Columbia Records, 1986
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/22/2004
Trying to review a live album of Aerosmith's such as Classics Live!, the 1986 release from their then-former label, is a double-edged sword. On one side, Steven Tyler and company have yet -- in my mind, at least -- to release a live album which successfully captures the true power and magic of the band on stage.
And yet, this particular disc is one which has been maligned by press and fans alike. Released almost as a "sour grapes" disc while Aerosmith was trying to rebuild their reputation and lives on Geffen (and compiled with no input from the band), this particular album is not the abysmal mess that some would like you to believe. Make no mistake, it isn't gold, but it also isn't complete shit.
Courtesy of my friends at All Music Guide -- unquestionably the resource for rock music -- we learn that the bulk of this album is comprised of songs taken from a 1984 gig, recorded during the time when Joe Perry and Brad Whitford were no longer in the band. So, we have a band which was at the lowest point of their career, missing two key members -- and yet the music on this disc doesn't sound that bad. Tracks like "Kings And Queens" -- admittedly, not one of my favorites to begin with -- and the two-fer of "Three Mile Smile / Reefer Head Woman" just ooze power.
If anything, it's Tyler's performance which is listless; more often than not, Tyler sounds like he's totally detached from the music he had been performing for the better part of a decade. From sounding out-of-tune on "Dream On" to delivering a version of "Sweet Emotion" which sounded like he was half asleep, Tyler seems to know that he was fronting a band on life support at this stage. His performance doesn't do anything to help Aerosmith's cause.
In fairness, though, the band does sometimes try a little too hard to drive things home. "Lord Of The Thighs" was a decent studio track back in the days, but this live version sometimes feels like it drags on for about three minutes too long. The extended jam which closes the song (and the actual live material on the album) is dull and listless.
The inclusion of a rare studio track from 1973 -- "Major Barbara" -- is supposed to be an added bonus for die-hard Aerosmith fans, I guess, but that's only true when the material is worth writing home about. There's a reason some tracks never make it off of the cutting-room floor, and "Major Barbara," a half-baked slow shuffle of a song, is one which should have stayed there.
For all of the criticisms, though, the bulk of the material on Classics Live! is marginally interesting, and despite what many have said about the disc, is still worth checking out -- so long as you're able to check your expectations at the door.