Friday, March 31, 2017

LET THEM EAT METAL #12: Toys in the Attic by Aerosmith

In the days of yore, when pop music meant something, it was filled with nourishing musical ideas and showed the tides of progress.  But then something happened, the ability for it to fill our soul has nearly vanished, and the masses are starved on good music.  There’s the occasional quality track that stays good after multiple spins, but it has gotten to the moment where even good pop music gets stale.  We live in a white-bread world in mainstream music.  However, there’s salvation from the drek that the masses need to know about.  In the words of Marie Antoinette, or more accurately The Rods quoting her: “LET THEM EAT METAL!”

Hello degenerates, heathens, weirdos, and deviants.  I am the Rock Otaku, and I’m here to show you worlds such as hard rock, metal, punk, alternative rock, movies, TV, anime, video games, and anything that makes us scream, shout, and walk this way.

This series is dedicated to the best that heavy metal can offer.  As you will read, I will take you on a journey though the annals of heavy metal’s storied history from its beginning in early 70s, its crystallization in the late 70s and early 80s, its breakthrough into mainstream conscience in the early to mid-80s, its maturation in the late 80s and 90s, its dominance (sort of) in the 2000s and even today, and the rare moments that very few talk about unless in the company of like-minded fans.  Not in that order, but I’ll be looking at the footnotes of metal history in the order I desire.  In short, this series is about metal, plain and simple.

But why stop at the more aggressive side of metal.  Why not discuss bands and artists that definitely had a major impact on not just heavy metal but got listeners into listening into heavier bands and artists.  If there was a few bands that shaped my views on rock in my earlier years and set my standards, you’d expect artists like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Metallica, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, R.E.M., AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, Led Zeppelin, The Ramones, Rage Against the Machine, Muse, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, and even The Beatles to set them.  But they were partially responsible, as the band that has the claim for that distinction is: AEROSMITH.

The Bad Boys from Boston.  The Toxic Twins and the LIT (Less Important Three) together.  The Greatest American Rock N’ Roll Band.  They can be considered to be my gateway drug into harder rock, and I was 8, about to be 9, when I became a fan.  As I’ve mentioned in the previous countdown before I embarrassed myself about my musical tastes last week, I became a fan after riding the Rock N’ Roller Coaster at Disney World (which also shaped my standards in how good a roller coaster can be), and I am still a fan to this very day.  Yes, the list to my favorite bands of all time will change as things get more rocking and so on, but I can safely say that Aerosmith will always be on there and towards the top.  Why?  Because, as I’ve stated, they are the band that got me into hard rock and helped shaped my life whether I knew it or not.  That and Queen, Van Halen, The Scorpions, and KISS were there as well.  And in tribute, I’ve decided to talk about what is considered to be their best album of all time (one of them, to be exact) and the one that mad them superstars here on this blog: Toys in the Attic.

To a certain degree, this is definitely a nostalgia trip for yours truly, as I’ve not just listened to this album and even its deep cuts a lot, but I’ve even owned it on CD at one point, and now, it’s among the first few entries into my vinyl collection (one that will grow in due time, including the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack and Screaming for Vengeance).  And as a result, I have a strong attachment to this album like how some fans would have with albums like Abbey Road, Nevermind, Appetite for Destruction, Disintegration, Back In Black, Master of Puppets, Led Zeppelin IV, the Top Gun soundtrack, Van Halen, Destroyer, Texas Flood, and even Thriller.  Yes, this album, the third in their first deal with Columbia Records, inked by Clive Davis at Max’s Kansas City in ’71, their second with legendary producer Jack Douglas, and featuring some of their most iconic songs of all time, “Walk This Way” and “Sweet Emotion.”  This album.  And now I’m going track by track to not just showcase what I like about it, still like about it, and give it recognition but see if I can both check for if it’s still fresh today while incorporating my sense of humor in my prose.  Alright, let’s go:

