After having accomplished the goal of getting back on the rock/pop radar with its previous album, Aerosmith decided the Great White North, particularly Vancouver, was the place to set about making an enormous comeback in the United States. The end result is now an integral part of the group’s history, a large number of singles and MTV-friendly and unfriendly videos and a superb, thorough album. But despite the obvious songs brought to mind from this record, it’s the often-underexposed numbers that set the album on its monumental selling path. From the opening riffs of “Young Lust”, the Toxic Twin duo of guitarist Joe Perry and singer Steven Tyler run roughshod over a simple yet infectious guitar riff with Tom Hamilton’s ascending and descending bass lines propelling the song like a train about to fall off the tracks. Video of this song coming to fruition has been documented, but years later it still sounds fresh and full of life.
Another hidden treasure is the following track, “F.I.N.E.”, with Tyler at his double-meaning best, talking about not making love in 25 weeks and certain body parts that squeak. The number is a bit more polished and touched up in the studio, lacking the overtly raw quality oozing from “Young Lust”. It’s also one of the more noticeable solid efforts from guitarist Brad Whitford and drummer Joey Kramer. Nothing really needs to be said about “Love in an Elevator”, which has become an early crowd sing-a-long in recent concerts. The five-minute song, preceded by another double entendre, is a shining five minutes, particularly the middle bridge, where Perry takes the song by the neck and strangles every note for all its worth. The horn section near the song’s conclusion is an oddly nice touch, fitting for the song’s “wall of sound” quality.
Aside from the four brief snippets such as “Going Down”, “Water Song”, “Dulcimer Stomp” and “Hoodoo”, the only number sounding as if the group is mailing in the effort is the formulaic “Monkey on My Back”. In fact, it would appear that the harmonica and more organic instrumentation on “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even” would be a much better fit in this slot, leaving the former song in a later, quasi-filler position. Indulging too much in studio effects and background noises, “Monkey on My Back” seems to lose what minimal energy it has quickly, settling for a basic guitar riff and Tyler’s ranting. “Janie’s Got a Gun”, notable for its message as much as for its music, is another cornerstone here. Tom Hamilton co-wrote the song with Tyler, but again the bridge is Perry’s territory. Albeit briefer than his playing in “Love In An Elevator”, it shows a bit more dexterity and styling. What is odd is how the song seems much more pop-oriented towards its conclusion.
After a brief deluge and a paltry attempt at trying to create a down-home country or Irish feeling, Tyler returns with his “umm mm mmms” and another hit single, “The Other Side”. Relying too much on the horn section and too little on the rhythm section, the group tends to sound out of place here, perhaps a case of being too overproduced and overdubbed. “My Girl” sounds as if it was culled from the conclusion of “Young Lust”, with an almost identical opening before moving into a slightly old time rock and roll groove in the vein of the Beatles. A big letdown is not only the one-minute asinine Jim Morrison poetry dabbling of “Hoodoo”, but “Voodoo Medicine Man”, which sounds too confused and almost a waste of time if not energy. Dabbling into different rock and acoustic arrangements, the song is quite aimless.
Thankfully, the foul sonic taste is lost for the finale of “What It Takes”, a nice melding of pop and rock driven by piano and accordion. Although Tyler drops some of the band’s song titles (such as “F.I.N.E.” and “Heart’s Done Time”), the song amply passes all tests for durability and crispness. Although some of the songs within sound a bit dated, perhaps due to their saturation of FM Rock radio, most of the album still sounds extremely new and timeless. Not entirely stellar from top to bottom, but when the group still hits paydirt with some of the album’s songs, it can’t be all that bad.