AND, AT the fifth fence, the prize Boston fillies tumble down.
Which is a sorta fancy way of saying that for the first time on record, Aerosmith have blown it. And blown it badly.
I mean, I’ve said this before maybe twice but a brusque reprise is really only the done thing. Without possessing any speck of originality or truly decisive ‘style’, Aerosmith have still placed all their smarts in one basket and hit home with some of the ‘sharpest’, slickest old patent rock ‘n’ roll around.
As far as those first four albums were concerned, they just kept getting better, always willing to tighten up, exploring new albeit ‘safe’ pastures and always just that bit slicker and more impressively cocksure. Topping the list has to be last year’s Rocks which pitted Stones Exile era grit against a stolid Led Zep-at-their-best dynamism and ended up beating both the archetypes at their own game simply because Rocks sounded so much tougher and more self- assertive than either Presence or Black & Blue.
I was actually looking forward to this next instalment, hoping for and almost expecting a greater improvement on the Rocks formula. But oh dear! Where once there was muscle is now all flab, where once there was a tenacity is now an adamant loss of direction. Or more precisely, where once there were good hooklines, clever riffs and a real intensity of feel is now all half-baked, indolent boring riffs of little consequence and thus a dour lack of unity of purpose within the band.
I mean, they’re still thrashing away adeptly enough and Jack Douglas has still got all the earmarking of a great hard rock producer but the material here is all so stiff, so uninspired.
The title track ‘Draw The Line’ is the opener and at once we’re confronted with a dilemma. It’s the old Aerosmith 4/4 hard rock, ramble-tamble, but I’ve heard that riff coming from them before and always somehow better. Whereas Rocks opened with ‘Back In The Saddle’, a piece that had me tensing my muscles in appreciation of its sheer “sass”, this new soul simply doesn’t do anything.
And that’s the problem with, at least, the whole first side here. ‘I Wanna Know Why’ sounds like another Stones Exile-era rocker, but somehow it never rises and, like the whole album itself, you’re left waiting for a punchline that never comes.
The only time Aerosmith seem at all inspired is actually on side two’s epic ‘Kings & Queens’. Basically a fairly daft song with its whole “In days of olde” slant easily worthy of the prattish posings of Freddie Mercury, ‘Kings & Queens’ still has its moments, principally a brilliant break where Douglas (I presume) superimposes Bernard Hermann’s nerve-tensing stringed screams straight off the Psycho soundtrack onto a great rush of Aerosmith amyl nitrate rock.
That though is the only moment to come anywhere close to being this album’s so earnestly desired payoff line. Worse still, even Aerosmith’s usually successful retread of the occasional old rock classic — I’m thinking principally of their inspired and abrasive ‘Train Kept A-Rollin” — finds cold comfort here with a disturbingly lukewarm ‘Milk Cow Blues’.
The main problem may ultimately reside with guitarist Joe Perry. Until now he could invariably match Steve Tyler’s not unappealing lyrical bluster with good riffs and chord progressions.
Here he just doesn’t seem to bother — and his own solo venture, a short spew of directionless, hotcha-fast rock jive entitled ‘Bright Light Fright’, sounds as amateurish as any mediocre new wave band (when adequately recorded) currently doing the rounds in this country. Also, it’s worth noting that the album’s musical highpoint — ‘Kings And Queens’ — is a song not bearing his signature.
At the last count it’s all down to indolence, I guess. It’s been a weird, rather uneventful and often downright mediocre year for Aerosmith and maybe that’s all reflected in this their dour product.
There’s a fan club communiqué in the package exhorting Aerosmith fans to join a new club branch, the name of which is “Aero Knows”. Unfortunately on Draw The Line the once cocksure and fleet-footed Bostonians don’t know and it’s that which makes this whole album so miserably dispensable.
Sad but true.
© Nick Kent, New Musical Express, 17 December 1977