Since Aerosmith’s name and logo don’t even appear on the outer sleeve of Draw the Line, someone obviously feels rather secure about the band’s position in the hard-rock sweepstakes. The group is famous now — that’s the message transmitted by Abe Hirschfeld’s front-cover drawing. But fame and security don’t always mix.
Draw the Line is a truly horrendous record, chaotic to the point of malfunction and with an almost impenetrably dense sound adding to the confusion. This album shows the band in a state of shock, caught for the first time in the quandary of the meaningful encore. Instead of just doing something (which is, after all, exactly how they reached the top), they seem to be thinking about something to do, and they fail to come up with any answers.
Aerosmith’s gaffe is not without honor, however: a bad try is better than none at all. And even the group’s detractors — those legions who have condescendingly dismissed them as mere rip-off artists of the entire Yardbirds/Led Zeppelin cycle — will have to admit that the band’s current problems have little to do with derivation. If Toys in the Attic and Rocks proved that Aerosmith could pilot its own plane to the giddiest of heights, then Draw the Line shows that anyone can develop a severe case of fear of flying.
Those who remember times when riffs rolled hot and heavy from the Joe Perry/Brad Whitford guitar team will probably be the first to wonder what happened. For a riff-based band to come up with only one outstanding guitar hook for an entire LP is beyond belief, yet the title track features the only memorable guitar line here — and that riff is summoned back, in slightly altered form, for side two’s “The Hand That Feeds.” “Critical Mass” sounds as though Perry missed the session that day, leaving lead singer Steven Tyler to squawk the almost unintelligible lyrics amid too much empty space. Rarely have Tyler’s vocals been mixed so low, and the few times the lyrics are discernible, they disappoint.
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Even the Yardbirds/Led Zeppelin references go awry. “Kings and Queens” aspires to epic proportions but self-destructs before it manages two steps up the stairway to heaven. Aerosmith’s reworking of “Milk Cow Blues” (taken from the Kinks’ rendition — how’s that for extrapolation?) is a mild retreat rather than a powerful surge forward, as Get Your Wings’ “Train Kept a Rollin'” was. However, Perry’s singing on his own “Bright Light Fright” does accurately echo his hero Jeff Back’s rare vocal offerings.
Ultimately, Draw the Line shows that these guys are not evil con men selling stolen or leftover goods to the youth of the nation. If they were, this record would have been a lot better than it is, since almost anyone can repeat a formula. Instead, Aerosmith sounds like a band just starting out — very much, in fact, like amateurs. You may think me perverse, but that gives me hope.