Whether or not Rocks is hot depends on your vantage point. If your hard-rock tastes were honed in the Sixties, as this band’s obviously were, Aerosmith is a polished echo of Yardbirds’ guitar rock liberally spiced with the Stones’ sexual swagger. If you’re a teen of the Seventies, they are likely to be the flashiest hard-rock band you’ve ever seen. While the band has achieved phenomenal commercial success, their fourth album fails to prove that they can grow and innovate as their models did.
The most winning aspect of Rocks is that ace metal producer Jack Douglas and the band (listed as coproducers for the first time) have returned to the ear-boxing sound that made their second album, Get Your Wings, their best. The guitar riffs and Steven Tyler’s catlike voice fairly jump out of the speakers. This initially hides the fact that the best performances here — “Lick and a Promise,” “Sick as a Dog” and “Rats in the Cellar” — are essentially remakes of the highlights of the relatively flat Toys in the Attic. The songs have all the band’s trademarks and while they can be accused of neither profundity nor originality, Aerosmith’s stylized hard-rock image and sound pack a high-energy punch most other heavy metal bands lack.
Steven Tyler is the band’s obvious focal point, a distinction earned primarily by his adaptation of the sexual stance of Jagger for a generation that missed the young Jack Flash. On the rockers, his delivery is polished and commanding and sufficiently enthusiastic to disguise the general innocuousness of the lyrics. On the riff-dominated songs, though, such as “Last Child” or “Back in the Saddle,” he is prone to shrieks that don’t bear repetition. Unlike Jagger, his vocal performance cannot save otherwise mediocre material.
The material is Rocks’ major flaw, mostly pale remakes of their earlier hits, notably “Dream On,” a first-album ballad that helped make the complete Aerosmith catalog gold. Aerosmith may have their hard-rock wings, but they won’t truly fly until their inventiveness catches up to their fast-maturing professionalism.