For Aerosmith, drugs took a boiling point approach. Their lives got louder, faster and crazier until they simply blew up, and it culminated with the tepid reaction to their 1977 album Draw the Line and Joe Perry’s angry departure from the band. It was followed in short order by Brad Whitford also bidding Aerosmith adieu right after their 1979 album Night In the Ruts. Then came the feces storm that was Rock In a Hard Place, their audience’s extremely bad reaction to new guitarists Rick Dufay and Jimmy Crespo (“Where’s Joe f***in’ Perry?!?”) and Steven Tyler’s collapse on stage in 1982 – the rest of the band thought he was dead. Cocaine, hard touring and egos the size of Australia had killed Aerosmith with greatest discrimination.
But back in the mid-‘70s, Aerosmith was flyin’ high, both figuratively and literally. They followed up on Toys In the Attic 13 months later with another rock and roll behemoth, Rocks. Aerosmith were clearly on a roll, and the juggernaut wasn’t going to stop until it burned out. Drugs make it break down a lot faster, and Aerosmith had people putting lines of cocaine in front of them for years now. But this period was the golden state, the very narrow sliver of time when drugs are fueling a band’s creativity while the toll on the body still hasn’t reached an unmanageable level. For a great many bands that time is way too short, and Aerosmith are no exception.
Toys In the Attic and Rocks are the two hands-down greatest moments in the first phase of Aerosmith’s career, before they died their first death and were resurrected with Permanent Vacation. Like I said, the two albums are only separated by a scant 13 months, and are indeed musical twins. Comparing them to see which is better is like pitting siblings against each other with knives, but hey, that’s what music critics do, right?
Both Toys and Rocks are 9 tracks long, and there’s only 2 and a half minutes difference in runtime, so they’re just begging for a showdown. They have similar structures, both containing one menacing rock tune (“Sweet Emotion” and “Back In the Saddle”) and one heavy metal gem (“Round and Round” and “Nobody’s Fault”), and both cap off with a bloated rock ballad powered by piano (“You See Me Crying” and “Home Tonight”). They also both have a monument to sex and philandering (“Walk This Way” and “Lick and a Promise”). Indeed, most songs from one album have a loose parallel on the other.
And if you still say comparisons between the two are unfair, there’s that Rocks actually has a sequel song to a track on Toys In the Attic. The title track of that album is a fast and frenetic song about insanity with a killer guitar drone near the end. Steven Tyler screams like he’s really going insane, marking the first appearance of his signature screeching howl. And Rocks track #3 is a companion piece to that, with a similar musical tone and even a matching name, “Rats In the Cellar.” Whether you go to the attic to retreat into your own mind, or the cellar to party with the vermin, you’ll go insane either way.
But which album is better? I think for that you’d have to look at individual songs. “Nobody’s Fault” has a darker and more urgent groove than “Round and Round,” though “Round and Round” has a better sense of heaviness. “Home Tonight” is a better power ballad than its counterpart, and doesn’t contain the annoying falsetto whine that “You See Me Crying” does. Rocks has more jaunty, dirty numbers in “Last Child” and “Get the Lead Out,” but Toys In the Attic some great teenager anthems like “Walk This Way” and “Adam’s Apple.” Rocks acknowledges the toll drugs were taking on Aerosmith as a whole (“Combination” and “Sick as a Dog”) while Toys is practically silent on the matter. Rocks also features a slightly darker and more wicked tone, while Toys is more fun. It just depends on what you prefer.
In singles, however, there isn’t even a competition – Toys wins hands-down. “Sweet Emotion” and “Walk This Way” are both Toys, while the only very successful single from Rocks is opener “Back In the Saddle”. It’s a good song, no doubt, but can’t stand up to “Walk This Way” and is blown out of the water by the deliciously awesome “Sweet Emotion.” Success of singles definitely isn’t the only thing to take into account – there’s also cohesion as an album. Both Toys and Rocks score high marks on that front, but the presence of TWO iconic Aerosmith songs on Toys push it over the line for me.
Official AO verdict: Toys In the Attic wins out over Rocks, but only just.