Album Review : Aerosmith – Rock in a Hard Place (1982)

“Take it or a-leave it on a Saturday night!”

hard place

Rating : 8/10

One of rock’s most underrated albums, that’s what this one is. It’s been constantly despised over the years and the reasons are not really hard to see : Aerosmith was extremely close to hitting rock bottom (some say they did with this album, but I obviously disagree). Guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford were both out of the band and replaced by Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay (two no-namers at the time), while the rest of the members were still hanging strongly onto their big white coke clouds. Also, it being the beginning of the 80’s, it was getting harder and harder for them old 70’s rock bands to remain relevant without any major sound changes. So it’s no wonder the album did very bad, in the eyes of both critics and fans.

Yet, 30 years and a few crappy Aerosmith albums later, perhaps ‘Rock In A Hard Place’ can get its deserved reputation, that of the last record that maintains the band’s original sound. Or you might as well call it the last album in which they truly kicked ass without any sense of doubt. The songs rock, they’re dirty, gritty, guitar-driven and dangerous – just like we want our Aerosmith to be.

And there is no better proof for that other than the adrenaline-pumped ‘Jailbait’ that opens the album. I don’t understand half of what Steven’s singing about, but does it really matter? I don’t think so, given the speed it rocks at, with the furious guitar and Tyler’s vocals racing back to back. The silly synthesizer that introduces ‘Lightening Strikes’ may raise a few eyebrows but once the thunderous drums kick in you realize that this is yet another kick-ass, straight-ahead rocker. Did any other Aerosmith album ever open with such a solid 1-2 punch? Well, yes, but this one’s up there with the best! Let’s move on to ‘Bitches Brew’, a song that would be quite easy to mock due to its half-goofy, half-stoned attempt at a mystique atmosphere, but to be quite honest, I’ve always found it somehow appealing (I’ve always had this image of an intoxicated Tyler sitting in a dark, smoke-dried, empty bar singing “I’ve been thinkin’/Had my hands through the sense of time/Yeah, and I’ve been drinkin’/Just to make this here song rhyme” with nobody really paying any attention to him). I’ll have to admit though, the song is a definite proof that his voice was really worsening at the time. The much more obvious proof is, of course, ‘Cry Me A River’, the obligatory Aerosmith ballad that, even though starts quite nice, gets really unlistenable near the end as Steven proceeds into a series of raspy, ear-hurting screams. This still represents the biggest disappointment for me, because I hold each and every previously released Aerosmith ballad in high regard – beginning with the anthemic ‘Dream On’, culminating with the wintery ‘Seasons of Wither’ and ending with the haunting ‘Mia’.

But let’s concentrate on the rockers, because that’s what the album’s strength lies in, doesn’t it? If you don’t believe me, perhaps ‘Bolivian Ragamuffin’ – Mr. Crespo’s highlighted moment – may prove you so. I mean, listen to those guitar breaks and tell me they’re not absolutely fantastic. But let’s not forget the solid rhythm riffing, either. Heh, the new guys are not that bad after all, are they? Other rockers include the excellent riff-monster title track and finally ‘Jig Is Up’, which is not bad in any particular way, but feels just so ordinary and faceless when compared to the others. Call it generic, if you might.

The opium-fueled ‘Prelude To Joanie’ (no jokes, it was actually written under the influence of the drug) represents the album’s most controversial point and even though it’s good to see that Aerosmith are willing to try new thing, the final results end up sounding so dated and directionless that it’s laughable. The song pales even more when compared to its conceptual colleague, ‘Joanie’s Butterfly’, another experimental song, but much more fulfilled and complete. Fully equipped with synthesizers, sound effects, moaned backing vocals and successfully alternating between the acoustic story-telling and the electric, furious “She was a kick-ass rockin’ horse” parts, this is as ambitious and interesting as Aerosmith gets on the album. ‘Push Comes To Shove’ seems to be one of those “love it or hate it” tracks, but I’ve always found myself closer to the former category. Yes, the lyrics are as dumb as they come. Yes, Tyler’s faux-Janis Joplin screech is pretty horrible. But then again, the whole performance is just so drunk and carefree that I can’t take it seriously. More of a joke song I’d say, and a catchy one at that.

In the end, I’ll just say that this album has been a very pleasant surprise for me, having approached it with negative preconceptions. No, it doesn’t quite raise up to the quality of its 6 predecessors, but it’s definitely not as hellish of an experience as it has been described over the years, either. Yeah, the bad boys from Boston may have been a mess at the time, but that doesn’t mean their music can’t be a treat for any open-minded, 70’s Aerosmith fan.

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