Aerosmith has survived drugs, fist fights, on-stage break-ups and Steven Tyler’s two-year celebrity ego trip on “American Idol.” Survival is one thing, rebuilding themselves into a rock band that matters again is another challenge entirely.
“Music From Another Dimension” (Columbia), the Boston quintet’s first album of new material in 11 years, kind of, sort of lives up to its billing – if the “dimension” being referenced is Aerosmith’s past. Each of the band’s eras is rehashed: the hard-rock ‘70s, when they staked a reasonable claim to being America’s answer to the Rolling Stones; the aimless, drug-addled ‘80s; and the buffer, commercially spiffed-up ‘90s. They also bring back producer Jack Douglas, who oversaw their best albums, including “Toys in the Attic” and “Rocks.”
Wind this band up and it can still swing, with bassist Tom Hamilton, drummer Joey Kramer and rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford bringing a dollop of R&B to the crunch. Tyler mixes the trashy patter with the screechy high notes, and Perry is still good for knocking off a Stones riff (“Oh Yeah”) or recycling one of his own (“Legendary Child” as a shameless rewrite of “Walk This Way”). These veterans try to conjure the rush of the “Toys” era in “Street Jesus” and the bluesy grind of “Rocks” on “Out Go the Lights.” It’s hardly ground-breaking, but when Tyler brays, Perry blooze-ifies on guitar, the cow-bells ring and the back-up singers wail, Aerosmith approximates a cartoony version of its glory days.
But the album’s second half nosedives. Two tracks with shaky lead vocals by Perry (“Freedom Fighter,” “Something”) don’t help. Then there’s the band’s embrace of power ballads and hack songwriters-for-hire such as Diane Warren and Desmond Child. They wrote some of the band’s limpest ‘80s and ‘90s hits, and they resurface on the new album. The Warren piano ballad “We All Fall Down,” the Child-assisted melodrama of “Another Last Goodbye” and Tyler’s ill-advised duet with country singer Carrie Underwood on “Can’t Stop Loving You” (complete with a gratuitous “Mama Kin” reference) only underline just how wretched much of Aerosmith’s post-rehab era really was. “Music From Another Dimension” doesn’t do much to reverse that trend.