Rock music fans in the early nineties will undoubtedly remember a few moments from Aerosmith’s landmark album Pump, one of the greatest achievements of the 90s hard rock era.
Who doesn’t recall the opening line of Love in an Elevator, ‘Good morning Mr. Tyler, going down?’, or one of the most memorable album covers of all time? The power-ballad of ‘What it takes’ was a smash hit that likely lead to an era of crooning love songs for the band in the 2000s.
After their previous album, Permanent Vacation rescued the band from a decline into rock-lifestyle parody and cliché, the band proved it had staying power with Pump in 1989.
Aerosmith reached a low point in the mid-1980s when drug use took a toll, but the band reemerged with a fresh look, superb production, and more than anything, inspired rock tunes.
In the 90s, band leaders Joe Perry and Steven Tyler subscribed to the new fitness and health trend in California. Previously hard rockers and full-time drug users, both men adopted a lentil-loving, gluten-free lifestyle. Nevertheless, there was still plenty enough meat in the music to satisfy any rock omnivore.
Neither their drive nor intensity had diminished, they had simply given up the life-threatening lifestyle. After pursuing solo projects, key Aerosmith members returned and proved to be a more formidable force when not keeping Colombia’s economy humming along.
Steven Tyler’s blatant sexual references and double entendres, “She got a new kind of jelly in her jelly roll – I got the right key, baby, but the wrong keyhole”, add humor to an album that moves from energetic (F.I.N.E) to brooding (Janie’s got a gun, Voodoo medicine man).
Pump is a darker album than its upbeat predecessor and shows more experimentation both in the lyrical themes and the music. Even so, it still maintains the band’s trademark tongue in cheek vibe.
The album also showcases Joe Perry’s understated yet underrated guitar playing. From the guitar-driven opening track ‘Young Lust’, the intensity continues at a Tap-esque level of eleven until the opening bars of track five, ‘Janie’s Got a Gun, Tyler’s story of abuse and revenge. The jokes are put on hold as a synth-ish bass and keyboard set the mood in this fantastic track.
Joe Perry and Brad Whitford’s guitars possess a signature sound that stands out in every song. ‘Love in an elevator’ flaunts one of Perry’s best solos, one that soars above everything else without existing as a flash showpiece for its own sake. The guitar playing over Love in an Elevator’s middle-eight fits like a glove. There’s something refreshing about a five-minute-long hit single featuring a perfect two-minute guitar lead that never struggles to be relevant.
Although they certainly don’t detract from the experience, it’s unclear what the musical interludes are intended to achieve. Musically, the album loses a bit of steam around track eight (Voodoo Medicine Man) but finishes triumphantly with the country-rock influenced ‘What it Takes’. Tyler’s love for ballads and big wailing vocals are evident here, and the song’s immense success no doubt contributed to Aerosmith’s later affinity for ballads. This is the one for the lighter-above-heads brigade at concerts – back before smartphones took the place of lighters.
The success of Pump, which has sold over 7 million copies to date, was undoubtedly helped by the videos that accompanied the singles. The MTV-friendly videos for ‘Love in an Elevator’ and ‘Janie’s Got a Gun’ were huge successes and helped widen the band’s appeal beyond the hard-rock audience that they had pre-Permanent Vacation.
Pump, is the benchmark album that all successive and even previous Aerosmith albums are measured by and is a good reference point for hard rockers who, as Stephen Tyler might say, are living it up till they hit the ground.Listen to Aerosmith Pump on Amazon Music