On November 9, 1985, Aerosmith unleashed Done With Mirrors, their first album in years with original guitar aces Joe Perry and Brad Whitford. Despite positive reviews, good vibes, and a fertile hard rock marketplace, DWM bombed.
Two years later, Aerosmith reemerged with the more polished, pop-hooked Permanent Vacation and leapt to the very top of the hard rock class both commercially and in the popular consciousness.
The point: there’s no calling any album a comeback, really, until the band actually comes back.
On the occasion of Done With Mirrors’ 30th anniversary, let’s take a look at some milestone hard rock and heavy metal LPs created to bring fading or even broken-up bands back to the forefront. Here are five that hit, five that missed, and a nod to the one we’ve been discussing that remains in a sort of loud, fast limbo.
5. Monotheist – Celtic Frost (2008)
Switzerland’s “avant-garde” metal adventurers sound like no other forth in hard rock; Monotheist sounds like no other Celtic Frost album.
Among other elements, tensions between Celtic Frost’s two towering master talents Tom Gabriel Fischer (aka Tom G. Warrior) and Martin Ain had kept the band in effective limbo after 1990’s Vanity/Nemesis.
Work on Monotheist began all the way back in 2000, with recording occurring between 2002 and 2005. The LP finally saw release in 2008 and absolutely stunned the metal world. It remains just as shockingly brilliant with each new listen, the better part of a decade later.
Alas, Monotheist is said to serve as Celtic Frost’s definitive final statement. Fischer and Ain have declared forthrightly that their work under that moniker is done. If true, they could not have gone out on a harder, heavier, more masterful note.
4. Perfect Strangers – Deep Purple (1984)
Perfect Strangers reunited the beloved “Mark II” Deep Purple lineup. That band, which first ran from 1969 to 1974, consisted of Ian Gillan on vocals, Ritchie Blackmore on lead guitar, Jon Lord on keyboards, Roger Glover playing bass, and Ian Paice manning the drums.
Plugging directly into the incredible energy of mid-’80s hard rock, Perfect Strangers immediately launched two massive radio and MTV hits, the title track and “Knocking at Your Back Door.”
The joyfully fired up anew group also embarked on sell-out tours worldwide and reestablished themselves not just as rock royalty of the past, but metal superstars with their sound in up-to-the-minute synch with the power of their comeback moment.
3. Heaven and Hell – Black Sabbath (1980)
After dive-bombing toward oblivion with Technical Ecstasy (1976) and Never Say Die! (1978), Black Sabbath fairy-booted out frontman Ozzy Osbourne and sought to soldier on, potentially under another name.
Nothing doing, Warner Brothers records said. As a result, Black Sabbath regrouped as Black Sabbath, and guitarist Tony Iommi recruited Ronnie James Dio, a petite powerhouse of a metal belter who had long been blowing everyone away live when his band Elf opened for Deep Purple.
Heaven and Hell, the first album with Dio on the mic, reinvigorated Sabbath and essentially transformed them into a new band.
H&H stands as one of the greatest metal LPs of all time and proved so beloved that when Dio and Iommi reformed with bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Vinny Appice in 2005, they simply called themselves Heaven and Hell.
2. Blizzard of Ozz – Black Sabbath (1981)
As stunning as Black Sabbath’s rebound was via Heaven and Hell, fired frontman Ozzy Osbourne truly stupefied the rockiverse upon the coming of Blizzard of Ozz.
Teaming with genius guitar discovery Randy Rhoads, Ozzy unleashed the instant classic that contained the immediate all-time anthems “Crazy Train” and “Mr Crowley,” along with end-to-end metal might from beginning to end.
1. Back in Black – AC/DC (1980)
The best-selling hard rock album of all-time, Back in Black is actually AC/DC’s tribute to their fallen front-maniac Bon Scott.
From the ashes of his untimely in February 1980, brothers Angus and Malcolm Young immediately pressed on—as Scott would have demanded—and hammered out Back in Black. Geordie vocalist Brian Johnson, one of Bon’s favorites, stepped up to the mic and the band instantly clicked and got to work.
Just five months after Bon Scott breathed his last, Back in Black hit stores and assured that his band, his legacy, and his impact would live forever.
