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POP MUSIC | RECORD RACK

From Snarl to Slick in 1 Long Hour

** 1/2 AEROSMITH, "Nine Lives," Columbia

March 16, 1997|Robert Hilburn

Things start off smashingly in the opening, title track as Aerosmith combines sassy, '70s-era Rolling Stones spunk with the humor that the band's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry added to the classic Stones formula in the '80s. Before you hear the first guitar riffs on "Nine Lives," the speakers are filled with the sound of snarling felines.

Tyler is having such a good time in the next tune, a horn-accented tale of troubled romance playfully titled "Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)," that he even jokes about the prominent physical feature he shares with Mick Jagger: "Don't give me no lip / I've got enough of my own."

At a time when rock is questioning its future, this veteran quintet still comes straight at you with music that is solidly entertaining and unapologetically Top 40-minded. It's all done with high energy and a sonic brightness that will sound good on the radio and the stage.

What works fine for 10 to 12 minutes, however, runs very thin over the course of an hour. When the band moves away from the rawness of the Stones into material designed to be sensitive or thoughtful, the result is dangerously close to the slickness of Bon Jovi or even the melodrama of Meat Loaf.

Tyler and Perry have always been more in love with rock 'n' roll stardom than bold artistry, and they'll add to their riches with this album. But "Nine Lives" is too one-dimensional to work as anything more than surface entertainment.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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* Excerpts from these albums and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/soundclips

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