Although Aerosmith was slagged for nearly two decades as sloppy Stones seconds, the band was finally given hip vindication last year by Run-D.M.C. And what the critics don't know, the little boys understand — Aerosmith is probably the most influential hard-rock band of the Seventies. Joe Perry's sting and stance and Steven Tyler's scarfs and squawk have provided role models and bad attitudes for Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Ratt, Mötley Crüe and every band being signed out of L.A. today.
But the princes of arena garage rock have no sooner returned from the dead to demonstrate the right way to wear a shmatte than they've made one of the dumbest moves of a checkered career. They've tried to make a hit record. And they've not only included uncharacteristic odes to fidelity, an inner-sleeve plea to save the whales and another Beatles remake (their last hit single was a cover of "Come Together" in 1978). In a desperate attempt to clean up their act for Eighties radio, they've recruited Desmond Child, Jim Vallance and Holly Knight — last year's hitmakers.
It's not the first time Aerosmith has employed brass, strings or outside help. But the band has never worked with people so determined to turn it into Bon Jovi, Heart or Starship. The good news is that it can't be done. Bon Jovi-Lover-boy producer Bruce Fairbairn sticks 'em with Jon Boy backgrounds, and Desmond Child sics 'em with "Angel" (so sappy it could make Ann Wilson choke), but the raw, dirty edges of the Aerosmith of old slash through the power schmaltz. And even though none of the heavier songs ("Dude," "Heart's Done Time," "Girl Keeps Coming Apart") packs the hooks of Aerosmith's finest moments, the band has never sounded better or more charged. "The Movie," a Led Zep-ish instrumental that lets the guitar duo of Perry and Brad Whitford run wild over drummer Joey Kramer and bassist Tom Hamilton's Rock of Gibraltar bottom, is one of Vacation's most appealing, offbeat tracks. And Steven Tyler has never sung more fluently or blown harp with more authority than he does on "Hangman Jury," an antidrug message that doesn't need its squeaking-rocker sound effect for back-porch blues authenticity. Now that the members of Aerosmith are tougher than leather, it's a shame they can't find collaborators who will kick them back in the saddle.