Aerosmith were coming off the peak of their success when they went into the studio for ‘Draw the Line.’ In the wake of back-to-back classics ‘Toys in the Attic’ and ‘Rocks,’ the group were positioned to deliver an album that would have cemented their legacy alongside ’70s stalwarts like Led Zeppelin. Instead, they turned in an oddly dispirited album that heralded a dramatic reversal of fortunes in their career.
The group recorded ‘Draw the Line’ in an abandoned convent that they rented out, but they weren’t exactly behaving like saints; egos, drugs and fighting were a regular part of the band’s life by that time, and the members of Aerosmith would later recall the sessions as a turning point when the music began to feel uninspired.
Not that the album was entirely bad by any means. The title track ‘Draw the Line‘ was classic Aerosmith, and has figured prominently in their live set ever since. But much of the album consisted of should-have-been-great-but-not-quite tracks like ‘I Wanna Know Why,’ ‘Get It Up,’ and ‘Sight For Sore Eyes,’ all of which featured important elements of the classic Aerosmith sound, but somehow didn’t quite catch fire.
‘Critical Mass,’ with its bizarre harmonica parts, sounded almost like a band trying to sound like Aerosmith instead of the actual group, while Joe Perry’s punk-y solo offering ‘Bright Light Fright‘ was a somewhat misguided attempt to bend with the times, and ‘The Hand That Feeds‘ was a disjointed noisefest in search of a real song. ‘Kings and Queens‘ was an odd departure for Aerosmith that sounded more like a Queen b-side or even a lost Rush track, which music critic Robert Christgau called “synthesized medieval pomp-rock.”
Even the better tracks were hampered by a flat, one-dimensional audio production that seemed barely professional quality. Rolling Stone destroyed the album in print, saying, “‘Draw the Line’ is a truly horrendous record, chaotic to the point of malfunction and with an almost impenetrably dense sound adding to the confusion.”
Even so, the album was commercially successful upon its release, going platinum and eventually being certified double platinum. But the band were set on a downward course, and during the recording of their next album, ‘Night in the Ruts,’ Perry departed the group, bringing about the end of their classic era. The original lineup would not play together again until 1985, when they reunited for ‘Done With Mirrors.’