Honkin' On Bobo
Columbia Records, 2004
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/02/2004
So, after a 30-year career, Steven Tyler and Aerosmith decided to pay tribute to their blues roots and record an album consisting primarily of their takes on these old standards.
The question I found myself asking was, "Why?" Funny thing, though -- I was asking this out loud months before the release of Aerosmith's latest disc, Honkin' On Bobo. I'm still asking that question.
Let's be brutally frank here: as a force to be reckoned with in the rock world, Aerosmith has been slipping for some time now -- in fact, you could probably point to their chart-topping hit "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" as the start of the decline. Just Push Play seemed to confirm the obvious.
So maybe it could be argued that Honkin' On Bobo is really meant as a disc that allows Aerosmith to keep working on new material while staying in the public eye. The returning to their roots might help spark the ol' creative juices again, and return the band to the salad days of Permanent Vacation and Get A Grip. This is all possible -- but this release doesn't do a whole lot to boost the faith of the Aerosmith fan.
In a sense, Honkin' On Bobo feels like already plowed ground. Remember that Aerosmith had previously covered "Train Kept A-Rollin'" and "Big 10-Inch Record" to show their knowledge of their roots. Did we really need a whole disc's worth of tracks like that to remind us?
Granted, there are some winners contained herein. I have yet to hear a bad version of "Baby, Please Don't Go," and guitarist Joe Perry does a great job on lead vocals on "Stop Messin' Around". And you do have to kind of admire the almost gospel-like qualities of the disc's closer "Jesus Is On The Main Line" -- finally, there's a song that is a stretch for the group, but one that works.
The remainder of Honkin' On Bobo is rather hit-or-miss in terms of quality and excitement. The band sounds like it's going through the motions on tracks like "Road Runner" and "Eyesight To The Blind," but they turn around and deliver respectable performances on other numbers like "Shame, Shame, Shame" (which has that "Big 10-Inch Record" vibe to it) and "I'm Ready" (which almost sounds like Willie Dixon himself was channeled by Tyler).
The difficulty with this album is that it doesn't challenge the listener or the band like it should. Even the one original number on the disc, "The Grind," sounds like a second-rate "Jaded" or "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing". And while one could question the sensibility of doing an album like this at this stage in Aerosmith's career, one couldn't be faulted for being disappointed by the overall experience. The good moments on this disc make the listener know that it's worth the time to find them, but the lesser material makes them wonder whether or not Aerosmith's "second coming" is finally running on fumes.
Honkin' On Bobo is still worth a listen or two, if not only for curiosity's sake but also to re-expose yourself to the work of some artists who may be unknown to the present generation. If only Aerosmith had made a disc that made listeners want to discover more about people like Sonny Boy Williamson, Ellis McDaniel (Bo Diddley) and Mississippi Fred McDowell.