When did Aerosmith go bad? Even their most forgiving fans, the ones who lapped up "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing", seem to have jumped ship. It's been 13 years since the band had a hit ("Jaded"), making this an even longer dry spell than the one that Run-D.M.C. infamously dragged them back from. Some will claim that Aerosmith jumped the shark when Steven Tyler joined American Idol, or when they brought in song doctors for Permanent Vacation, or at the peak of the drug years in the late 70s, or when a group of New England kids decided to form a band that sounded like a louder, dumber Rolling Stones. Whatever the case, at some point in history, Aerosmith decidedly started to suck.
I'm in the boat that claims Pump, which turns 25 this year, was Aerosmith's last great album. Get a Grip was more popular, and amazingly is still their highest-selling album, but by then they were already drowning in the pop-rock sound they had embraced on their comeback, shooting off McBallads like "Cryin'," "Crazy" and "Amazing" that could almost make you forget they were performed by the same five guys who wrote Rocks. It was also memorably the tour where they kicked openers Megadeth off the bill and replaced them with Jackyl. We should have known it would get worse from there.
But Pump is a different story. Yes, it's from their pop era, but it showcases Aerosmith changing pop rather than pop changing Aerosmith. It sounds more like classic rock than glam metal, with "Young Lust" and "F.I.N.E." roaring out like a pair of hidden toys in Aerosmith's attic. The Tylerisms were in their prime ("Love in an Elevator"), but he wasn't too self-conscious yet to let his heart get broken ("What it Takes") or give the world a chill over murder and sexual abuse ("Janie's Got a Gun"). Perhaps it was the need to distance themselves form an abundance of third-rate imitators, or maybe a need to compete with newcomers like Guns N' Roses who trumping Aerosmith at their own game. Whatever the case, Pump stands as one of Aerosmith's best albums, and a triumph for hard rock.