The first song on Aerosmith’s seventh album is called “No Surprize,” and that about sums up Night in the Ruts. After some tentative attempts to expand its basic jock-rock sound with mandolins, banjos and an occasional female backup vocal on its last studio record, Draw the Line, Aerosmith returns to what it does best: playing America’s crass, punkier version of the Rolling Stones, with singer Steven Tyler an arrogantly combative Mick Jagger to guitarist Joe Perry’s coolly aloof Keith Richards.
But the fact that the finest moments on Night in the Ruts sound like inspired outtakes from Rocks and Toys in the Attic suggests that Aerosmith may be stuck in a hard-rock rut of its own. “Cheese Cake,” “Bone to Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)” and “No Surprize” are typical chain-saw rockers, Tyler howling like a wolf in heat while guitars ricochet around him. “Think about It,” an obscure Yardbirds B side, is also rendered with a reverential bluster that doesn’t cut the original, yet at least credits roots where credit is due.
So far, so-so, but the deviations from this norm are disastrous, if not in concept then in execution. Aerosmith’s attempt to redo the old Shangri-Las weeper, “Remember (Walking in the Sand),” is a regrettable example of stylistic indecision, sitting uncomfortably between the band’s hard-rock attack and the song’s original pseudo-Spectorian grandeur, with no small blame due Gary Lyons for his rather bland production. The one ballad here, Tyler’s “Mia,” is cloned from Aerosmith’s 1975 hit, “Dream On,” but all possible tension between the group’s electricity and the acoustic guitar and piano is negated by a surprisingly lifeless performance that’s as unsettling as it is unnecessary.
With Joe Perry now forming his own band, this isn’t the time for Aerosmith to be lying down on the job. It’s hardly a secret that when the spirit moves them and their amps are turned up to ten, these guys can deliver a paralyzing kick — as they imply in the graffiti on the back cover—right in the nuts. Night in the Ruts could have used it.