Album Title: Honkin’ On Bobo
Running Time: 43m 55s
Track listing: 1 Roadrunner; 2 Shame, Shame, Shame; 3 Eyesight to the Blind; 4 Baby, Please Don’t Go; 5 Never Loved a Girl; 6 Back Back Train; 7 You Gotta Move; 8 The Grind; 9 I’m Ready; 10 Temperature; 11 Stop Messin’ Around; 12 Jesus is on the Main Line
Being an Aerosmith fan is difficult. Ok it’s not difficult in the sense of feeding a family of four on the breadline, or negotiating peace in the Middle East.
But it’s hard mentally. Because you love them. You love the way Steven screeches and oozes charisma. You love silent and violent axeman Joe Perry, defining Mr Cool with his open-shirt and curly Italian barnet. You love Tom for ‘Sweet Emotion’ and his cracking sense of humour, and the way Brad and Joey hold the whole thing together in the shadows.
And you love the way these five people have created some stonkin music spanning four decades. It wasn’t the same when Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay were around. I mean “Rock in a Hard Place” was a hugely under-rated album, but it didn’t feel like Aerosmith without Joe and Brad. Did it?
And despite all this love, it seems that every three or four years when the Boston Bad Boys (and yes I do hate calling them that – it’s the ultimate cliché) release a record, the music press round on them for another lackadaisical sell-out. Never mind the catchy hits or the quality ballads, it’s just not “Rocks”.
It’s 2004 and after 10 years of talking about it, Aerosmith have finally released that blues album. You didn’t know? Who did!? Columbia are about as interested in the album as I am in contracting rickets. So with no promotion and no single, “Honkin’ On Bobo” has sexily exposed itself to the world, peering around the corner like a chastised child.
It’s a covers album, with one original as garnish. I know – covers. I hate them too. I don’t even like Aerosmith’s covers. Save for ‘Train Kept a Rollin’, I’ve been underwhelmed by ‘Big Ten Inch Record’, ‘Walking the Dog’, ‘I’m Down’…I mean they’re *ok* but ok isn’t what Aerosmith is about.
So here we have eleven covers of numerous blues tracks from the early-to-mid twentieth century. I make it sound very grand, don’t I. And I’m not going to pretend to know anything about blues music. I don’t even like blues music. Actually, I really think this is going to suck. I don’t like blues, I don’t like covers.
But somehow “Honkin’ on Bobo” (an ironically cute sounding title) just about crawls over the finish line. I mean it was borderline disappointment for a while but the tremendous harmonies and slide guitar of ‘Jesus is on the Main Line’ gave it that little bit of oomph just when it needed it. And boy did it really need it at the end of this record because things were running out of steam big time.
Let’s start at the top. ‘Roadrunner’ is a slightly hokey Bo Diddley tune, which is good fun for its sub-four minute running time. As an album opener, I don’t think it works. I always prefer a hard-edged initiation like ‘Toys in the Attic’, ‘Young Lust’, ‘Nine Lives’ or ‘Beyond Beautiful’. If you’re looking for one of those on “Bobo” then look no further than the outstanding ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’. This is one of the best Aerosmith performances in close to thirty years. The band have an absolute blast on it – totally fuelled-up rock n’ roll. Perry and Whitford duel like it’s 1976, Hamilton and Kramer tear the place up and Steven Tyler is in his demon-screamin’ element.
Between those two songs are two fairly middling efforts. The warp-speed ‘Shame Shame Shame’ is similar to the aforementioned 1975s cover, ‘Big Ten Inch Record’. It’s fine, but forgettable. ‘Eyesight to the Blind’ is a more traditional, wheezy, bar-room blues number. Some great vocals and harmonica from Tyler (who shines throughout the record), but it’s not a song I’d be returning to an awful lot.
The album moves up a notch for the middle third. ‘Never Loved a Girl’, a gender-swapped version of a song made famous by Aretha Franklin is a groovy motherf-cker of a song. I know I’m being repetitive but Tyler has rarely sounded better than he does here. If Columbia got their thumb out of their asses and started supporting this record, they’ve got two massive hit singles on their hands (this and ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’).
Ladies and Gentlemen … singing ‘Back Back Train’ … Mr Joe … F-cking … Perry. I’ve got the Joe Perry Project albums. I’ve listened to Joe sing. Man, has he improved in 20 years. Actually scratch that – just listen to 1997s ‘Falling Off’ to see how much Joe P has hit his stride vocally. Any chance of a fourth Joe Perry release while Steven is doing his inevitable solo album, you think? ‘Back Back Train’ is probably the most interesting cut on “Bobo”. It’s dirty, gritty, sleazy, dangerous… it’s Aerosmith. It also features the phenomenal talents of Tracy Bonham on backing vocals, who adds some white to Joe Perry’s black.
Ok put out that cigarette. It’s time to pick your feet up off the ground and get dancing again. Bear in mind I don’t know blues music from Blues Clues. Apparently ‘You Gotta Move’ is a Mississippi Fred McDowell tune that the Stones covered on 1971 on their “Sticky Fingers” album. And apparently, Aerosmith have re-shaped the song as their own by adding a Bo Diddley beat and turning the original upside down. Whatever they’ve done, it sounds bloody marvellous. It’s the longest track at five-thirty, but it never outstays it’s welcome thanks to that irrepressible Diddley beat and a terrific arrangement. And that mid-track guitar/harmonica/contemporary vocal detour is better than carnal pleasure. Man I’m on fire here!
And hey I’m gonna give ‘big ups’ to the only original here, ‘The Grind’. Yes it’s an Aerosmith ballad all dressed up in a blues-suit and just about everyone in the whole world can tell. Boys, you’re fooling no one. It’s not as strong as ‘Lay It Down’ from the “Oh Yeah” album, but it’s pretty good – even if it does only takes Steven 31 seconds to say ‘ass’. Old habits die hard.
Then we kind of hit a problem. I’m not that taken on the next couple of tracks. Willie Dixon’s ‘I’m Ready’ starts off quite well. I’m thinking ‘this is totally cool’. This is what Brad had in mind when he wrote the criminally under-rated ‘Round and Round’ in 1975. The arrangement is strong – in fact they’ve made this song sound better than it really is. But this number is just missing a hook and it’s about a minute too long.
‘Temperature’ is frustrating too. It’s another bar-room style croak, similar to the earlier ‘Eyesight to the Blind’. There’s loads of harmonica and Tom Hamilton produces a damn cool bassline, but it’s just a little ordinary. At under three minutes though it’s inoffensive.
The Aerosmith concert-standard, ‘Stop Messin’ Around’ gets it’s first ever studio airing. Joe Perry grabs the mic again, as he does during live performances, and again more than holds his own. It’s fun, it’s polished. It’s really an excuse for a jam and that’s good enough for me.
And hey here we are at the finish line! With the momentum slowed down in the last ten minutes, the traditional gospel tune ‘Jesus is on the Main Line’ gives the album something a little different at a critical time. The combined efforts of Tyler and Tracy Bonham’s vocals, Perry’s slide guitar, and a backing chorus including Tom, Joey and Steven’s daughter, Chelsea, close the album out in a rather curious but noteworthy fashion.
I have to say, I really thought that when I started this review, I’d give this album three stars. Now I’ve finished and connected more with the music I’ve decided it definitely deserves three and a half. Does this make it the best Aerosmith album since 1989s “Pump”? It does, funnily enough. Honk honk!