Aerosmith: Pump

NOW ON to their tenth album and with sales of the previous nine topping 25 million in the States, Aerosmith are still just about unknown beyond the rockier fringes of the metal market over here.

This isn’t as surprising or unjust as it sounds given the wretchedly uneven, not to say drunk and disorderly quality of most of their studio efforts since Rocks in 1976. But the five delinquent Bostonians have kicked their bad personal habits, revived their better musical ones and just made possibly the best album of their 18-year career.

Pump is a triumphant vindication of the ancient saying that Aerosmith are like a cross between The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Take the swaggering, oversexed R&B of the former, judiciously apply some of the letter’s heavy artillery and screaming fits, and you have a rough mix of this album’s principal ingredients. What you don’t have though is any sense of how purposefully Aerosmith alchemise these into something entirely their own: heavy, guitars-a-go-go rock which stays light on its feet and which swings.

Side one makes the point perfectly. From the hell-for-leather thrash of ‘Young Lust’ through to the quirky slow ballad ‘Janie’s Got A Gun’, this is a masterclass exhibition of how rock at its best is a team sport: the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Everybody present here is listening to and playing off everybody else. Joe Perry’s slide on ‘Monkey On My Back’ works a thrilling double act with Steven Tyler’s hoarse and squealy vocal revelations. Tom Hamilton’s bass steps in and out line with impudently perfect timing. The guitars wind and weave around each other with a minimum of fuss and no overweight solos. And amid all this finely integrated activity there are songs you can whistle and hum Bon Jovi style, too. In fact, the weird barber-shop harmonies which punctuate ‘Love In An Elevator’ and the raw-to-bleeding ballad ‘What It Takes’ suggest that Tyler harbours more than a passing regard for the concise pop styles of the 1960s and that he would like to be John Lennon at least as much as Mick Jagger.

There are some slack moments here on side two when the band seem to pause for breath and boogie rather automatically through ‘Don’t Get Mad Get Even’, but for the most part Pump energetically lives up to its name. If serves as a nostalgic reminder of the earthier, less stylised approach that hard rock largely abandoned when heavy metal came on stream in the late ’70s, and when the “heads” were replaced by the headbangers. In essence this is white rock before all the black bits were removed – a blend which has recommended Aerosmith already to the likes of Run DMC and which ought finally to win them some more discerning friends over here.

© Robert SandallQ, October 1989

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