Aerosmith continues its winning streak. Pump, the follow-up to 1987’s Permanent Vacation, slams one point home with particular force: that the renewed vigor displayed by the band on Permanent Vacation wasn’t just a fluke.
While Permanent Vacation was a major comeback for Aerosmith, it was also somewhat of a stylistic departure. Songs like “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” and “Angel” may have echoed the band’s signature style, but they represented a slicker, glossier version of the ragtag raunch rockers so many of us grew up with. Pump, however, transports the listener right back to the gilt-edged grunge of Aerosmith’s wonder years. More than anything else, the album recalls Aerosmith circa Toys in the Attic, the period just before substance abuse and Tyler-Perry bickering sapped the band of its creative energy.
Not that Pump is a blatant exercise in retro-raunch. Any band can arrange for a marriage of convenience between old chord changes and new lyrics and serve up history hash for the record-buying public. What really takes some mettle is to blend the feel of one’s glory days with present-day sounds and images, and on Pump, Aerosmith has accomplished that feat with aplomb. The songs show an older, wiser Aerosmith traipsing boldly into the Nineties, but between the lines lurk the bombastic bandits of the Seventies.
The new, philosophical incarnation of the band is most apparent in the lyrics. In the past, Aerosmith has never broached anything more topical than having a good time, but on Pump a number of weightier issues are tackled. “Janie’s Got a Gun” addresses child molestation. On “Monkey on My Back,” the band bears personal witness to the repercussions of drug abuse. “Voodoo Medicine Man” is a biting commentary on the dismal state of the planet. That’s not to say that Aerosmith has entirely forsaken its love for hokey comic-book sexcapades set to song. With tracks like “Love in an Elevator,” “Young Lust” and “My Girl,” the pranksters of old come out to play fairly often.
Pump also finds the band in better command of its material than ever before On “Janie’s Got a Gun,” placid, otherworldly harmonies and a piano and string arrangement give way to sinister blasts of dissonant guitar. The ballad “What It Takes” melds piano and acoustic guitar in a showcase for Tyler reminiscent of the beautiful “Home Tonight,” from 1976’s Rocks. And Tyler’s sense of rhythm — perhaps his most underrated talent — has never been more finely honed. On “Take Me to the Other Side,” he spits out manic eighth notes in a hoarse caterwaul, mimicking the snares to perfection.
The pacing of Pump practically guarantees that the listener’s interest will never wane. Brief attention grabbers — snippets of hillbilly music, spoken segments, offbeat instrumental side trips — are interspersed with the songs. And the album’s ballads are far outnumbered by reminders — like the runaway-train stomp “F.I.N.E.” and the slapstick shuffle-rhythm boogie “My Girl” — that Aerosmith still likes things fast and loud.
Pump up the volume.