Aerosmith’s first studio album in over a decade, Music from Another Dimension, is really two albums. One comprises seven tracks of garden-variety Aerosmith filler, a high-cheese soundtrack in search of a film. The other is a good, almost classic American hard-rock album comprising eight tracks of the band at its very best. On “Out Go the Lights,” Joe Perry summons a monster riff and Tyler conjures his syncopated raunch with rib-bruising double entendres to match: “Liquor in the front/And poker in the back” is as pleasingly filthy as anything on Rocks. On the other hand, the band can also sound like Electric Six on a lazy day. Roughly speaking, the album is split between ‘70s Aerosmith and ‘90s Aerosmith, and in a tight song-by-song reckoning, the split is slightly in favor of the no-bullshit, rock-on revivalist sprightliness, refreshingly old-fashioned and put over with raw but precise production and the exuberance of a band that actually cares. For cock-rock bands of a certain age, these are rare virtues indeed.
The album’s cover art, a shock-and-awe comic strip of white-bread Americans running in terror from a giant robot, conveys the important high-camp dimension of hard rock and suggests a sense of humor the album does its best to fulfill. The rockers sound relatively effortless, thanks to Perry’s dependable imagination for riff-as-structure, with some real winners, including “Out Go the Lights” and “Legendary Child,” which lifts its riff from Zeppelin’s “The Wanton Song.” “Oh Yeah” borrows the horn chart from the Rolling Stones’ “Bitch,” while “Street Jesus” likewise echoes the guitar line from John Lennon’s “Well Well Well” before entering jump-metal territory, with classic ‘80s power harmonies and lyrics about the importance of carrying knives. (The song, a mini-opera, marries a healthy skepticism of prophets with self-conscious rock-star lyrics; one almost suspects Pete Townshend ghostwrote it.) Throughout, Perry gives the requisite master class in blooze fills with remarkable taste. There’s such a sensibility of funk underlying Perry’s every rock-guitar formality, right down to the swift-downsliding power chords, that some of his solos are no more than little breakdances. Elsewhere, Perry endues “Beautiful” with a catchy but uncomfortable riff in the vein of “Dancing Days,” and his low-end solo on “Tell Me” has a David Gilmour-worthy sense of melody to it. Not every line is his own, but none of them tire.
If Perry’s versatile energies help carry the album, Tyler executes like the professional he’s supposed to be on all but “Beautiful” and “Lover Alot.” Always more concerned with the breakup song than the breakup itself, Tyler demonstrates more than his usual sincerity on the power ballads, even when one of the things he misses most about a woman is her “claw marks on [his] back”: The soaring regret of “What Could Have Been Love” offers no less pleasure than vintage slow jams like “Cryin’” or “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” Years of temperance and a legion of voice coaches have maintained Tyler’s instrument at a strength that recalls the band’s ‘70s peak, and the singer’s accelerated, rappy logorrhea at the ends of verses enlivens the uptempo numbers with consistency. The lyrics aren’t half-bad either, especially with Tyler’s penchant for misdirection. “Love XXX” toes the line between idealism and codpiece-rattling: After intoning “Ain’t Naïveté/Hate is so passé” (a phrase suggesting goodwill more than merely sexual), Tyler brings us back to groupie territory: “...and tell ‘em that you came with the band.” “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You,” a country-inflected rocker featuring Carrie Underwood, descends into gloop territory.
There are one or two other maudlin tracks, including “Another Last Goodbye,” which grates despite several very clever Sgt. Pepper interpolations. Indie purists will scoff, numerous critics will make Viagra jokes, and metalheads will ignore the album completely. But Aerosmith’s original lineup is again executing with the same commitment that propelled them in the ‘70s. The Stones were loyal to their referents (Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed, et al.) and Skynrd to their Alabammy roots. Aerosmith’s Bostonian rootlessness meant that their only real loyalty was to the ambition of being the Great Big American Band. They became a dynastic crossover behemoth because they jettisoned blues purism, when necessary, in favor of pop gestures and power-ballad gallantry, and Tyler had the stratospheric range and the dirty mouth to put it over. But the album’s eight winning cuts would be more than enough for a really good hard-rock disc. Instead we get an album that pays for each of its gems with a nugget of fool’s gold.