[Album Review] "Permanent Vacation" – Aerosmith (original review)

Permanent Vacation - AerosmithAlbum Title: Permanent Vacation
Artist: Aerosmith
Year: 1987
Running Time: 51m 43s

Track listing: 1 Heart’s Done Time; 2 Magic Touch; 3 Rag Doll; 4 Simoriah; 5 Dude (Looks Like a Lady); 6 St. John; 7 Hangman Jury; 8 Girl Keeps Coming Apart; 9 Angel; 10 Permanent Vacation; 11 I’m Down; 12 The Movie

Bearing in mind the relatively poor attempt that was “Done With Mirrors”, one can only be blown away by “Permanent Vacation” which saw Aerosmith return to the top of the charts thanks to a number of Top 30 hits and a couple of sure-fire classics too. This would never had happened though had the band not got their act together.

With the realisation that it was do or die for them, they all agreed to attend a 12 step clean-up program. Several months later, one and all emerged bleary-eyed but sober for the first time in more than 10 years. Combined with this was the sudden duet with rap act, Run DMC, who covered their 1975 hit, ‘Walk This Way’. This was the first great rock-rap cross-over and it was a huge top 10 hit all over the world. Aerosmith were back but they had a new album to record and this could very well be their last chance.

Geffen recruited a number of song doctors to help create that radio friendly feel and when producer, Rick Rubin, didn’t have time to finish producing the album, Bruce Fairbairn was brought in to steady the teetering ship and the album was completed. A nervous Aerosmith crossed their fingers and hoped for positive feedback. They needn’t have worried…

Kicking off the release schedule, an all-time classic rocker, the impetuous ‘Dude (Looks Like a Lady) which is packed with sass, brass and glazed with sauce. Choc full of sexual humour and innuendo to beat the band, ‘Dude’ is lyrically steets ahead of anything on “Done with Mirrors” and is home to a bristling Joe Perry solo that plays like the opening ceremony to the re-launched Aerosmith Games.

The wonderful ‘Rag Doll’ was a hit too and is arguably an even better song than ‘Dude’. A bluesy-rocker with a drum sound that would knock out the population of China, terrific slide guitar from Perry, a foot-tapping rhythm that is one of Whitford’s best, the sublime Margarita horns shoving the irrepresable chorus along and a Tyler vocal performance that can only be described as memserising.

The other big hit off the album is in fact Aerosmith’s most successful single ever. ‘Angel’ saw the Boston bad boys return to contemporary ballad paradise with an emotional rollercoaster that seems a little bit too ‘staged’ to be realistic like ‘Dream On’ or ‘Seasons of Wither’ for example. It is though a very anthemic, and subsequently, enjoyable number.

The top track though is the all-out blues attack of ‘Hangman Jury’. Complete with Mississippi ambience sounds, experienced harmonica, acoustic guitar and seasoned blues-style vocals from Tyler, ‘Hangman Jury’ expertly tells the tale of a young man who is charged with the murder of his wife: ‘what ya do with your gun that’s loaded, shot dead when your heart exploded, tell me baby now doncha worry, like-a-lyin’ to the Hangman Jury’. Superb stuff.

Aerosmith explore the musical universe as much as is humanly feasible and also find time for their quintessential sound. ‘St John’ a finger-clicking R&B beauty manoeurved authoritively by Whitford, Kramer and Hamilton. It is a track that would seem rather out-of-place on anything but an Aerosmith album.

‘Simoriah’ rolls out in an optimistic 60s mood but quickly degenerates into a loose track desperately needing a melody and keeping up the 60s feel is the Lennon/McCartney boogie, ‘I’m Down’ which is faithfully re-created complete with nimble piano work from Tyler and a spirited performance from the rest of the band who just seem to be having a blast.

On more familiar ground is the up-tempo, horn-driven ‘Girl Keeps Coming Apart’ which is a funky ode to dance music of the era (Joey Kramer performs brilliantly with a continuous threatning beat), ‘Permanent Vacation’ is dragged tunefully along by its Mediterranean influences and a throbbing Hamilton performance, ‘Magic Touch’ is half-carried by Perry’s steel guitar but it never rises above mediocre and the thundering ‘Heart’s Done Time’ which opens the album, is devestating in its delivery.

Finally, and closing the album in atypical style, is the dark instrumental, ‘The Movie’. The track was apparently an experiment in musical imagery and the minds eye will be working overtime on hearing it. The song powers along on an abrasive rhythm and a pensive snare drum, breaking down midway for an eerie Gaelic voice over before detonating with a gates-of-oblivion guitar solo from perry.

‘Permanent Vacation’ is not a classic album but it did contain many breathtaking moments. Perhaps lobbing a couple of tracks off the final twelve (it was originally whittled down from 28!) might have helped the whole thing sound a little bit more consistent but overall, it is a great disc.

3halfstar

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[Album Review] "Scoundrel Days" – a-ha

Scoundrel Days - a-haAlbum Title: Scoundrel Days
Artist: a-ha
Year: 1986
Running Time: 39m 9s

Track listing: 1 Scoundrel Days; 2 The Swing of Things; 3 I’ve Been Losing You; 4 October; 5 Manhattan Skyline; 6 cry Wolf; 7 We’re Looking for the Whales; 8 The Weight of the Wind; 9 Maybe Maybe; 10 Soft Rains of April

In 1986, A-ha were coming off massive success – a huge selling debut album, four top ten singles and a fanbase hungry for more of the same. It had only been twelve months since “Hunting High and Low” and already the band had made leaps, albeit small ones, with their musical style. A heavier reliance on recognised instruments more so than the rather cliched 1980s keyboard/drum machine approach, helped to emphasise their writing qualities a lot more than before.