1.         Toys in the Attic:
So to start this legendary album, we get arguably one of the fastest songs ever recorded by the band, with its fast rhythms, heavy guitars, thick bass, and interesting lyrics.  Starting out is a fast riff based around descending notes and chords, fast drumming and basslines, and a sense of heaviness that ties the band with the heavy metal scene as it does the hard rock scene, with a ferocity that would be seen more in the world of punk rock.  And after that comes the lyrics, where Steven Tyler sings about toys in attics coming to life or something (which is making me consider the fact that Aerosmith are probably behind the idea of Toy Story).  After the first vocal line, which may cause lapses in sanity in the listener, we get vague lyrics matched with furious drums, a bluesy guitar line, and other crazy moments, before the pre-chorus re-uses the “Voices scream” part and launches into the chorus, where they redo the intro with the inclusion of Steven Tyler and Joe Perry singing the title of the song.  Then we get a fast, furious, and bluesy solo after that.  If I can describe how the album starts, psychedelic, drug-infused speed metal might be a good way of putting it.  And plus, it’s a good sign that the album will pack a punch when the album starts with one of the album’s heaviest tracks sonically.

2.         Uncle Salty:
However, there is a difference between heavy sonically and heavy lyrically, and this fits the latter as I’ll explain.  But before that, we get a light, bluesy guitar part which gives the impression that the song will be slightly lighter and bluesier in the music, but then the lyrics give off a sense that something isn’t right.  More likely, something REALLY isn’t right.  They deal with a young girl having to be raised by a relative who turns out to be the unsavory type, abusing her in more ways than one.
And the song deals with the psychological trauma of this girl as she’s being raised and abused by this very skeezy, sleazy monster.  While the song isn’t super-heavy, it does have a driving beat, causing the listener to listen carefully to the lyrics Steven Tyler are singing.  And the guitar parts here are very good, adding to the musical bleakness with minor key arpeggios, dark licks, and an appropriately bluesy solo.  And the part where it gets really heavy is the chorus where Steven sings “And when she cried at night, no one came./And when she cried at night, she went insane.”  This song is that bleak.  Plus, I have to give credit to Tom and Joey for keeping the rhythm in check for this bleak as hell track.  Great track, but I’m bummed out, and I need something fun.

3.         Adam’s Apple:
So what would happen if the raunchy nature of the Adam and Eve story was ratcheted up to 11 and more satisfying than the gay reveal in the Beauty and the Beast remake?  You’d get this heavy, bluesy rocker from probably the only good thing to come from Boston, though Extreme does kick some serious ass when not playing acoustic ballads.  Plus the band that named themselves after the city is pretty good.  Plus Godsmack were one of the more-interesting, melodic, and listenable nu metal bands of the time, and they came from the area.  And I’m not sure if Springfield, Massachusetts counts, but the state did give us Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall, bridging together metalheads and hardcore fans during the 00s.  So those are a few things that are from Massachusetts that don’t suck, but I’m still mad that the Patriots won over the Falcons.

Anyway, back to the song.  If you’d compare Aerosmith to both Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, you’d be right on the money for the feel of this particular track, having the raw, heavy edge of Zeppelin and the bluesy, raunchy feel of the Stones.  I’d say that it sounds a lot like if the lyrics of “Houses of the Holy” were written by Space Dandy after he went to church, and they read about Adam and Eve that day.  From the heavy riffs, the bluesy licks, and even bluesy solos to the skeezy lyrics, everything about this song screams sacrilegious enough to scare Westboro but dangerous enough that it could open a Catholic Schoolgirl to sexual ecstasy.  The opening riff is bluesy and sleazy, before the choruses come in with thumping bass and palm-muted guitars that anchor the lyrics dealing with a woman, likely Eve, eating the fruit of knowledge as a result of, in this interpretation, Adam telling her about it.  And somehow it made Adam the serpent rather than a hapless idiot this time, as if the whole sexist attitude of the church was solved by having man be responsible for us being kicked out of Eden.  Despite the fact that Eve was as guilty due to pushing Adam’s sexual urges to, how much Vegeta?

