Aerosmith, "Music From Another Dimension" (Columbia) -- The last several years have been a volatile soap opera for Aerosmith: Singer Steven Tyler fell off a stage in '09, allegedly left the band, went back in rehab, published a batty memoir, released a solo single and became an "American Idol" judge. Meanwhile, the remaining band rehearsed new singers, guitarist Joe Perry did his own thing, drummer Joey Kramer released a more sober (literally) memoir. On and on, round and round, same old song and dance. Where you fall on either side of caring about any of it will determine whether "Music From Another Dimension" -- the band's first album of new material in 11 years -- qualifies as a "comeback."
The idea isn't to be snorted at in this context. Aerosmith pulled off one of the most impressive commercial comebacks in pop culture history, becoming bigger in the '80s than they were in the '70s. But this is the '10s, and the band's full-bore bloozy blare certainly sounds like another dimension if not (as other critics have already beaten me to this quip) another decade.
Like 2001's overproduced "Just Push Play," these 15 new tracks are tight and tuneful if not always terribly memorable. The first two don't make for an auspicious opening. "LUV XXX" launches the reintroduction with a pat "Twilight Zone" parody and Tyler, 64, boasting about making "love three times a day." (Cue the Cialis/Viagra bidding war.) "Oh Yeah" apes the Stones shamelessly -- Keef riffs, lip-arching Jagger sneers, soulful shuffle -- but that's the good part; otherwise, the cliché-stuffed lyrics are uninspired even for an Aerosmith song. Tyler's silly wordplay revs up later, though, and he admitted to Rolling Stone that, hey, these are just "songs about fun and sex."
Tyler, however, still sounds superb, and as this "Dimension" unfolds his vocals pump iron in every style -- rock singing, ballad belting, blues growling, nearly rapping -- and successfully play with wonderfully wonky harmonies, from the woozy blend in "Street Jesus" (one of the only tracks here that pushes any boundaries, however lightly), the Def Leppard-esque chorus of "Beautiful," even shifting back and forth from psychedelic dreamer to rap-rocker in the first single, "Legendary Child." As if that's not enough, though, Tyler is joined by Carrie Underwood for the album's stab at a crossover country ballad, "Can't Stop Lovin' You." Two other guests evoke the sci-fi strangeness of the album's cover art: delicate Julian Lennon is lost somewhere in the sleazy moan of "LUV XXX," and actor Johnny Depp backs Perry on his political rocker "Freedom Fighter."
It's a long album, apparently because they needed to unleash another half dozen ballads on us. A host of songwriting collaborators signals the usual please-everyone approach, though Tyler and Perry have mended fences enough to renew their songwriting partnership, penning "LUV XXX" (to their shame) and "Out Go the Lights" (to their credit) together -- the first time they've written together without a third party in two decades.
The next leg of Aerosmith's current totrekur kicks off Nov. 8, and another world tour is planned for 2013.