By Chad Baalman
"For those who are asking, this album will be raw, nasty, tough rock with a good deal of the old Aerosmith 'tongue in cheek," Douglas was quoted as saying on Blabbermouth.net. The yet-to-be-named album, the band's first with all-original material since 2001, is tentatively scheduled for a May 2012 release.
Douglas should know about that classic sound. The longtime producer worked with Aerosmith during its salad days of the 1970s, first overseeing the production of Get Your Wings in 1974 and then staying aboard to help crank out the 1975 breakthrough Toys in the Attic, the critically acclaimed Rocks a year later and finally Draw the Line in 1977.
Those days were highlighted by a combustible mix of groovy, bluesy and straight ahead rock from lead singer Steven Tyler, lead guitarist Joe Perry and Co. Few did it better than the "Toxic Twins" in the 1970s. The excesses of drugs and other vices, some say, might have given Aerosmith that edge that led to classics like "Back in the Saddle," "Sweet Emotion," "Same Old Song and Dance" and "Walk This Way."
But after things reached the tipping point and Tyler, Perry, rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer came down from that smoky haze, the sharp edge became dull. Aerosmith seemed to kick the mindset that worked in the '70s to the curb and replaced it with an effort to gain widespread commercial success and chase that big chart-topping single. The 1990s and early 2000s were filled with a litany of sappy ballads, a single named "Pink" in 1997, that No. 1 hit with 1998's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" (a collaboration with songwriter Diane Warren), and 2001's Just Push Play, perhaps the band's epic fail moment with a pink-colored album cover and a female robot in a blown up skirt (think Marilyn Monroe).
Granted, when Aerosmith chose that path to Top 40 radio, their wallets got fatter and record execs at Columbia and Geffen smiled. Doors were opened that Aerosmith had no business knocking on earlier in their careers. Does anyone think for a minute that the bony Tyler would be sitting hip to hip with curvy J-Lo on the set of American Idol if things continued on the path they were taking during the Night In The Ruts sessions in 1979 and when the band wandered through the early 1980s during the Jimmy Crespo/Rick Dufay era?
So if that mainstream kick was a necessary evil, a midlife crisis so to speak, so must a return to Aerosmith's roots for this go-around. What better way to end a 11-year (in 2012) original material drought than with a stirring comeback to regain that swagger from yesteryear? Compare it to a manager in the World Series giving a call to the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth and tabbing that reliever - with "Back in the Saddle" blaring in the stadium of course -- who has been on the mend for a couple years to reach back for one more 90+ mph fastball to get him one more out for the win.
Syncing up with Douglas was a step in the right direction. Aerosmith last worked in the studio with Douglas on the covers album, Honkin' On Bobo, which was released in 2004. The effort allowed the band's blues influences to bubble back to the surface. Perhaps bringing Douglas back into the fold will get those juices flowing once again for the boys from Boston.
It would be a stretch to expect Rocks II at this point (but we can dream, right?), at least capturing that vibe and a rougher, raunchier sound instead of some of their over-produced work in later years will whet the appetite of longtime Aerosmith fans.
"We can see and hear the album in our minds," Hamilton said recently in a video message on the band's website. "We can kind of tell what's going on. And I like to describe it as being crunchy on the outside with a creamy center."
Hamilton added that the basic drum and bass tracks have been laid down and that Perry and Whitford are in the midst of doing the guitar overdubs, with Tyler scheduled to start adding the vocals before the end of the year.
Here's hoping Tyler's mind is in the right place these days and the album doesn't end up being entirely made of cream. It remains to be seen what kind of effect a season of being a judge on Idol (Tyler is coming back for another season) at a reported $18 million has done to him. In an interview with Rolling Stone earlier this year, Tyler said, "Did I take this job to show the band? F**k yeah. Not to show them, but that I can't be held hostage anymore. I will be my own hostage. The band can't throw me out."
Has Tyler been "all in" during the process or has he lost focus? Have he and Perry been able to stay on the same page and put the "Is he (Tyler) in or is he out?" soap opera from two years ago behind them?
If the answer to those questions is 'Yes' and Tyler hasn't gotten too sappy on us, old school fans should really have something to look forward to.
If the answer is "No" and Douglas and Hamilton's proclamations turn out to be hollow, it might give those same fans a reason to "Just Push Stop."