Since its ’70s heyday, Aerosmith has seemingly spent more time and effort trying to tear itself apart than trying to make music. After numerous hiatuses and near-breakups—including a painfully juvenile public feud between singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry in 2009 and ’10—the famed rock band has reconvened for Music From Another Dimension!. It’s Aerosmith’s first studio album of new material since 2001’s lackluster Just Push Play. But seeing as how that record was made without all five members ever being in the same room at the same time, Dimension might as well be considered Aerosmith first studio reunion since 1997’s Nine Lives.
The wait has mostly been worth it. After a mood-lightening, Outer Limits-esque spoken-word intro, “Oh Yeah” storms in with garage swagger and roughhewn riffs. In younger hands it might sound like a Black Keys pastiche—but Aerosmith helped perfect bluesy, sleazy, stomping rock 40 years ago, back when the band was routinely and unfairly dismissed as a mere Rolling Stones ripoff. Another thing Aerosmith had a hand in popularizing is the rock-rap crossover—but not only does the funky chanting on the chorus of “Beautiful” leave Tyler sounding laughably out of breath, the power-ballad chorus feels like more like a mixing mistake than crosspollination.
“What Could Have Been Love” at least deserves credit for maintaining its power-ballad integrity—but that’s the only merit of the by-the-numbers tearjerker, not counting a couplet that Tyler might as well sing while staring into Perry’s eyes: “I gave up and left you for a nowhere-bound train / Now that train has come and gone.” The chugging, rollicking “Lover Alot” finds the songwriting team in tighter form, with Tyler mining the gravelly bottom of his voice as Perry pulls out the grit and atmosphere that his playing, at its best, has always aimed to meld. But on the wallpaper-worthy sap-fest “Can’t Stop Loving You,” the presence of guest singer Carrie Underwood only serves as a reminder of Tyler’s short-lived, ill-conceived stint as an American Idol judge—not to mention the fact that Dimension, Aerosmith’s best album in years, still sounds like a watery echo of what the band once was.