Maybe it’s because I tend to be harder on things I love the most (it took me until a month or so ago to finally admit that Fallout 3 is worthy of a perfect score), but listening to Rocks today has been a bit more sobering than Get Your Wings and Toys in the Attic were. It’s still my favorite Aerosmith album as it has been since the first time I ever heard it. But I’m no longer convinced that it is definitively the best as we are so often told by pretty much every Rock critic ever.
On the surface, Rocks‘ level of excellence is undeniable. As Slash has famously said, the combination of “Back in the Saddle” and “Last Child” at the top of the album is undeniably kickass, mixing awesome grooviness with Hard Rock sensibilities. All of the band members were on fire during their performances here, and it carries over to the frenetic “Rats in the Cellar,” the smoothly sexual “Combination” (which features co-lead vocals from Joe Perry for the first time in Aerosmith history), and the Heavy Metal-birthing “Nobody’s Fault” which many of Rock’s royalty including Slash and James Hetfield have listed as their favorite Aerosmith song ever. That’s not to mention “Sick as a Dog,” which is certainly in my Top Five favorite Aerosmith songs ever, especially when it gets to the coda and the band members all start rocking out on instruments that may or may not have been their own (Joe Perry retained the lead part, but bassist Tom Hamilton trades his bass for a treble guitar leaving bass duties to Steven Tyler himself). Despite all of this unrequited greatness, though the album kind of falls apart in the last three songs for me. It’s easy to overlook “Get the Lead out” and “Lick and a Promise” (the latter of which is easily the worst song on any of Aerosmith’s first four albums), because we have so much fun listening to the first six. Even “Home Tonight” pales in comparison to Toys in the Attic‘s “You See Me Crying,” and leaves a strange aftertaste from an album that was so enjoyable for the first two thirds. That isn’t to say that these last three songs are bad; they’d steal the show on most Hard Rock albums from the ’70s and pretty much all of them from the ’80s. But for Aerosmith standards, which had risen to great heights after Get Your Wings and Toys in the Attic, they just weren’t quite on par.
Is Rocks the best Aerosmith album ever? I guess it depends on how much you like the first six songs. For me, all of the first four albums are within a hairs breadth of each other and all of them deserve recognition as some of the most pleasurable Rock n’ Roll albums of all time. But deciding which one is the best really comes down to which ones hold your favorite songs and which one harbors the most consistent level of greatness. Or hell, maybe it just depends on the day.