Wow, who knew Adam and Eve was the first ever porno Aerosmith got their hands on.  But if you are of the Christian faith, please don’t throw heresy claims at me.
4.         Walk This Way:
I have to get this off my chest.  Did you know that this song’s title was inspired by Young Frankenstein?  If not, it was due to this scene:
But for the song, the opening drum beat is a great way to get the song started as well as being a great drum beat in general.  During that, you get a bluesy guitar lick that is as iconic as it is genius in its execution.  After all that, you start to get into the verses, where Joe and Brad play a palm-muted guitar riff that’s as simple to understand in its feel as it is surprisingly hard to play unless you have the finger dexterity.  Plus it does punch up a strong bass line from Tom Hamilton, who anchors the song to the sleazy side as Steven Tyler speak-sings about the experiences of a high school boy about to lose his virginity at the dance with a wild girl that has two signs of care about her purity: Jack and shit, and Jack left town a few days ago.  And with three words, which the chorus is made of (alongside a variation), she takes this dweeb past third base.  And the chorus is as catchy as it is iconic, being the title sung rather than speak-sung.  And after each chorus, you get a short, melodic, and bluesy guitar solo from Joe Perry that segues into the opening riff.  With the second one leading into a wild, bluesy, and surprisingly tricky to play ending solo that has the right buildup of bends going up the guitar before it strikes like a viper.  However, if there’s a gripe I have with it, it’s A) Rocksmith 2014 cuts out playing it too early, and B) the song fades while Joe is setting his guitar on fire figuratively.  Talk about giving him blue balls in case the song’s solo goes even crazier and shows more of his guitar wizardry, but this is the 70s, and I’m sure shredding only existed in jazz fusion and live performances at the time, but at least you could have let us hear the rest of his face-melting solo.  Overall, this is a guaranteed classic, no frills about it, and punchy as hell.  As punchy as another song here, but we’ll get to that one soon enough.

5.         Big Ten Inch Record:
As you should guess, this has more of a 50s-based bluesy style with its groove, tempo, playing style, and class.  It’s a great way to set up a song where Steven Tyler sings about how this girl loves it when he whips out his big ten inch…
…record and plays the blues on it.  Yeah, it’s not as if this was MEANT to be about his manly assets, using references to records in saying how big it is when erect.  And he can deny it for so long.
And on the right would be Steven Tyler if singing this today.
However, just because the song’s as dirty as the rest of the band’s 70s material (and a little more cheeky about it) doesn’t mean the 50s-style musicianship doesn’t mess with the sleaze and tone of the track.  While you can say that this is slightly more of a bluesy style, I keep saying 50s because Aerosmith-style bluesy conjures up “Same Old Song and Dance” for me, this has a lot of rockabilly swing to it.  That and the solos, guitars and horns, show a lot of skill in the musicians here, including Joe Perry and Brad Wittford.  Plus it’s great to hear Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer still be excellent musicians while playing with a different style they’re used to.  But the thing that stands out and almost ruins the retro vibe is Steven Tyler singing, right down to his higher notes toward the song’s end and singing about whipping out his big ten inch…
…record and putting on the blues.  Seriously, there’s no denying it this time, but I’m sure this was intended to fly over the minds of the innocent.  However, this is a fun song to listen to and a great way to end side one.

6.         Sweet Emotion:
So here’s a weird story for this one.  For some reason on my vinyl copy, there’s a part where the song skips a good chunk of the song.  And it’s this song in particular.  I’m not sure if it’s the player, or because this has a scratch from being a (most likely) fresh record, but it skips on this track.  But let’s get to why this side two opener rocks regardless.

First, the opening is pretty awesome.  With Tom Hamilton’s bassline and Joe Perry’s use of the talk box, we get an atmospheric opening that sets up something, well, sweet.  And after that, with Joey Kramer kicking in, we get to the chorus, which is only anchored by the rhythm section the first time, where Steven and Joey sing the title of the song in perfect harmony.  There’s a reason why they’re called the Toxic Twins, outside of the rampant drug use they were both notorious for.  Then you get the riff from Joe and Brad Whitford, which is as simple as it is heavy as hell, causing this classic rock staple to border, if you haven’t considered it, on heavy metal.  During this time, Steven is talk-singing about the sleazy life and being a hedonist, and each of the two parts of the verses are bridged by one hell of a guitar riff starting high, then going up, which is then harmonized into a slab of Aerosmith’s bluesy brand of rockin’ proto-glam metal (I’ll get to that later, but expect elements that’ll appear later in glam metal throughout side B).  And when the chorus repeats, Joe and Brad come in, playing a guitar version of Tom’s bassline, creating a sense of spiritual harmony within the band that’s hard to find in most.  Then after the fourth of these post-verse licks, we get to a drum fill by Joey that brings in the outro, with a wild guitar solo by Brad Whitford, more talk box from Joe Perry, and a kickass riff.  And in some mixes, including the Guitar Hero Aerosmith mix, we get a big rock ending to conclude the song.  Overall this is an amazing track, and it deserves the accolades and notoriety it has.  Hell, I’d consider this one of Aerosmith’s heaviest hit singles (including the hits from the follow-up to this, which deserves an entry on its own merits), and one of their best.  If this is one of the songs the band is famous for, the above prose is why.