5. The Weirdness – The Stooges (2007)
The Weirdness is just the fourth original studio LP by original Stooges members Iggy Pop on vocals, Ron Asheton on guitar, and Scott Asheton on drums. Joining in on bass was the Minutemen’s Mike Watt. Punk provocateur Steve Albini served as producer.
Alas, catching lighting in a smashed peanut bar twice proved impossible as the very visionaries who invented so much of what would become punk rock and heavy metal just didn’t deliver an inspired roster of songs.
Since Ron Asheton died a year after The Weirdness, the Stooges would never get another shot at reviving past glories. Nothing, of course, can diminish the group’s original powder keg of work.
4. Psycho Circus – Kiss (1996)
The original Kiss lineup famously reunited in 1995 for their knockout MTV Unplugged performance.
That coming together proved so inspiring that Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss decided not just to keep their great new thing going, but to put on their old face-paint and costumes and hit the road with a full fire-powered old-school Kiss rock-and-roll spectacular.
Those concerts proved stellar. Psycho Circus, the new album recorded by the classic Kiss roster, proved to be decidedly not.
3. Generation Swine – Mötley Crüe (1997)
Generation Swine reunited Mötley Crüe with original vocalist Vince Neil after he split following the group’s 1989 monster, Dr. Feelgood.
Amidst the alterna-decade and still smarting from their 1994 self-titled release with singer John Corabi that made some woefully wrongheaded moves toward grunge, Generation Swine arrived like a record out of synch with the new rock landscape—and it sounded that way, too.
Several years of “greatest hits” and live records followed, leading to 2000’s New Tattoo, which saw the Crüe go back to their original glam metal sound just in time to catch the first wave of big hair nostalgia. They’ve been an affable going concern since then, smack up until their present farewell tour.
2. St. Anger – Metallica (2003)
The nonstop disaster of St. Anger is brilliantly chronicled in the 2003 rockumentary masterwork, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.
The interpersonal squabbles and insane rock star self-importance on display in the movie, however, most definitely did not translate to a workably combustive album, as St. Anger is an unlistenable mess.
Tinny, rickety, and devoid of guitar solos, St. Anger can only be enjoyed of a snapshot of billionaires in crisis. It’s not fun, it doesn’t rock (at all), but it can’t be called entirely uninteresting.
1. Chinese Democracy – Guns N’ Roses (2008)
Seventeen years in the apparently nonstop making, Chinese Democracy is W. Axl Rose’s follow-up to 1991’s Use Your Illusion I and II, released under the imprimatur of Guns N’ Roses.
Chinese Democracy cost $13 million (making it the most financially expensive rock album ever), it chewed up and spit out an endless roster of GNR members, and it pushed the group’s sound toward industrial metal and electronic rock—feebly.
When Chinese Democracy finally landed, it crashed and burned not like a lead zeppelin, but like a dud balloon.
No follow-up LP has been announced. Who could stand it?
THE LOST CLASSIC
Done With Mirrors – Aerosmith (1985)
After six years in the woods, the original lineup of Aerosmith roared back to life on Done With Mirrors, a knockout nine-track return to the group’s filthy-mouthed dirty blues form that also harnessed the might of mid-’80s heavy metal.
Done With Mirrors was even witty in classic Aerosmith style, too—the title refers to how the band members were newly sober (and thus through with snorting anything off shiny glass surfaces), had put aside their egotistical differences (i.e., laid down their narcissistic self-reflectiveness), and had pulled off the grand magic trick of putting together a potential classic against all reasonable expectations.
Unfortunately, the public just shrugged. Critics and hardcore Aerosmith fans embraced DWM instantly and have held it close to their hearts for decades. For whatever reason, though, the record stiffed and all involved tried a new approach. One that would turn out to work in terms of fame, fortune, and an entire new phase of ruling the rock roost.
Permanent Vacation (1987) paired Toxic Twins Steven Tyler and Joe Perry with hitmaking songwriters such as Desmond Child, Holly Knight, and Jim Valliance. Bon Jovi producer Bruce Fairbairn glossed the record up with a slick sheen. As a result, Permanent Vacation pumped out one pop smash after another.
Thus, Aerosmith’s mid-’80s comeback is a tail of two albums. One that rocked and flopped, one that popped and ruled. Take your pick and run with whatever kicks you where it counts hardest.