Kissing the Judge in the Electric Chair: Aerosmith’s Get a Grip Turns 30
The Boston band’s 11th LP was peak rock for the Al Bundy era
I’m 38, so you get the double pleasure of reading this through an impressionable eight-year-old’s eyes as well as those of an aging guitar crank.
This distinction is important because the last great album Aerosmith ever made, Get a Grip, is for eight-year-olds. It would be a long time before this one would grow up (heh) to catch post-Dolls sex-idiot-savant poetry like “we’re all here because we’re not all there tonight” or “it’s like getting head from a guillotine.”
Thank Beavis and Butthead that fewer than five minutes into Use Your Illusion LXIX comes a song-ending belch worthy of Herman Melville mythos, of a hundred Barney Gumbles. Said song’s climactic line goes “Take your Grey Poupon my friend and shove it up your ass.” I felt seen.
This is also a good time to mention that zero minutes into the record, even before you ripped off the shrinkwrap, is the widely despised (and fabricated) cover image of a pierced cow udder. Fuck that and get a you-know-what. Aerosmith’s 11th full-length is its own kind of zeitgeist record that existed perpendicular to Nevermind. In a world where integrity and authenticity and darkness and brooding social justice were taking over the rock landscape, these old fucks just went ahead and snorted up the hair-metal fallen; Aerosmith made them and then they outlived them.
They also huffed plenty of sock-era Red Hot Chili Peppers, copycat-cosmopolitan co-writer Lenny Kravitz, and their new lodestar, Weird Al Yankovic, who was making rock and comedy better than them all. Get a Grip is Aerosmith’s Wayne’s World album, their don’t-have-a-cow-man album. Their I’m-the-baby-gotta-love-me et cetera. It’s the peak rock ‘n’ roll of the Al Bundy era, where smart comedians were intermingling with the proudly dumb. To paraphrase Christgau, it’s not cock-rock, it’s rocket-dildo-jetpack rock. My favorite Aerosmith record is another one I grew up with, Pump, but I didn’t experience the sensation of it in real time like that holy belch. It’s more disciplined (one could say “so tight your lovin’ squeaks”), more intent on proving itself, and on “Janie’s Got a Gun,” even flirts with its own kind of social justice that grows more dubious with each passing milestone in Steven Tyler’s legal troubles. But that’s not necessarily as much fun as an hour-plus bacchanal with at least 20 minutes of power ballads and one triumphant yowl of “psychedelic sandwichhhhhh.”
They weren’t necessarily smart about being stupid, just clever about shifting with the times, the last cretins hopping. Or as “Intro” puts it, “You’ve gotta learn how to relate,” schooling us on Steven Tyler’s rap roots, even retrofitting a snippet of “Walk This Way.” Whereupon “Eat the Rich” does the speakers-blowing-George-Wendt-into-space thing with a riff nastier than the Kool-Aid man beckoning you to smell his fingers. The then-45-year-old Tyler had such a blast dirty-old-manning that casting his own daughter Liv in the band’s horny music videos didn’t trip any alarms, an impossible sentence to write without abject horror now.
VIDEO: Aerosmith “Crazy”
The coital imagination of the music itself was thankfully limited to mic/jaw-drops like “I’d rather be O.D.ing on the crack of her ass” (which Garth Brooks sadly/cowardly excised from his own “Fever” rendition) and short-attention-span theater: “Fleeeeeeeeeeeeeessss-sssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh / You got me all soaking wet” isn’t even a single-entendre. It’s a horny firehose of [redacted] that no one else in 1993 could’ve gotten away with except Prince, whose own next move was an album entitled Come. Their only peer in IMAX-maximal thrill-rock wasn’t Axl Rose really but fellow zombie Meat Loaf, whose 11-minute epics on the contemporaneous Bat Out of Hell II strove for more theatrical and ridiculous.
Aerosmith wasn’t going to outdo Jim Steinman’s frankly insane monologue about smashing a guitar “against the body of a varsity cheerleader.” So instead of grandiose, they went butt. “Line Up” beat Offspring’s “Self-Esteem” to sloppily singing along before the song even starts. “Livin’ on the Edge,” six not-not-entertaining minutes of monolithic, vaguely anti-racist epic nothing masquerading as a message song. All of “Shut Up and Dance.”
VIDEO: Aerosmith “Cryin'”
But their secret weapon has always been the craft behind the dumb: molten-banana harmonies with Joe Perry, chord changes that nod to Otis Redding in “Cryin’,” country-blues in “Crazy,” and schlock-Beatles in “Amazing,” which isn’t quite “Hey Jude.” No one will ever convince me they didn’t nick the verse part in “Eat the Rich” (which may be the perfect rock song) from the groove of Fugazi’s “Brendan #1,” which is the kind of troll that song-doctor money can’t buy. (It’s very funny to me that all this post-MTV, Cobain-combating onslaught was waged with Desmond Child, Tommy Shaw, Don Henley, and Bryan Adams’ own Bernie Taupin, Jim Vallance, in its service.)
But yes, it all worked. The Styx and Eagles guys and Lenny Kravitz made inroads toward Fugazi and Garth Brooks and Mike Judge. It became their first number-one album and their best-selling ever. They spun off at least five hits, including “Cryin’” (which may be the perfect song, period), took home a few Grammys, and shoved Grey Poupon up the world’s ass. I proudly own the limited cowprint-fur edition.
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