Tuesday, March 29, 2005


The jangling guitars open with a repeating tangy riff that sounds like a smoky Texan Bar-B-Q sauce. Steven Tyler, with his signature rasp plainly states "there's something wrong with the world today," a sentiment that could be as easily understood in 1992, when the song was first released, as it is today. Indeed, Aerosmith, the quintessential bar band, eschewed its usual choice topics of drag queens, masturbation, and walking in a particular way (see: this way) for a politically potent anthem ostensibly about doomsday or racism, or both. At six minutes and twenty-three seconds, it's also one of the most unconventional single releases in their career. It's also one of their most beautiful.

"We're seeing things in a different way/
And God knows it ain't his/
It sure ain't no surprise."
Tyler sings in his almost-masculine low range which is his way of easing us into a song before he truly belts it out.
And then suddenly, he gives us a sampling of his possessed yelps, a mixture of a rooster choking on feed combined with a violent phlegm clearing. It's one of the most distinctive sounds in rock music and also one that sometimes hurts the throat just listening to it. His sentiments aren't profound or deep in any respect. Heck, he uses the word "ain't" in the 27th second but then Joey Kramer's pounding drums and the layered hypnotic, spiraling dual guitars of Brad Whitford and Joe Perry compensate for that. If Tyler is singing about the impending Doomsday, you're feelin' it (it should be noted that this epic song was taken off of an album Get A Grip with another song entitled "Eat The Rich," Aerosmith's stab at anarchy and dissention).

Then the chorus comes in with the beautiful surround-sounding harmonies that fly through each respective ear like a swooping bird. Tyler unrepently shouts "we're livin' on the edge" while the left ear warns "you can't help yourself from falling/you can't help yourself at all" and the right ear chants "everybody." When you listen to this moment in your headphones, the results are chilling and nearly overwhelming.

Three minutes and twenty-six seconds into the song, the music stops and a vacuous wind blows through it as if a studio window had been opened during a hurricane while the tape was still rolling. The impression is that the world had suddenly ended during the recording of "Livin' On The Edge" and Tyler and company were unable to complete it. But suddenly, Kramer's bass drum marks the return with a repetitious thud and the oddly-lipped lead singer, acting as prophet, re-enters the ring and shouts his Judgment Day sentiments. "We're livin' on the edge," Tyler screams again (Aerosmith is a band that milks it's chorus' lyrics to the point of exhaustion but never beyond it) shaking his handkerchiefed mic stand.

But still, why is this song is one of the best songs of all time? Because it feels truly momentous without the faux color-by-numbers songwriting that Aerosmith has been xeroxing the past few years. With the thriller-like violins dancing alongside the dual, spiraling guitar, "Livin' On The Edge" is a summer blockbuster in a song. It's crisp, over-produced and full of explosive sounds. It's full of moments that come closest to reaching the commercial-chill factor of Armageddon (after hearing this song, it's no wonder why they were asked to contribute to the soundtrack). "Livin' On The Edge" is truly a tremendous and epic song. Revel in it.


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