20 Years Ago: Aerosmith Fail to Connect on ‘Just Push Play’
Aerosmith had become unexpectedly relevant in the late '80s and '90s, kick-starting a run of massive hits ("Rag Doll," "Dude [Looks Like a Lady]," "Janie's Got a Gun," "Livin' on the Edge," "Cryin'," "Falling in Love [Is Hard on the Knees]") — many of which were crafted with outside cowriters.
For singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry, expanding their creative circle proved to be a wise move. But on 2001's Just Push Play, that strategy seemed to stifle the energy and continuity of their band dynamic.
The duo started work on new music in 2000, riding the massive commercial momentum of Aerosmith's first No. 1 single, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" — a showstopping, Diane Warren-penned power ballad recorded for the soundtrack of the 1998 disaster movie Armageddon. And the vibe for their latest sessions was comfortable: They set up in the guitarist's basement home studio, "the Boneyard," with the nearby guest house functioning as a mixing room for coproducers Marti Frederiksen and Mark Hudson.
At this early stage, the other Aerosmith members weren't involved: Tyler, Perry, Frederiksen and Hudson worked on songs in various configurations — four of the final 12 are credited to the full quartet — and made demos with all the parts mapped out. After years of working in various studios across the country, Perry was excited to be at home. But frustrations over the material eventually crept in.
"Certain songs — like "Trip Hoppin'" — seemed like a desperate and ridiculous attempt by Steven to be hip," Perry wrote in his 2015 book, Rocks: My Life in and out of Aerosmith. He also recalled telling his bandmate, "For an Aerosmith record, the song sucks."
And the pair clashed for other reasons related to "Jaded," a soaring, string-backed anthem that wound up crashing the Billboard Top 10 and earning a Grammy nod for Best Rock Performance By a Duo or Group With Vocal. In this case, the issue boiled down to construction, not quality.
On one weekend, Tyler and Frederiksen traveled to Sunapee, N.H., for a lyric-writing trip. Perry stayed behind to hang out with his wife, and he recalled telling the duo to call them if they started anything new. But when the pair returned, it brought along a finished "Jaded."
"Monday we come back, we start in with the band again and Joe realizes that I've written the song without him," Tyler wrote in his 2012 memoir, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? "Marti was staying at his house, and someone in the family read Marti the riot act for being a traitor and writing a song when Joe wasn't there."
Perry recalled being "hurt" by that exclusion, writing, "Steven had displayed a cavalier attitude that undermined our partnership. Strong partners - like Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards - have each others' backs. Once in a great while they might wander off and compose alone or with another writer, but the understanding is clear: When it comes to their band's material, their partnership is paramount. They're a team. Steven only viewed us as a team when it suited him."
Watch Aerosmith's 'Jaded' Video
Adding to the soured atmosphere was the band's fractured recording process, with each of the other members —guitarist Brad Whitford, bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer — recording their parts individually. "A band like Aerosmith is about energy," Perry wrote. "It was ridiculous that all five of us were never in the same room at the same time — a point I should have insisted upon."
On a commercial level, Just Push Play fared well enough, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, earning platinum sales, gaining wide MTV rotation for "Jaded." (Good thing that worked out: Tyler recalled learning from an executive, "If we hadn't come up with that hit, Sony was getting ready to drop us.") But it also ironed home the growing divide between Perry and Tyler, the band's primary artistic voices.
Aerosmith eventually returned to a more organic approach for their next LP, the 2004 blues-rock covers project Honkin' on Bobo. But time didn't ease Perry's dissatisfaction with this divisive era.
“I don’t think we’ve made a decent album in years,” he told Classic Rock in 2010. “Just Push Play is my least favorite. … When we recorded it, there was never a point where all five members were in the room at the same time, and Aerosmith’s major strength is playing together. It was a learning experience for me: It showed me how not to make an Aerosmith record.”