The “Boston Bad Boys” took almost as long recording their new album Music From Another Dimension as Axl did recording Chinese Democracy. “MFAD” is Aerosmith’s first studio album of new material since 2001’s Just Push Play. A blues album, Honkin’ On Bobo, various greatest hits albums, two Joe Perry solo albums, and Steven Tyler doing two years on American Idol is the sum total of the band’s output; new music has been long overdue.
Just getting this album finished and out should be considered a victory – it took three separate attempts over the years just to begin recording. So it’s with much anticipation that the band launches MFAD – albeit after delaying its’ release nearly four months!
O.k., so that’s the background; how is the freaking music? Well, for starters, with eighteen tracks on the deluxe version and fifteen tracks on the regular, there’s a lot to digest. And that’s probably hurt this album’s initial feedback and reviews because at first it can come across as pretty uneven. There’s rockers, obligatory ballads and some Tyler-influenced experimenting going on. Legendary Aerosmith (and Cheap Trick, John Lennon and many others) producer Jack Douglas was behind the boards for MFAD and he helped craft a thick, energetic sound that’s not muddled, even when the songs are stacked with various tricks and effects.
MFAD starts off not with a bang but with a minute-long, Twilight Zone-like spoken word bit by producer Douglas before going into “Luv XXX” – which might be one of the weaker songs on the album. Some great riffing by Perry motors this track along – and the solo is a lot of clean fun, but after repeated listens you can’t help but wonder if this is an outtake from the 1989’s Pump album.
It’s track two where you immediately feel better – “Oh Yeah” is a fun stomper where the band dust off their inner Rolling Stones – with a fun, loose riff and a great hook, complete with some soulful female backing vocals.
Does anyone still listen to albums in their track sequence? Well I do, but for those who want to jump straight away to a song that immediately harkens back to that classic ‘Smith sound, head straight to track six, “Legendary Child.” Tyler’s lyrics will remind you of several classic 70’s era songs, with some tasty, funky, guitar licks in the verses, chain-gang backing vocals and more. “Street Jesus” is another track that Aerosmith-purists will dig – its a fast hybrid of “Train Kept-A-Rolling” and “Toys In The Attic” and might be the best track on the album. “Freedom Fighter” with lead vocals by Joe Perry is another cool rocker. Vocally, Perry sounds like Lou Reed, Randy Newman and Keith Richards at various points in the song, but it works, somehow. Whitford and Perry weave some fun guitar magic throughout, especially at the end.
Of course, every Aerosmith album since the 80’s has to have ballads, and MFAD doesn’t have a shortage of them with six. Yes, SIX. “What Could Have Been Love,” will likely be on a big action movie soundtrack (imagine Armageddon 2 and you’ll get what I’m talking about). “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You,” a duet with Carrie Underwood is…ehh. Serviceable at best, it seems more like a bid for her fans to buy their first Aerosmith album. Her vocals don’t add much to the song and you’re left wondering if Aerosmith took a page from Bon Jovi’s book in a bid for country radio attention. Interestingly, Tyler apparently called Underwood himself with the idea for her to guest on the track – and never told the band until the song was done. “We All Fall Down” should have been relegated to b-side status, “Closer” is close – pardon the pun – to being a track that will grow on you, with a dark, angry melody throughout the verses. Then the chorus comes and its an anthemic, uplifting 80’s ballad. The song is schizophrenic.
That split personality is inherent to virtually all of Aerosmith’s post-comeback work: over-wrought ballads (another example is “Another Last Goodbye” the closer on the regular version of the album) and some oddball, yet sometimes effective, left turns musically, likely dictated by Tyler. No doubt many of the choices here were the product of some creative tension between Tyler and Perry.
The best ballad is “Tell Me” – and its not a typical, plodding ballad. Solely written by bassist Tom Hamilton. its got a Beatles influence and does remind you of something that could have been on Pump or from that era. The guitars have a cool waltz-like tempo through the verses, then comes that big, uplifting chorus…and the second time around it crashes down into a super -cool, Beatles/George Harrison-inspired Joe Perry guitar solo.
The eighteen-track deluxe version closes with a nice surprise (after two clunkers), the bright, poppy, up-tempo “Sunnyside of Love.” They could have easily substituted on of the ballads for this song! Just a fun piece of ear candy.
Overall, there’s a LOT here, and a lot to like. If you’re an Aerosmith fan of any vintage you shouldn’t be disappointed. Musically, the Brad Whtiford – Joe Perry guitar tandem is as good as its ever been. The trouble bands of this vintage get into is when they start doing the obligatory time-warp comparison: “Its our best album since (the album the fans always compare everything to)” or “We haven’t felt like this since we were recording (name your classic album here). Ultimately, its not 1977 any more, nor is it 1989, and Toys In The Attic or Permanent Vacation MFAD isn’t. Knock out 5 of the six ballads and you’ve got a very, very strong Aerosmith album. But if you did that you might not of had this album at all. Let’s take what we can get from one of our favorite, longest running, still prolific, rock bands and enjoy it.
Tracks Listening To: “Street Jesus”, “Tell Me’, “Sunnyside of Love”