at the time was concerned, was the hottest woman who had ever lived), “Crazy,” “Cryin’” and “Amazing,” you probably think it’s for the best that they hired some heavy guns to help get this stuff on MTV.
As for their post-Get a Grip work, I'm just going to come out and say it: “I Don't Want to Miss a Thing” is a great track. I'm so glad it went to them and not, say, Celine Dion.
I’m not a man who likes things out of irony or kitsch, but I’m not sure it’s possible to appreciate postreunion Aerosmith without just a little bit of your tongue in your cheek. But you can rest easy knowing that the boys in the band are chuckling along with you. What else is rehab for?