Album Title: Rock in a Hard Place
Running Time: 40m 16s
Track listing: 1 Jailbait; 2 Lightning Strikes; 3 Bitch’s Brew; 4 Bolivian Ragamuffin; 5 Cry Me A River; 6 Prelude to Joanie; 7 Joanie’s Butterfly; 8 Rock In A Hard Place (Cheshire Cat); 9 Jig Is Up; 10 Push Comes to Shove
To further complicate the Aerosmith story, guitarist Brad Whitford waved the white handkerchief in 1981 and walked out on the band. There was a lot of inactivity at the time due to the drugged-up state of the influential lead singer, Steven Tyler, and his involvement in a serious motorcycle accident in 1980 saw him lose his heel and almost his life. Rick Dufay stepped into the breach left by Brad to help with the recording of what many were predicting to be the last Aerosmith album ever.
And while the disc is considered their weakest recording by many fans, I am not one. For me it is an album that personifies the living-on-the-edge, last rites air that had followed the band for the previous 5 years or so.
While the new romantic movement was in full swing, Aerosmith were rocking harder than ever as if to stick two fingers up at those who wrote them off. The truth was that the whole thing was hanging, albeit successfully, by a thread.
The album was launched by three powerful slabs of eighties hard-rock. The opener, the fiery ‘Jailbait’, kicked things off at about 100mph with Tyler spitting out lustful lyrics with the full orchestra of pounding cymbals, distorted guitars and attitude that would burn a hole in the ozone. Possibly as close to metal that Aerosmith ever got, but with an undeniable quality. Next up is ‘Lightning Strikes’ which welcomes us with a church-like organ before a tension building false start arrives only to fade again. Before you know it the band have engulfed you once again and Jimmy Crespo’s edgy guitar struts between Tyler’s vocal in poetic motion: ‘Boys who look so ready to rumble…’, crows Tyler in his ode to street gang antics.
The final part of this hard-rock trilogy, is the devious ‘Bitch’s Brew’. Seething guitar, smoking lyrics, rasping drums. ‘Bitch’s Brew’ is at times, vintage Aerosmith. ‘You’re fooling with the bitch’s brew, you know the things I warned not to do…ain’t nothing going to save you’, warns a street-wise Tyler before a harmonic verse lulls you into a sense of false security…before you know it, the knives are out again. The highlight is a brilliant mid-section where Tyler breaks the tension with a nostalgic funky groove before growling his sinister warning again to all and sundry.
The good time groove had not completely disappeared from the Aerosmith menu. ‘Rock in a Hard Place’ cranks up the volume again with the return of the horns, Tyler’s trademark harmonica and a hook that had not sounded so good since ‘Rocks’. For a man who had a head full of coke, his lyrical prowess on this album is nothing short of miraculous. ‘Rock in a Hard Place’ is a great mixture of jazz and metal. The closing track, ‘Push Comes to Shove’, is a drunken bar jam which is driven by a lazy harmonica, an intoxicated piano and a more clued in bassline. This is the ultimate in bar room balladry and shows Tyler as the undisputed genius he clearly is.
The only cover version on the album is the emotional 1950s ballad, ‘Cry me a River’. The track is introduced by a gentle guitar and a nervous, hesitant vocal only to be gradually ravaged by the rest of the band until finally swelling to a powerful, whaling, screaming finale. Tom Hamilton’s bass is exemplary here on what is a wonderful song in its own right and a brilliant version but not one that the orignial author, Julie London, would have enjoyed I would think.
‘Bolivian Ragamuffin’ is a take-it-or-leave-it funk-fest which seems to lack direction of any sort. Tyler rambles on for a while and gets to what is actually a decently composed chorus. Interesting ideas here but completely devoid of an overall plan it seems. ‘Jig is Up’ seems like the younger brother of ‘Ragamuffin’ with similar ideas but with even less dressing. Tom Hamilton again pulls out all the stops.
The whole ‘Joanie’s Butterfly’ episode is one that will never be fully understood. ‘Prelude to Joanie’ is a haunting 80-second psychedelic vocal recalling a vivid dream Tyler had about seeing a pony sprout wings. It is also rumoured that it could have been based on a meeting he had with the devil during one of his drug-induced trips. That seems unlikely though.
The song it builds up to, ‘Joanie’s Butterfly’ spends half the time being a folky, acoustic number and the other half, being an all out band jam. Not too much to get excited about overall though.
This is an album that is definitely a specialist taste, but if it gets to your buds, it will be hard to leave on the plate.