AEROSMITH – Midlife Crisis or a Survival Instinct?

Written by Jovan Ristić

The bad boys from Boston’s turbulent career full of falling out and reconciliation, financial crises, and substance abuse was crowned by the period right after the band reunited, during which they’ve published some of their best albums and greatest hits. The band even got ahead during the wild 90’s not losing their momentum despite the inner struggles that still plagued them. Singer Steven Tyler, guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, bass player Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer were at the peak of their popularity and determined to become the greatest rock band of all times published their first record for the new millennium. This is the story of “Just Push Play”.

The turn of the 20th century marked a huge success in AEROSMITH’s career. Despite enjoying a cult status, selling out stadiums worldwide and producing hit songs sung to this day, the American group didn’t get to the top of the Billboard charts until 1998, when they published the hit single “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” recorded for the soundtrack to the motion picture “Armageddon”, starring the singer’s daughter Liv Tyler. The popular ballad held the top position for almost a whole month was nominated for an Oscar and vastly contributed to this band’s popularity. Aerosmith was determined to seize this opportunity.

The biggest shot the band got after this happened on January 28th, 2001 at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida when the band performed during the Super Bowl Halftime Show, the National Football League(NFL) finals, considered to be the most highly viewed television program in the US. The theme of the halftime show was “Kings of Rock and Pop”, and the then popular boy-band N Sync performed alongside Aerosmith. The two groups took turns in performing, and Aerosmith presented themselves to the audience with “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, the fresh single “Jaded” and the legendary “Walk This Way”, during which they were joined by members of N Sync along with pop star Britney Spears, soul artist Mary J. Blige and rapper Nelly. The show that put together two seemingly distant worlds is to this day considered to be one of the best Super Bowl halftime performances the public had ever seen. Needless to say, this was a huge stepping stone for Aerosmith.

Catching the wind of this newfound popularity among younger and wider crowds Aerosmith published their 13thstudio effort titled “Just Push Play” on March 6th, 2001 under Columbia Records. The first single “Jaded” easily made its way into the Top 10 of the US charts due to the spectacular Super Bowl performance earlier that year. The album was certified platinum in just a month after its release and debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200. The band released music videos for the singles “Jaded”“Fly Away From Here” and “Sunshine”, starring then-young actresses Mila Kunis (“Jaded”) and Jessica Biel (“Fly Away From Here”). Still “Just Push Play” was met with detest by the band’s fans and critics today consider it one of the weakest outputs in the band’s career. So what went wrong?

The negative reaction was caused by the fact that the band experimented with some modern elements which resulted in accusations by the band’s hardcore fans that Aerosmith had completely sold out. The mainstream elements in question mostly come down to prominent pop song structures, Steven Tyler’s frequent rapping (though Aerosmith has never been a complete stranger to rap) and power-ballads like “Fly Away From Here” and “Luv Lies”, which never achieved the same popularity as “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”. These along with the fact that the band had seemingly abandoned their roots brought the band a fair share of negative criticism by the press and fans alike, despite the enormous success the album had achieved when it comes to sales.

Despite the fact that many consider this album to be the wayward point in the band’s career “Just Push Play” is the most coherent output since 1989’s “Pump”. The previous records “Get A Grip” and “Nine Lives” struggled to balance out the band’s roots and a modern hard rock approach, especially when it comes to the former. On the other hand “Just Push Play” fully embraced the current trends and a strong pop feel, almost entirely drowning the blues touch the band was known for. The album is dominated by modern rock tracks like the opener “Beyond Beautiful”“Trip Hoppin’” and “Drop Dead Gorgeous”. The band experimented with some symphonic elements through tracks like “Sunshine”“Avant Garden” and “Jaded” with strings arrangements by David Campbell and Jim Cox, while “Under My Skin” and “Trip Hoppin’” boast strong horn sections.

Another strong point of this album is the production handled by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry themselves, with the help of Mark Hudson and Marti Fredriksen who helped pen a lot of tracks on the album as well. This production team was dubbed “The Boneyard Boys” as a nod to “The Glimmer Twins”, the production team behind most of The Rolling Stones’ albums formed by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Although they still included outside producers, this album sounds a lot like their classic efforts, more so than any album recorded during the 90’s most likely due to input by the band members themselves. In an interview, Tyler stated: “They said that we were a pain in the ass to work with, all these producers. So we decided to produce this record ourselves and see if that was true. And it’s true. I am a pain in the ass, in fact, I’ll never work with me again.”

Later in March, the band had received yet another honor as they were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, making them the first band to be inducted while their song was still in the charts. The band was inducted by Kid Rock, a proclaimed fan of the band, who made a joking remark regarding their 1977 album “Draw the Line”“From what I understand they drew a line around the world and snorted the whole damn thing.” At the ceremony the band performed “Sweet Emotion” with the help of Kid Rock“Rattlesnake Shake” with a snippet from “Jaded” and the cover of Jonny Burnette Trio track, “Train Kept A-Rollin’”.

Aware that most of the fans were feeling let down by their latest release Aerosmith soon turned back to their roots and recorded “Honkin’ On Bobo” in 2004, which was essentially a collection of classic blues song covers. “Honkin’ On Bobo” was everything “Just Push Play” wasn’t: a return to the roots album with tracks recorded in a single take and an organic sound produced by longtime collaborator Jack Douglas, who was in charge of recording some of their most popular albums during the 70’s. Although a collection of cover tracks, these songs were recorded in the traditional Aerosmith manner with arrangements leaning more towards hard rock with just a pinch of blues. To put this in other words, they made these songs their own. The fans embraced this album with open arms and it peaked at number five on Billboard 200. But that’s a story for another time.

“Just Push Play” might have seemed like a risky step at the time, but listening to it today I can freely say that this is just another classic Aerosmith record which showcases their ability to adapt and survive in the ever-shifting music industry. Besides, the same goes for when the band embraced the glam rock movement in the late 80’s which in turn resulted in some of their greatest hits. “Just Push Play” was a great way to kick off the new millennium for Aerosmith and solidified their position as one of the most popular hard rock bands to this day.

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