The album of the year has just been made by a man with woman's hair. It isn't a metal album and it isn't metal hair, both of which may surprise those who would file Aerosmith and their sofa-lipped singer, Steven Tyler, alongside Metallica and Van Halen. The hair, rather than being frazzled and straggly from too many live chicken rituals, is beautifully highlighted a la Ann Bancroft in The Graduate and lovingly blow-dried into a Rachel from Friends.
The album, Nine Lives, unlike so many tinnitus dirges released in the name of heavy rock, is a smorgasbord of funky guitar licks, laid-back country-ish ballads, voodoo blues, sitar solos and silly bastard wordplay - the first single is called "Falling in Love (is Hard on The Knees)". If Everything Must Go by fellow border-metallers Manic Street Preachers was an album to ice skate to, Nine Lives is an album to drive fast up the freeway while pulling faces in the rear-view mirror to. Ironically, it was recorded during one of the most miserable periods of Steven Tyler's life.
"We were in Florida, on such a roll," he says. "There were beautiful girls and beautiful weather and ice-cream parlours. Then Tim Collins, our now ex-manager, started making up some nasty rumours - that I was back on heroin and the band were breaking up. He told the band a lot of things that I never said - that I wanted Tom thrown out and I wanted Joey thrown out. And they drank the Kool-Aid. He was Jim Jones and they believed him. I thought that screaming and crying when I was trying to kick heroin was bad. When my Aunt Phyllis passed away, that was bad. But this was worse. I cried for seven weeks."
The riff was sorted out, the manager was sacked and the band, aware how close they came to extinction, are more up for it than ever, skipping through interview after interview in three separate suites of an exclusive London hotel. How exclusive? Well, management bowed to Aerosmith's wishes to have their starched white rooms redecorated with purple and orange Indian scarves, and 8ft high Cleopatra-style sofa thrones. Rose blossoms are scattered liberally across the plush carpet.
Aerosmith, unlike nearly every other successful American band, are not ashamed to be rock stars. They love it. Tyler ruffles his mane and sighs. "If you're going to go to the beach and bring a bathing suit, get in the fucking water. To make it big means a lot of people like you. That's all." He has zero patience with anyone who makes it, only to complain about how unhappy they are.
"Eddie Vedder may be a severely deep person, I don't know. But life is about celebrating because guess what? In five years, you might be gone. Look at Liam. He's walking around hating out on this and hating out on that. There's so much energy there." As it happens, Tyler is a great Gallagher admirer.
"I'm a melody freak and they have it. For me, a great melody is like tasting Cherry Coke for the first time, or chocolate peanut butter. I love the Oasis melody line - that tune that climbs inside of you and changes everything."
Aerosmith have written their fair portion of those, from "Toys in the Attic" and "Eat the Rich" through to the anti-child abuse "Janie's Got a Gun", positively Andrea Dworkin in its revenge fury. "When I wrote that song and, six months later it was all over the radio all over the world, it was one time I thought, `Wow, I'm really lucky to have this power"'. The best bit in the career-revitalising "Crazy" video in 1994 was when Alicia Silverstone and Liv Tyler, his actress daughter, are singing along to the band as they drive off on their jaunt, and feel so happy that they have to rip their shirts off. That's an Aerosmith moment. Nevertheless, did he feel comfortable about having his little girl star in such a sexual video?
"If you only knew what it looked like originally. It was total lesbian. I was shocked. When the director said `What you talkin about?' I knew straight away that I was right, `cos me and him are lechers. We talk about that shit all the time. I said, `That's got to come out'."
What about the shot of Steven and 17-year-old, micro-skirted Liv draped across each other for Rolling Stone's cover? "When we did Rolling Stone, I wasn't looking at her crotch and her tits, although I celebrate those areas of her. I think she's a beautiful woman. But when I saw the cover, I was really taken aback - it just proves how fucking squaresville I am. I do look at her very sexually sometimes. But I don't play on it. Some fathers do and that's "Janie's Got A Gun"."
Ask him how he would defend Aerosmith against accusations of sexism and he looks aghast. "I love women. If you really wanna get into it, I'll tell you what I think about men. I hate them. They're the cause of all the problems in the world. You are the ones with the power. We hold the sword as power, but you are power." With you there so far, but what about the line "Love is like a gun? You aim, shoot and run"? "Oh boy. If you take the lyrics as gospel, I'm in trouble."
Aerosmith get away with it because there is something very feminine and gentle about Tyler, even on camera. It must be a genetic thing. Like Liv, he appeals to men and women - it's the combination of sexiness and goofiness, which is also how you could sum up Nine Lives. Unbelievable though it may seem, the closest you're going to get to it in terms of inventiveness and chutzpah is Black Grape's It's Great When You're Straight, which is a title that suits Aerosmith just as well.
"The reason I was so destroyed by the manager spreading those drug rumours about me is because I fought so hard to get off them. If I wasn't sober, I would be trying to follow you home tonight and find out if your friends do drugs and could I get some and I would have completely blown the interview. You would have thought I was a complete asshole; by the end, you would have known I was one."
Those days are long gone and neatly tied up in "Kiss Your Past Goodbye", one of the finest tracks on the album. The best, however, is "Taste of India", which sounds a lot like a certain Kula Shaker, also on Columbia records. When told by the company that they had this new young band who were working in the same direction, Tyler's response was "They are? Well, get my record out now!" In truth, Steven Tyler could eat Crispian Mills for breakfast, after which he will eat the rich. And then he will eat rock, because no-one else has the guts to do it.
`Nine Lives' is released on March 10. The single, "Falling in Love (is Hard on the Knees)" is out on February 24. Nationwide tour from May.
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