Album of the Week 29-2013: Aerosmith – Gems

Reviewing compilation albums isn’t a thing I want to make a habit of. However, when one of those albums is compiled as well as ‘Gems’ is, it does deserve a special mention. Since the greatest hits a band has had aren’t necessarily the band’s best songs – and Aerosmith is one of the world’s most obvious examples of that statement – a compilation containing all of the better songs in the band’s discography that for some reason didn’t become huge MTV staples the way that ‘Love In An Elevator’, ‘Rag Doll’ and the absolutely nauseating ‘Angel’ were doesn’t seem all that bad of an idea.

In this case, the reason these songs didn’t turn out to be huge hits is most likely the fact that these songs are significantly heavier and harder rocking than most of the band’s hits. That makes ‘Gems’ the perfect accompanying piece for 1980’s ‘Greatest Hits’. That and the fact that there are no doubles. Where hits like ‘Sweet Emotion’, ‘Walk This Way’ and especially ‘Dream On’, most likely the finest power ballad ever written, represent Aerosmith at their most accessible, the material on ‘Gems’ shows us some of the best Bluesrock and early Heavy Metal tunes and therefore is essential for a complete image of what Aerosmith is really like.

When I was about ten years old and just getting into Rock music, ‘Gems’ was the fifth album or so that I ever bought and it’s the one I played most at the time. These are the songs that still get my blood pumping and boiling even now, almost two decades after getting acquainted with them. This would be a good listen for people who throw Aerosmith on the same pile as the likes of Bon Jovi based on their late eighties, early nineties second heyday. The low, heavy riffing of ‘Round And Round’ and ‘Nobody’s Fault’ – coincidentally both Brad Whitford compositions – and the dirty riff ‘n’ roll of ‘Rats In The Cellar’ and ‘Mama Kin’ is sure to surprise those people.

Had ‘One Way Street’ been on this compilation, my entire Aerosmith top three would have been on here. The jam-heavy ‘Rats In The Cellar’ and the down ‘n’ dirty, sexy groove of the downright brilliant ‘Lord Of The Thighs’ are the other two and are essential listening for fans of early Hardrock. Other highlights of Aerosmith’s discography included here are the raucous Yardbirds cover ‘Train Kept A Rollin”, the bluesy tale of their signing that is ‘No Surprize’ (lead-off track to their criminally underrated ‘Night In The Ruts’ album), the insane ‘Jailbait’ and the heavy ‘Lick And A Promise’.

Okay, there should most certainly be a difference between a “greatest hits” and a “best of” album. Naturally, a “best of” can contain hits and Aerosmith has certainly had a few big hits that were among their best songs as well, but releasing a compilation with only non-hits is a ballsy, though artistically satisfying move. Of course, eventually you should own every Aerosmith studio album – save for maybe the horrible ‘Just Push Play’ and the directionless ‘Done With Mirrors’ and ‘Rock In A Hard Place – but this is a nice way to get acquainted to their darker, heavier and better side.

Recommended tracks: ‘Lord Of The Thighs’, ‘Rats In The Cellar’, ‘No Surprize’

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