Home Read Classic Album Review: Aerosmith | Just Push Play

Classic Album Review: Aerosmith | Just Push Play

Just don't bother.

This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

Just Push Play makes me feel old. Not because it’s retro-nostalgia, which it ain’t. And not because it’s challenging, because it ain’t that either. No, Just Push Play makes me feel ancient because it reminds me that I’m old enough to remember when Aerosmith were a rock band.

I swear on a stack of Kiss records, it’s true. Way back in the misty mid-’70s, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry lived — hell, defined — the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll life. Especially the drugs. But in the early ’90s — after they broke up and reformed (in every sense) and began churning out Top 10 power ballads — they stopped being a band and became a brand. Aerosmith™©®. Just like Tide, Coke and KF-goddamn-C.

And like those products, Aerosmith is produced under strict formula — take one arena-sized guitar riff, add one set of double entendre lyrics, slather with plenty of studio gloss and voila! Another hit single that sounds almost exactly like the last one. The rock equivalent of comfort food. But hey, even fast-food junkies get sick and tired of Big Macs every day. So every now and then, you gotta “relaunch the product” — make some meaningless change in the formula, redo the package, slap a New & Improved sticker on it and sell the same junk all over again.

That’s what Aerosmith are up to on the predictable Just Push Play, the Boston quintet’s 13th studio album and the followup to 1997’s bland Nine Lives. The sales pitch, as you would expect, sounds promising: Joe and Steve back in the saddle and taking the reins. No superstar production. No Diane Warren power ballads or Desmond Child chart-bait. Just the Toxic Twins up to their old tricks, rocking like they used to and producing themselves.

But like any marketing strategy, there’s a hint of truth but not much more. Yes, Tyler and Perry produced — along with Mark Hudson and Marti Fredriksen, both of whom had a hand in Nine Lives. No, there’s no Warren cut — but Tyler and Perry co-wrote all these tracks with Hudson and/or Fredriksen, and there’s no lack of instantly forgettable power-ballad dreck like Fly Away From Here and Luv Lies. Admittedly, I have to admit that at times Just Push Play does rock like Aerosmith of old. Of course, it depends which era you’re talking about. If you think Rag Doll, Love in An Elevator, Dude Looks Like A Lady and Livin’ on the Edge constitute rockin’ Aerosmith, well, you won’t mind Just Push Play. Most of its dozen cuts — the shinily funky title track, the jangly pop single Jaded, the Beatles-esque Trip Hoppin’, the Middle Eastern Bo Diddley beat of Beyond Beautiful, the slowly percolating Under My Skin — mine the same slick modern-rock vein. If, however, your idea of good old Aerosmith is Sweet Emotion, Toys in the Attic, Last Child and Mama Kin, there’s nothing for you here. Just frustration, disenchantment and the sadness of hearing Tyler plagiarize himself by dropping the chorus of Walk This Way into Just Push Play. Presumably, he’s trying to remind you of their track record; really, he just reminds you of how long it’s been since they wrote a great song.

And considering how experienced these guys are in the studio, you’d think they could make a decent-sounding album from a technical standpoint. But despite all Perry and Tyler’s crowing, Just Push Play’s production is remarkably lame. Obviously, they blew most of their time and budget stacking these tracks with strings and backup harmonies and scratching and beatboxes and loops and samples and every studio effect they could rent, like kids in a candy store. Too bad they didn’t spend as much time mixing the actual band — the bass and drums have no oomph, Perry’s guitar attack is neutralized by the waves of glop and Tyler’s voice sounds thin and compressed. It’s as if the whole album is coming through an AM car radio. Which, come to think of it, is probably what’ll happen. Then again, maybe not.

Bottom line: Just Push Play claims to be the return of Original Recipe Aerosmith, but really it’s just leftovers in a new wrapper. Or maybe I’m just too damn old.”