The song titles and lyrics on their new album may suggest otherwise, but there are at least a few clichés that the guys in Aerosmith can’t be bothered with — “aging gracefully,” for instance. On Nine Lives, the band’s first studio effort since 1993’s Get a Grip — and its first on Columbia Records since resigning with the label for an unspecified but presumably obscene amount of moola — Liv Tyler’s dad and his forty-something cohorts continue to embrace hard-rock bombast with a lack of self-consciousness worthy of a group of high school battle-of-the-bands contestants. “There’s a new cool … that fits me like a velvet glove,” Steven Tyler howls in the thrashing title track. “She’s talkin’ to me…. The girl’s in love.” Grrrr.
Fortunately, unlike the other spiritually adolescent hair bands that were all the rage around the time of Aerosmith’s late-’80s comeback — most of whom were wiped out by the Great Alternative Music Conquest of the early ’90s — Aerosmith can be relied on to temper their puerile machismo with plenty of humor, heart and artistic ingenuity. The first single from Nine Lives, the ingeniously titled “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees),” is a cheeky love-gone-wrong lament fueled by fierce, swelling horns (arranged, incidentally, by Beck’s dad, David Campbell) and by Joe Perry’s electric-guitar flash. “The Farm” features exotic, densely theatrical orchestration reminiscent of the late-period Beatles, while “Pink” has a contemporary guitar-pop feel, with sweetly grainy textures and a snappy hip-hop beat.
For those who simply can’t abide a collection of Aerosmith tunes without its share of power ballads, Nine Lives doesn’t disappoint. “Hole in My Soul,” a catchy confection in the unabashedly sentimental tradition of “Dream On” and “Crazy,” should have fans waving lighters at arenas across the country, as should “Full Circle,” with its anthemic chorus and bolerolike arrangement. The album reaches its melodramatic peak on its final track, “Fallen Angels,” an eight minute-plus opus that concludes with a flurry of wailing guitars and plaintive strings. “Sometimes your heaven is hell, and you don’t know why,” Tyler sings. Because that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, dude.