Their second album, “Scoundrel Days”, was to spawn three more massive hit singles – ‘I’ve Been Losing You’, ‘Cry Wolf’ and ‘Manhattan Skyline’.

The title track starts us off with Morten almost whispering his paranoid ramblings from under his duvet. But the edgy keyboard refrain soon gives way to a loud and committed band performance where Morten roars mysterious lyrics such as; ‘i reach the edge of town, i got blood in my hair, their hands touch my body, from everywhere’. Wonderful stuff, and should have really been a single.

The familiar keyboard sound returns for ‘The Swing of Things’. But this is a beefy number which slows down effectively for the chorus and picks up again during the verse. The almost-accapello mid-section performance from Morten is wonderful, and the song moves towards fade with a super vocal stretch from the lead singer – another quality tune.

But it is the first single from the album which steals all the plaudits. ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ is a remarkable tune which combines maturity and imagination way beyond their relatively novice years. Thundering drums, fast-paced guitar riff, strategically placed horn sections, powerful lyrics and a false ending, which returns heavier than ever before fading again. One of the bands timeless tracks, right up there with ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’ and ‘Take On Me’.

The next two tracks are also well worth the purchase price. ‘October’ is a somber but catchy number which relies on Morten hissing and sighing through much of it in order to give it an angle as such. However, one can’t deny this rather pleasing tune is as relaxing as it is charming. ‘Manhattan Skyline’ turned out to be the third and final single released from the album, and in fact was the first of A-ha’s seven releases to date, not to make the top ten (it made #11). Certainly very different, the track has long been a favourite of fans. From it’s slow and delicate entree, to it’s loud and brash chorus, to it’s thoughtful post-chorus verse, ‘Skyline’ is eventful, and exciting to listen to.

‘Cry Wolf’ was the second single but I’m dumbfounded as to why. It’s very much old-school sound here as the keyboards carry this song pretty much through on it’s own, but it’s one-dimensional style is only really bearable for the reflective mid-song section. However, the track was a huge hit and out-performed both of the far-superior songs released from this album.

‘We’re Looking for the Whales’ is not much to write home about. Pleasant enough, but essentially pointless outside of some gentle foot-tapping. ‘The Weight of the Wind’ is much better, even if it is another throw-back to the older sound. Slightly atmospheric, some nice epic touches and effective backing vocals elevate this above average status.

Upbeat and perky, ‘Maybe Maybe’ has either one of the most tongue-in-cheek, or most woeful lyric ever – ‘Maybe it was over when you chucked me out the Rover at full speed’. It’s a decent tune, if a little light weight, but in the 1986/87 pop landscape it probably could have been a huge hit. Closing off the album is the dated, but harmless, ‘Soft Rains of April’.

This album contains some of the best material the band have written in their career, but is weighed down by more filler than their debut album, leaving you slightly underwhelmed.ability to do it all again? The rock world will be a better place if he does.

3star

[Album Review] "Stay on These Roads" – a-ha

Stay on These Roads - a-haAlbum Title: Stay On These Roads
Artist: a-ha
Year: 1988
Running Time: 43m 40s

Track listing: 1 Stay On These Roads; 2 The Blood That Moves the Body; 3 Touchy!; 4 This Alone is Love; 5 Hurry Home; 6 The Living Daylights; 7 There’s Never a Forever Thing; 8 Out of Blue Comes Green; 9 You Are The One; 10 You’ll End Up Crying

With the musical landscape shifting, A-ha returned in 1988 with their third album, “Stay On These Roads”. It was an album that had the advantage of containing two huge hit singles from the outset. The 1987 single, ‘The Living Daylights’, the soundtrack to the Bond movie of the same name, was re-mixed and sounded even better second time around. Brooding and dramatic, it personified the kind of direction that A-ha would benefit from following in the future.

The title track was the lead single. ‘Stay on These Roads’, a sweeping and emotional ballad with epic intentions, isn’t close to being the barnstorming classic that ‘Hunting High and Low’ is, but is competent enough to be enjoyable. It made #5 in the UK charts.

Following on from that, A-ha found top ten hits hard to come by. ‘The Blood That Moves the Body’ was almost a direct descendant from ‘The Living Daylights’. A strong rhythm section gives ‘Blood’ a rare hook and displays originality that was starting to fade as A-ha’s career progressed. Probably the most original and credible song on the album, it disappointingly only made #25 in the charts.

‘Touchy!’ is a quintessential pop song that caught the imagination of many non-A-ha fans after it’s release. The up-beat, catchy semi-classic made #11 in the charts and breathed new life into the band. They followed it up with the similar but less-impressive ‘You Are the One’, which also just missed out on the top 10. The track is fast-paced and melodic, but without much substance.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag. The slight ‘This Alone is Love’ never really takes off, plodding along in a rather subdued and muted fashion. ‘Hurry Home’ completely misses the mark, only sparking to life for a brief moment during the chorus, but even that doesn’t sound quite right.

‘There’s Never a Forever Thing’ is pretty good stuff. A superior ballad to the title track, the acoustic and piano accompaniment along with gripping vocals work beautifully together. More reminiscent of ‘Hunting High and Low’, it’s the type of sound that helped A-ha maximize their quality song-writing. ‘Out of Blue Comes Green’ is also a pretty likeable tune. Weighing in at almost 7 minutes, this well sculptured power-ballad got some well deserved radio airplay after the album’s release. A single release seemed plausible but didn’t materialise.

We finish off with the peculiar, almost operatic, ‘You’ll End Up Crying’. Nicely performed but essentially a little bland.

“Stay On These Roads” is a disappointing record. None of the singles are outstanding, although ‘The Blood That Moves the Body’ and ‘Touchy!’ are definitely quality tunes, if for differing reasons. Unfortunately the album-only material is overall quite poor and this is A-ha’s weakest album to date.

2star