Despite their indelible place in rock and roll history, this is only the second Aerosmith record to pass through my record collection. Their debut, Dream On, came and went without much of an impression.
Toys in the Attic, however, is a much more memorable beast.
The songs are heavier, the riffs are catchier, and Steven Tyler finally sounds like himself. In the two years between their debut and Toys, he developed his trademarked howl, which adds much more character to their arsenal. None of the songs here could be mistaken for anyone else, unlike most of the tracks on Dream On.
My biggest complaint with their debut was that the whole album sounded like they heard Led Zeppelin and said, “oh, us too!” As a result, it was disingenuous and cheap. On Toys in the Attic, though, Aerosmith finally finds their voice.
And of course, the songs are great. The title track opens the album with all of the energy of an out of control locomotive, fueled by thick guitar distortion and a mostly shouted chorus. “Walk This Way,” with its unmistakable guitar line and rapid-fire delivery still sounds fresh, as does “Sweet Emotion,” which vacillates between melodic choruses and riffy verses, carried by one of the greatest bass lines in classic rock history.
Even the tracks that don’t still get radio play are bold and satisfying. “No More No More” is a bluesy rock and roller that interrupts its simple blues structure with a hair-ballad-worthy acoustic guitar riff. “Round and Round” is a heavy, plodding number that feels more like Black Sabbath than “Dream On.” The closing track, the epic string-aided ballad “You See Me Crying” is a largely-forgotten gem in the Aerosmith catalog.
Today, Aerosmith is largely remembered as the poster boys of everything wrong with the machismo and misogyny of “dad rock.” They’re aging rockers who have long since become part of the establishment—Steven Taylor was a judge on American Idol for crying out loud. But on Toys in the Attic, they managed to create a hard rock album that feels fresher than much of their later career output.