Aerosmith still rocks.
Aerosmith, one of the hardest rocking bands of the '70s, comes back from a downturn in the early '80s and created a recording that sold millions of copies and brought them back to the forefront of rock and roll, called Pump. Released in 1989, the band recorded many sessions behind the scenes over the six month process of making it, and combined it with personal interviews to create this 110 minute documentary. Unfortunately, it was among the earliest discs produced in the format and suffers from many of its shortcomings at the time. Still a very informative look at how music gets made.
Facts of the Case
Aerosmith was formed in 1970 when screamer Steven Tyler met guitarist Joe Perry, and they combined members of both their prior bands. Their first gig was a high school dance, but they didn't stay in the shadows. As their popularity grew in the Boston area, Columbia Records guru Clive Davis signed the band, and their first self-titled album was released to respectable sales in 1973. The following album "Get Your Wings" sold even better and led to nationwide touring that firmly established the band. The move up to true stardom came with the next album "Toys in the Attic" which has sold over six million copies, and "Rocks" which went platinum with a bullet. It was at this time that the band's hedonistic lifestyle started to haunt them. Aerosmith could have defined the term "Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll," with rampant drug use and groupies at every turn. The grind of constant touring and the lifestyle ultimately hurt the band and the following records did not show the quality of their prior work. The band broke up for three years, and it was only after their reunion that the band members decided to go into drug rehab. Coming out of these experiences clean and sober revitalized the band and enabled them to make some truly inspired music again. Some of the best of that new era of Aerosmith came with this album "Pump." Today the band, in their forties and fifties, still rock hard and do not compromise, and are elder statesmen in the world of rock and roll. Some slightly unfair comparisons are made of them with the Rolling Stones, but they've weathered the years better and stayed in their prime.
I'm a big Aerosmith fan. Being in roughly the same age group (I was a few years younger), I saw the band as role models for my own aspirations in rock and roll. The band gives a raw, hard-edged sound that pulls no punches. Steven Tyler is screamer extraordinaire; guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford play off each other, and bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer provide the rhythm backbone. None of the musicians are true virtuosos, but the ensemble mix works without ego or pretentiousness. "It's only rock and roll" but on the other hand it has a driving quality that keeps moving, doesn't play around, and the lyrics are quite intelligent. Double entendres rule, but real statements about life and society are also likely to crop up here and there. Still, the band always reminds me of bands that I've been in; a garage band that worked hard and made good (leave out the made good part in my case).
The band was drug-free and really pulling themselves together by the time this documentary was shot; and frankly honest observations about their past and present abound in the interview footage. The statements are completely uncensored and if foul or explicit language offends you then this probably isn't your thing. The band members really talk about their history, downfall, and resurrection; along with plenty of talk about what the music and each other mean to them. These interview pieces are the best part of the documentary.
Also of interest is the behind the scenes footage showing how the band writes and puts together the songs, how the record company and managers get involved to help decide which songs get more emphasis, through to the studio recordings. It is a very real glimpse into the creative process; not always pretty but one that worked in the end as "Pump" turned out to be a breakthrough record.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There was a lot to like in the documentary but I was disappointed in other aspects of it. One of the main selling points for the show was the recorded jam sessions. Sometimes interesting to see, but the sound quality is extremely poor; often sounding like it came off the microphone of the home camcorder that also showed a poor picture quality. For some reason, somebody expanded this into a Dolby Digital 5.1 track which sounds even worse! The only complaint I don't have with the 5.1 track is that you can still hear the dialogue clearly, so long as you turn it up much louder than the 2.0 track. There is no presence, no spaciousness to the 5.1 track. There isn't much on the stereo (default) track, but it's better than the remix.
As I alluded to, much of the behind the scenes footage looks as if it was shot by a home camcorder of the 1989 vintage. The resulting transfer looks much like a VHS dub of a home movie, with extremely soft and blurry images and all the scan lines from VHS completely visible. Come to think of it, this footage looks just like a 6 hour extended play dub onto VHS.
The poor video from the main parts of the documentary are contrasted by the very sharp picture of the interview footage; obviously shot with a professional camera. This looks more like a digital transfer; without significant artifacts. Unfortunately the director thought he would be avant-garde with the camera for what was essentially one guy at a time sitting still and talking. The camera zooms in on part of a face, then slides across so only the other half of a face is visible. Heads are chopped off both at the sides and tops and bottoms as the camera moves around like a monkey is directing it. Jarringly distracting; it forces the listener to almost look away from the screen to just hear the interview.
People who bought this disc, like my sister in law who brought it to me for review, expecting to get some good Aerosmith music from it will be disappointed. For all the jam sessions and studio footage there are only two complete numbers within it. I'm not surprised by this, considering that they were selling a documentary and not a concert, but ultimately I feel that the documentary should have just been a supplement for such a concert disc rather than try to be the main attraction itself.
This disc was released in November '97, while the format was still in its infancy. Of course it was shot for VHS release back in 1989-90 first. So weak source elements combine with the limitations of the DVD format in its beginning stages. Not only do we have the picture and sound problems, the disc is a flipper for a 110 minute program! That is simply sad. No subtitles would be a complaint as well but I've about used up my complaint quota.
There is enough of interest in the documentary to be worth a rental to Aerosmith fans, but the disc is ultimately unsatisfying. Hopefully the band will eventually do a great concert disc recorded especially for DVD, and they can use the documentary footage in the supplements, along with additional footage provided by a new director.
CMV is only released on a suspended sentence due to the fact that they have done better work since this poor early entry into the DVD format. The band Aerosmith is acquitted as I don't hold them responsible for the defects here and the band is still high in my respect and esteem. There you go Melissa; this review was for you.
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