Aerosmith‘s fifth album in 1977 came after the phenomenal success of 1975’s Toys in the Attic and 1976’s Rocks. Although the momentum continued to an extent with Draw the Line, this album is vastly different from those predecessors. It doesn’t sound quite as polished as their previous three albums, which is probably due in equal parts to the band’s desire to return to the blues-based rock of their first album and the musician’s own impaired state of mind during this well-documented time of excess. Lead singer Steven Tyler’s vocals are most deviant as he retreated to a darker, growling and wailing style voice.
The music on Draw the Line is murky and uneven. But lost in this murkiness is some legitimately excellent musical moments. The band abandoned studio experimentation for a simple, straight-ahead hard rock approach. Lead guitarist Joe Perry delved further into his loose style of Stones-inspired blues raunch, freely floating just above the band’s rhythm section. Jack Douglas co-produced the album with the band and also got involved in co-writing four of the album’s songs. The album was recorded in an abandoned convent outside of New York City called The Cenacle. However, this former holy place set the scene for the devilish situations which had an adverse affect on the album.
The sessions at The Cenacle were marred by in-fighting, extreme excess, and much drug use. This obviously had a negative effect on some of the songs, especially a few on the second side which appear to not be fully developed. As Tyler recalls; “The negativity and the drama sucked the creativity out of the marrow of my bones.”
Draw the Line by Aerosmith
|Released: December 1, 1977 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Jack Douglas & Aerosmith
Recorded: The Cenacle, Armonk, NY, 1977
|Side One||Side Two|
|Draw the Line
I Wanna Know Why
The Critical Mass
Get It Up
Bright Light Fright
|Kings and Queens
The Hand That Feeds
Sight For Sore Eyes
Milk Cow Blues
|Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Piano, Harmonica
Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass
Joey Kramer– Drums
Draw the Line contains many tracks which are quite good but may take a while to adapt to as they are not immediately accessible. “I Wanna Know Why” is a straight-out rocker, with a nice piano lead by session man Scott Cushnie, a nice lead by rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford and good vocal hook by Tyler. “The Critical Mass” is much more interesting. This forgotten classic, includes a harmonica lead by the singer, whining guitars by Perry above a thumping bass of co-writer Tom Hamilton. Lyrically, the song is one of many that apparently explores the dark side of drug abuse as evident in the opening lyric;
“Arriving in boats, black-hooded coats, tormentors climbed into my room
I crawled under my bed, covered my head
but they’re flushin’ me out with a broom”
“Get It Up” was the band’s attempt at a pop song that, ironically, failed to move up the charts. It features a strong drum beat by Joey Kramer and a heavy dose of slide guitar by Joe Perry. Perry then takes lead vocals on the next song “Bright Light Fright”, one of the rarest songs of the era for Aerosmith, which has almost never been played live by the band.
Backup vocals by Karen Lawrence
The true gems of the album are the songs which open each side. “Draw the Line”, whether intentionally or not, sounds distant and “vintage”, almost like its recording was caught by accident. The song features much back-and-forth interplay between guitarists Perry and Whitford that sounds improvised but works beautifully. The highlight of the song is Tyler’s climatic “screamed” final verse. “Kings and Queens” is the most original song on the album, written by Tyler, Whitford, Hamilton, Kramer, and Douglas and driven by unorthodox (for Aerosmith) instrumentation, including piano and synths, a bass lead by Hamilton, mandolin by Douglas, and banjo by guest Paul Prestopino. The song’s lyric delves into a swords-and-sorcery epic something usually reserved for more prog-rock oriented bands like Genesis or King Crimsom.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album is much less inspired with “filler” songs that are not quite terrible, but not really up to spec with the quality one might expect from Aerosmith during their finest era. “The Hand That Feeds” is the best of the three due mainly to the guitar work of Whitford. “Sight For Sore Eyes” was co-written by David Johansen of the New York Dolls, but falls short of being fully developed. The closer “Milk Cow Blues” is a blues classic which was originally written and recorded by Kokomo Arnold in and covered by such acts as Robert Johnson and Elvis Presley. But unfortunately, Aerosmith does not really advance this song much at all.
Soon after Draw the Line, internal fueding led to the departure of both guitarists Perry and Whitford for more than half a decade, resulting in a couple of albums with other guitarists. The reunited Aerosmith did make a remarkable comeback in the late eighties, reaching pop heights like never before. However, music of the same quality from the mid seventies would not quite be created again.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.
After Toys and Rocks, this one almost hinted at prog in places. Great opener with a great riff, and that screamed finale caught my ear back in the day and never left. I would argue not so much raw as unsure of what it wanted to be. Some of the experimental ideas seemed to find more form on Rock in a Hard Place (of all places). I remember the critics of the day referring to it as “tired” a lot, which I didn’t think was fair.
I’m deep in the weeds with Aerosmiths 70s stuff for the 1000th time, and I actually really enjoy this album. Imagine if they had been clean and focused? There are some great and even fun songs here. Get It Up is catchy and the entire first side would have been excellent under better circumstances.