As the title of this album makes clear, Aerosmith is caught between a rock and a hard place. In the three years since the group’s last studio album, Night in the Ruts, a minor revolution has taken place in heavy rock, and its insistence on hard, fast power chords has made Aerosmith’s bluesy boogie almost obsolete. Worse, Joe Perry, the fleet-fingered guitarist who played Keith Richards to Steve Tyler’s Mick Jagger, left the fold for a solo career. As a result, Tyler and company were forced to choose between the old sound with new faces or a complete change in approach.
They went for the former, and on first hearing, it almost seems to work. Perry lookalike Jimmy Crespo is no slouch at turning out hard-edged guitar hooks that make up in drive what they lack in swing, and both “Jailbait” and “Lightning Strikes” throb with the sort of nasty glee that’s always been an Aerosmith trademark. But despite an occasional burst of primal energy, much of the LP rocks by rote.
In all fairness, it’s a good formula, and even the weakest examples here hold up well enough under repeated listenings. Not so the ballads, though: Steve Tyler is unable to energize the slow numbers, and they drag interminably, undercutting the album’s pacing in their wake. Maybe next time Aerosmith will stick to the rock; for now, however, they’re really stuck in a hard place.