We're All Somebody From Somewhere

Steven Tyler

Dot, 2016

http://www.steventyler.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/11/2016

It took Steven Tyler a long time to go on his own, but not only has he done so, he has broken pretty firmly from his Aerosmith past and moved into country territory.

It’s not like this is entirely a surprise, given how Tyler’s first single during his American Idol days turned out (does anyone remember “(It) Feels So Good?” Me neither), and because solo artists go their own way simply to do what they need to do. But where Peter Gabriel’s arty post-punk seemed like a natural progression from his Genesis days, Tyler couldn’t really do the Aerosmith thing on his own…and why would he want to, after four decades?

So there’s some joy in hearing Tyler sing an album that he wants to make – even if the rock-to-country route has been done before – and hearing him scale back the mannerisms from his Aerodays. Problem is, the songwriting itself and the lyrical sentiments therein are fairly generic, the sort of things that are lived-in but not new or necessarily worth singing about for an hour (perhaps inevitable, given the professional songwriters, players and producers all over this disc).

A song about alcohol-fueled breakup? Been done. A banal patriotic song? Been done, usually by Toby Keith, who still holds the record for how many times you can say “America” in a song and not get punched. A ballad about Making It On My Own? Been there, although I suppose it’s necessary for one’s self-confidence (to that end, Tyler’s upcoming tour for this album is called the Out On A Limb Tour). There are far too many ballads and slower songs on here – a Tyler problem since Aerosmith’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Get A Grip – and the professional sound tends to erase much of the personality, leaving some of the songs forgettable and bland.

When Tyler brings his strengths, he can elevate a song and show that his solo career has legs. The title track, in particular, is a blast of modern funk-country that name-checks any number of cities and foods across our great country and reminds everyone that despite our skin color, love of filet mignon or cornbread, or city of origin, we all have a story and a personality worth hearing. In a country divided and besieged during the 2016 election, it’s a message worth remembering, and Tyler sells it with a wink and a leer that we know and love. The appealing twang and background “ooh” of “Somebody New” is charming and efficient as well and should fit in well on country radio.

But moments like this are rare. In trying to fit into the modern Nashville scene, Tyler has subsumed part of his personality in favor of an accepted sound and approach. Tyler has said in interviews he has wanted to record a country album for a couple of years, so the move to tone himself down is deliberate. Although the professional players and songwriters seem to indicate this is a calculated mass-audience album, the scope and approach rarely feels like that. Witness the opener “My Own Worst Enemy” and how that song takes its time unfolding; more than any other song here, this one sounds as authentic and worn as a pair of Levis.

Not until the end, anyway, when “Only Heaven” lumbers into view with an obvious attempt to mix a 1980s power rock ballad with modern country twang and lyrics meant to be sung at a wedding, or something. It leaves a bad taste. Likewise, “RED WHITE & YOU” blares its patriotism like a Republican campaign ad but fails with a thud. The title song is far more effective at advertising the greatness of the U.S. than a bunch of slogans. Worst of all, Tyler tries to rework “Janie’s Got A Gun” in acoustic style but still yelps like he would on an Aerosmith record, dulling the impact of the powerful lyrics and seemingly only here to remind listeners of Tyler’s roots. That said, if Aerosmith plays the song like this on its farewell tour in 2017, it might be a good change of pace, but it doesn’t belong on a record like this.

“Piece Of My Heart,” however, is a fine way to close the record, showcasing Tyler’s documented admiration for Janis Joplin and fitting the themes of lost love, whiskey, self-discovery, and good times on We’re All Somebody From Somewhere. Aerosmith fans won’t get a lot out of this, but modern country-rock fans (think Florida Georgia Line, Zac Brown Band and Eric Church) will. Tyler’s first record is an admirable change of pace but far too safe and slow for the bulk of the album.

Rating: C+

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