7.         No More, No More:
With it’s opening clean guitar arpeggios, I get the feeling that there is a strong element of flair and commerciality to this rocker that would permeate the glam metal scene of the 80s.  Yes, alongside KISS and Van Halen, Aerosmith would be considered a strong influence on the Los Angeles metal scene that would dominate 80s rock until flannel became fashionable.  And the following riff adds to this, anchoring a song dealing with the pains of fame and fortune as well as going out on the road.  Such examples would include long nights, lousy corporate figures micro-managing your life, a lot of poontang, heavy drug abuse, and probably fights with rival bands or dealing with your fanbase bashing the KISS fanbase for petty reasons.  As a result, you end up with a lot of desires to just quit while you’re ahead and live a normal life, but considering the success of this album, normal isn’t a word that can describe the life of the band members.  But if there’s a silver lining, I don’t get the sense that this album is filler in any way or shape.  But to add to this song, there’s definitely a driving sound to this, with the pulse-pounding riff, the quick-tempo bass and drums, and the usage of pianos, giving off a bluesy vibe to this.  I can see where Cinderella got all their musical ideas from, especially on Long Cold Winter onwards.  And the song starts to build up a massive climax that ends with the opening arpeggios transitioning to a bluesy, fiery guitar solo that loaded with a lot of great playing by Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, which ultimately carries the song to the end.  Overall, this isn’t the best song here, but it’s a damn fine bluesy hard rock number with elements that will ultimately be a part of glam metal years after the album came out and enough to keep you wanting more.

8.         Round and Round:
This is not to be confused with the Ratt classic of the same name.  But I can see where they got some of their influences outside of sunny California and cloudy Britain.  But Ratt this isn’t, as the opening is significantly heavier, nastier, and meaner than the famous anthem of the same name, being raw, sleazy, high sexual violence perfected as an art form.  And that’s from a biased Aerosmith fanboy, but what about a critic?  I’d say that objectively this song is great.  The riffs are biting and mean, full of sleaze and muscle, capturing the feelings of the song.  The rhythm section is equally aggressive, providing the necessary punch that this song needs.  If I have to nitpick, Steven Tyler decided to sing from a vocoder here, and it’s noticeable, despite giving the vocals an otherworldly quality to them.  And the licks and solos here are some of the most biting and heavy Joe and Brad have ever played, proving their heavy metal credibility even if they don’t care about it, preferring to be categorized as rock ‘n’ roll.  As for the lyrics, I’m not sure of what to make of them, but they do fit the spiraling, drug-induced feel of the track.  More accurately, you can make the assumption that this song is more about being in a massive state of lust, wanting to make out with anything and everything until you’re dizzy from the desire.  It’s weird, but it’s a fun song to headbang to, overall.

