If there ever was a recipe for disaster, the ingredients would all be found in Aerosmith's Get a Grip. Before the recording sessions began, the newly rehabilitated raunch-hands signed a $30 million contract with their old label, Columbia. Since the band owed Geffen two more albums, Get a Grip had the makings of a contractual obligation. Would Aerosmith's heart be in it at all? Geffen didn't think so; after the band had recorded a batch of songs, label executives decided the album needed more ''variety'' industry talk for a hit. Among the fix-it men brought in as songwriting collaborators were retro-meister Lenny Kravitz and members of the knucklehead pop-metal band Damn Yankees.
On first listen, the finally finished Get a Grip sounds neither tossed off nor outrighl. Having crossed into forty-something turf, the guys are eager to prove they can still deliver the piping-hot goods. The album aims to recapture the greasy, careening feel of the band's '70s work, qualities largely absent from its ultrapolished last two albums. Puffy synthesizers are out, and guitars lots of them, spewing out clomping-dinosaur riffs and proudly sloppy slide solos rule the landscape once again. Aerosmith still sounds like they enjoy playing together, even poking fun at themselves. The album opens with a snippet of lead singer/scarf collector Steven Tyler rapping over a snippet of ''Walk This Way'' and other Aerosmith samples, and his jabbering motormouth pumps salacious wit into aren't-you-a-bit-old-for-this? lyrics like ''Everybody gotta have flesh/You got me all soakin' wet.''
With some strong, razor-edged material, the band could have pulled it off. Yet the songs are a mixed lot, not surprising given the circumstances and the hired guns. ''Eat the Rich'' is a formulaic arena cheer the sort of thing the latter-day Kiss cranks out in its sleep (with a bimbo on each arm, of course) and too many of the rockers, like ''Gotta Love It'' and ''Flesh,'' are as uninspired and pro forma as their titles. (''Livin' on the Edge,'' which gingerly steps into the land of social awareness, might have worked better if it didn't sound like Bon Jovi trying hard to sound like Aerosmith.) Yet in much the same way as the middle-aged Rolling Stones, the band is growing nicely into slower material: ''Cryin''' shamelessly and successfully recycles everything addictive about a power ballad.
In fact, Aerosmith has frequently been called America's answer to the Stones. (The album even has its equivalent of that classic Stones moment when Keith Richards steps up to the microphone: the shuffle ''Walk on Down,'' sung by guitarist Joe Perry.) If you buy into that theory a stretch, since the band has never been nearly as consistent or original as the world's greatest something or other the chronology puts Aerosmith at about the same career point as the Stones of the mid-'80s. That was a time of well-oiled but essentially lacking albums like Dirty Work. Get a Grip has the same feel seasoned old pros going through the paces, making records that are neither great nor terrible, and not embarrassing. What can a rich boy do, except continue to play in a rock & roll band? Maybe we'll have to wait another two albums to find out. C