Released 35 years ago this month, and still the best thing they have done since, Done With Mirrors was the Big Comeback album for Aerosmith, Tyler’s first with Perry and Whitford back where they belong. It was such a giant flop though that John Kalodner at Geffen, who they’d just signed to, persuaded them to never attempt anything like it again. That is, write a diamond-hard rock album of the very darkest water, kicking out the jams like no other band of the time (mid-80s, pre-Guns N’ Roses era) came close to.
Which is a shame, cos this album is such a stone-cold classic. As good as anything Aerosmith in the 70s did, better than most, actually. Right up there with Toys and Rocks. The failure of Mirrors to replicate those mega-70s sales was the reason the band would in future bring in outside writers like Diane Warren, Desmond Child, Jim Valance, and Holly Knight. Proven hit-makers all. As Kiss, Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Tina Turner, Pat Benatar, Meat Loaf, and, more recently, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera and Kelly Clarkson – to name, literally, just a few – will attest.
But could any of them and their formulaic rulebooks write something as ouch-hot steaming as ‘My Fist, Your Face’? Or as just plain, cock-digging nasty as ‘Shela’? Or as swaggeringly high as ‘Gypsy Boots’? Or as spine-tinglingly blues-groovy as ‘She’s On Fire’? Or just plain balls-out rocking as ‘The Hop’? That was a rhetorical question, of course. Because we all know the answer. At the same time, neither Tyler or Perry could have come up with ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ (Warren) or ‘Living La Vida Loca’ (Child). You get the kiddy-porn picture.
Which is why we dug them so deep in their cocaine-heavy, smack-ridden, chick-licking 70s hey-hey-heyday. And why Done With Mirrors seemed to signal a major return to form for the bad boys from Boston. Five years after Zeppelin finally admitted they were over, halfway through a decade ruined by safe-as-milk Reagnonic rock in the guise of MTV-led drivel like Ratt and Quiet Riot, a year after Diamond Dave split from Van Halen and it looked like the good stuff was gone for good, along came Done With Mirrors. I mean, baaaaaaaaby!!! Can you fucking diiiiiiiiiiig ittttttttt!!!
I could, and did. Again and again (and again) during those lost nights in the 1980s when I didn’t have a TV, just the music and the good-bad times to get me and mine through. Best album of 1985, this was. Best album of 1986, too. I mean, Bon Jovi? Whitesnake? Fuck off. And don’t come round again.
Produced by Ted Templeman who knew how to get the party started, removing the red light bulb from studio sessions so the band didn’t even know they were recording. Just telling them to stretch out and go for it, that they’d get back and tidy it up for recording later, they weren’t looking to make any hit singles here. They were after catching lightening in a bottle. And they found it, corked it, then sent it out like a message to the masses: Kiss This.
The vinyl copy I had was only eight tracks long. (An extra, dispensable attempt at Kalodner-inspried commerciality, ‘Darkness’, was later added to the CD – these were the days when record companies would make acts do that to encourage fledgling CD sales; bastards). It was the worst, most contrived track on the album. Man, if you weren’t already sold by ‘The Reason A Dog’ or ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ you were beyond help anyway. There’s the door, ok?
But it flopped, barely getting into the charts. Some blamed the backwards sleeve-writing (you had to hold a mirror to it to read it, yes, they were very stoned when they thought of it). Others blamed the lack of obvious hits. And so John Kaldoner stepped in to ‘save’ them by bringing in the same hired help all the other would-be rock monsters were using back then. And in chart terms it worked. Permanent Vacation, which followed two years later, had ’Dude Looks Like A Lady’ and ‘Angel’ (both Child) and ‘Rag Doll’ (Knight), and consequently sold over 5 million copies in the US, and eventually went gold in the UK. Job done. If you like that sort of homogenised, one-size-fits-all thing.
But Done With Mirrors remains the bad daddy of everything Aerosmith did after they stopped taking drugs long enough to give it another go in 1985. On a personal level, I’m glad they cleaned up – in every sense – afterwards. But on a musical one, pass the bottle muthafugger and ask that big-ass gal to join us…