9.         You See Me Crying:
For this song, we get the main ballad for this album, and similar to a band called Winger, they put it at the very end of the album, as if they want the listener to decompress after the onslaught of the triple attack of “Sweet Emotion,” “No More, No More,” and “Round and Round.”  And for causal listeners, this might be a good idea.  And it does remind me of the thinking behind the end of Iwasawa's arc in Angel Beats!  The worst part?  This has a similar feel to the moment I just compared it to, as in you might cry hearing this.  From the opening piano melody to Steven Tyler’s emotional singing, punctuated by the instrumentation, from the traditional rock instruments (Electric guitar, bass, and drums) to even an orchestra, this song can be considered a tear jerker.  The song deals with the stresses and pains of romance that Steven Tyler is dealing with, with him singing about how he doesn’t want this girl he’s in love with (or broken up with) seeing him broken the way he is right now.  That and something involving Joe Perry’s love life?  I don’t know, I need to read the autobiography to understand that.  Regardless, it’s still a very sweet, sad song that does involve heartbreak in some way, shape or form.  But if there’s a silver lining musically, the piano and orchestra do add to the melancholy of the track and offer a softer tone that’ll probably result in needing a few tissues, and the guitars, especially the solo by Joe Perry, are excellent.  Plus, while the rhythm section doesn’t get to do anything special here, they do their parts well.  And boy, does Steven hit those high notes toward the middle of the song.  If this is where Tom Keifer got his singing style from, I’d say that he has some fine taste, that and the vocal delivery is similar to “Nobody’s Fool” despite being over a decade older.  In spite of that, the song is great, a very underrated ballad in their massive collection of great ballads, and a more-than-stellar way to end the album.

So what are my overall thoughts on this drug-infused, sex-crazed ride of debauchery and sleaze?  I think it’s excellent, and it has surprisingly aged well for an album from the mid-70s.  Not to say that the 70s sucked, but it was a weird decade for rock overall (not as weird as the 90s, though), where commercial rock had some serious bite, the overall effects of the hippie movement and the Vietnam War caused rock and metal to be either biting, flamboyant, or both, and this album came out before rock went from an angry beast to a commercial force that led to arena rock and commercialized progressive rock, offset by the rise of punk rock, pub rock, and more aggressive strands of heavy rock.  In short, Aerosmith were among the bands that probably stood their ground, took the whole sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll ideology to the extreme while paving the way for heavier, sleazier, and more dangerous rock, punk, and metal bands to rise in the late 70s and early 80s.  And this album, their breakthrough smash hit, made most of that possible with some of their most accessible and dangerous songs at the time after their self-titled debut and Get Your Wings started the charge.  The guitars by Joe Perry and Brad Whitford slay and wail, the bass by Tom Hamilton is thick and funky, the drums by Joey Kramer have strong swing, the vocals by Steven Tyler are biting and catchy, and Jack Douglas’ production ensures that every nasty note and drum beat is heard and impregnated on your feeble little minds.  This is hard rock for the wild, crazy, debauched, and sleazy, with enough bite to get everyone involved while appealing to all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, identities, cultures, and so on and so forth.  If there’s a weak track, I’d vote “No More, No More” but every track, including that one, has something great on it, and even the overplayed “Walk This Way” and “Sweet Emotion” deserve their overplayed status.  “You See Me Crying” is a great ballad, despite not being as much of a revelation as “Dream On” while “Toys in the Attic” and “Round and Round” prove their status as heavy metal.  That and “Uncle Salty,” “Adam’s Apple,” and “Big Ten Inch Record” are fun as well, despite their blatant sleaze.  But in today’s PC environment, a little sleaze is good for our physical and emotional balance, because rid a person, young or old, of sleaze, the discovery of it will lead to self-destruction *cough*Miley Cyrus*cough*Disney Channel Idol Machine*cough cough*, man these allergies are killing me.  Anyway, what isn’t killing me is giving this album high marks.  Depending on what you’re opinion of Aerosmith is today, we can agree that this album can kick ass (if not, leave a comment below explaining why you think this album is overrated outside of saying Rocks is the better album, which is fine in my book).  Do I consider this essential for metalheads, yes, but it’s definitely essential for ALL fans of rock music.  I feel that this is one of those albums you have to listen to at least once in your lifetime.  And that’s saying something.

Final Rating: 9.5/10 (essential hard rock mastery from one of America’s greatest bands!)

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Next Time on Let Them Eat Metal: The word of God meets the molten guitars of two eras of rock in the Metallic Ring of Rock ‘N’ Roll Hellfire!  The two albums will be revealed on Palm Sunday.

Until next time, this is the Rock Otaku.  Live Loud, Play Hard, and Eat Metal.

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