Thursday, January 24, 2008

Album project: Toys In The Attic

Aerosmith, Toys In The Attic (1975): Everybody can recall certain music from their high-school days that was essential for cruising the local strip. In my hometown, summer weekends in the mid-70's were filled with the music of acts like Styx, REO Speedwagon, Ted Nugent, Foghat, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive blasting from car windows up and down West Main Street. Aerosmith joined the cruising pantheon around my sophomore year. Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and company had been terrorizing the East Coast for several years, but Toys In The Attic was their real breakthrough in the Midwest, along with the re-release of their "Dream On" single which put them in the Top 10 for the first time and got a lot of us kids interested in their earlier work. I got my drivers license in the summer of 1976, and installed one of those Mickey Mouse underdash 8-track players in my first car, a '66 Impala Dad bought dirt-cheap from one of the neighbors. Toys In The Attic was the first 8-track I bought, and with music blasting, I set off to join the gang congregated in the parking lots of Steak 'N' Shake, Pasquale's Pizza, Jones Boys Arcade, and other West Main hangouts.

By this time Aerosmith had crafted a sound that drew heavily on classic British hard rock, most notably the Rolling Stones and The Who. Lead singer Steven Tyler often was compared to Mick Jagger both for looks and vocal style; he frequently sang suggestive lyrics that skirted the edge of tastefulness. Joe Perry and Brad Whitford's dual-guitar attack often equaled that of the best British guitar heroes, and they were supported ably by Tom Hamilton on bass and Joey Kramer on drums. Toys In The Attic, along with their followup disc Rocks, is the band's high-water mark. Although many fans would argue for Rocks as the better of the two, I've always thought Toys to be more consistent. Both are far preferable to the multi-platinum mush they released in the late 80's and early 90's in the wake of their new-found sobriety.

The album opens with the manic riffing of the title track, which sets up a vague theme of mental instability that continues with the next track, the mid-tempo "Uncle Salty". "Adam's Apple" welds another killer riff to Tyler's take on original sin. The funky "Walk This Way" would provide Aerosmith their second Top Ten hit. "Big Ten Inch Record", an old blues recorded by Bull Moose Jackson, is built around a series of double-entendres suggestive of Tyler's "big ten-inch".

Aerosmith never got any better than "Sweet Emotion", which kicks off side two on the old vinyl. Tom Hamilton sets it up with a bass figure that provides the song's foundation, joined by Joe Perry doing some tricks with his guitar talk box before the song kicks in. The song chronicles living and loving on the road; Perry's wife was supposedly the inspiration for some of the lyrics. The Perry solo that closes the track over the years has developed into a showcase for some of his hottest playing in concert.

"No More No More" is another road song; another sledgehammer riff drives home the point that the rock 'n' roll life is driving Tyler to the brink of insanity. "Round And Round" is a swirl of psychotic metal that suggests that the whole band may be on the verge of cracking, but they pull it all together to bring the disc to a close with "You See Me Crying", a heavily-orchestrated power ballad that provides a fitting end to the proceedings.

Practically all of Aerosmith's music that's worth a damn is found on their first four albums. By the time of Draw The Line in 1978, the booze and coke was already eating away at their talent, and the reformed, sobered-up Aerosmith of the late 80's and 90's sounds like a parody of their past glory. Video footage of 70's Aerosmith is hard to come by. Although the sound and video quality of this promo clip of "Sweet Emotion" are poor, it provides the best example of the energy of classic Aerosmith that I could find.