It's hard to complain about something free, but somebody put Nine Lives on the swap table at work in the case for 40 Seasons: the Best of Skid Row. So, when I popped it into my car's player, I thought I was going to recapture my "Youth Gone Wild." Instead I got (to quote lyrics from the title track) a "stay of execution."
The last Aerosmith album I paid real money for was Get a Grip because, after "Cryin'" was such a megahit, it seems like every subsequent single has been trying to duplicate the formula. Which means you can identify an intended single in the first five seconds ("Falling in Love [Is Hard on the Knees]" and "Hole in My Soul," for example). This is fortunate because it means you can quickly skip garbage like "Full Circle" ("If I could change the world like a fairy tale, I would drink the love from your Holy Grail" — where's my toothbrush?) and get to the only good things about Nine Lives: the deep tracks hidden in the middle.
It seems that their blatant attempts to give the public what it wants have not hindered their creativity elsewhere. "Nine Lives" opens with kick-ass hard rock nicely reminiscent of Pump (still my favorite Aerosmith album).
Later, the band offers a "Taste of India" with sitar and sweeping strings grounded by the thunderous rhythm section of Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer. "Something's Gotta Give" is a harmonica-centric track that would not have been out of place on Toys in the Attic.
"Ain't That a Bitch" starts out like slow jazz and turns into a groovy power ballad from the "What It Takes" songbook that nonetheless gets a little "Hey Jude"-y with its overstay-its-welcome ending. And "The Farm" is a fun little trifle with terrific orchestral support that would make a great party song (even if the Wizard of Oz clips are more than a little strange).
And ... that's it. The rest of the album is filled out with dreck. "Crash" is a mish-mash of pop-punk and metal that is just confusing. "Kiss Your Past Goodbye" is a weak ballad obviously geared toward tramps and the guys who screw them. "Pink" is an execrable waste of a good groove, spoiled mainly by the fact that the lyrics don't have the guts to be as suggestive as they really want to be. ("Pink is like red but not quite"? They need to take some lessons from AC/DC.)
Worst of all, "Attitude Adjustment" sounds like something that would have even been filler on some mid-'80s hair-metal band like Autograph. And "Fallen Angels" is a failed attempt at meaningful lyrics that falls flat when the song doesn't even know what it means ("Where do fallen angels go? I just don't know.... They keep fallin'") and yet manages to go on for eight minutes before simply fading out.
CDs these days have way too many tracks because people feel like they need to fill out the 80-minute running time to give listeners their money's worth. But Nine Lives has a solid 20 minutes of good music, which is more than a lot of CDs I paid full price for back in the '90s. And isn't that what the programmable feature on your CD player's for, anyhow?