If Steven Tyler had announced his debut solo album a couple of years ago, there would’ve been some cause for concern. As well as using his position on the American Idol judging panel to promote early singles, the Aerosmith frontman had also expressed an interest to work with producers like Skrillex and deadmau5 on his solo material. While that all screams of trying too hard to be ‘down with the kids’, thankfully such plans never transpired. Instead, We’re All Somebody From Somewhere is a country album, the inevitable end result of ‘ageing rockstar goes solo’. But the thing is, Tyler’s efforts lead to surprisingly solid results.
In modern country, the most noteworthy artists tend to be around the extremities. There’s the synthetic, electronically saturated brand peddled by the likes of Luke Bryan or Sam Hunt at one end, while at the other, there’s the rustic, more southern rock-leaning fare from acts like Chris Stapleton. On this album, Tyler falls somewhere in the middle, though slightly closer to the latter. It’s a natural fit for him at this point as well – his voice is pretty much shredded now, and when he tries his Aerosmith-style belting on Love Is Your Name (a track that has surprisingly little to say given that it was co-written by Eric Paslay), it’s painful to listen to. But the more mid-tempo material that makes up most of this album fits his current vocal style, a lower, scratchier vocal that’s nowhere near his best, but in the context of the material, it fits well. It forms the basis of some genuinely great moments on this album, like the sleazy boogie-rock of The Good, The Bad, The Ugly & Me, or the stripped-back What Am I Doin’ Right? which displays some palpable and genuinely believable emotion. The actual instrumentals themselves aren’t really anything to write home about – mainly mid-paced, neo-traditional patter that stays in its very defined box – but they’re a suitable fit for this sort of rougher, more rustic side that’s largely built around the vocals.
But if that sounds like it can sometimes feel a bit beige or uninspired, that’s because it can. There’s a sizeable run near the middle of the album that especially suffers from this, with a large chunk of songs that feel derivative or faceless like Somebody New, or just feel like a particularly bad fit, like the unnecessarily lo-fi vocal filters slathered all over Hold On (Won’t Let Go) or the puzzling, ukulele-led I Make My Own Sunshine, which is much lighter and fluffier than anything else on the album. As a result, there’s a lot of clearly defined filler on this album, and considering it’s fifteen tracks long and runs just shy of an hour, it can sometimes feel like a chore to get through in one sitting.
Having said that, when Tyler and his band hit their stride, We’re All Somebody From Somewhere produces some particularly solid moments. Red, White & You hits straight in the joy centres of the brain via some occasionally hokey but forgivable patriotic Americanisms, and Only Heaven draws on Tyler’s work with Aerosmith for a rougher, weathered power ballad. By far the best moment though, is the reworked version of Janie’s Got A Gun – stripping down the original to just vocals, acoustic guitars and smatterings of cello, it’s a much more brooding take on the Aerosmith original, with the stripped back instrumentation and Tyler’s coarse, leathery performance magnifying the darkness of the subject matter to phenomenal effect.
It’s this track alone that lends all kinds of credence to the assertion that We’re All Somebody From Somewhere is much more than a cash-grab attempt. It’s more unashamedly mainstream moments might swing in that direction, but for the most part, this sees Tyler embracing a creative freedom that his currently platitudinous main band can’t offer. It’s still rough around the edges, and even in terms of country releases it isn’t going to set the world alight, but for a man who’s been musically active for nearly 50 years to come around with a release as solid as this, it’s hardly something to complain about.
For fans of: Blackberry Smoke, Chris Stapleton, Dave Cobb
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘We’re All Somebody From Somewhere’ by Steven Tyler is out now on Dot Records.