|Cheap Trick - Rockford|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by K L Poore|
|Friday, 01 September 2006|
I guess I’m lucky that my music sickness only turns fatal after a lifetime, because it has become so pervasive that, in one way or another, it invariably becomes the primary topic of conversation when my friends and I get together. Like a group of elderly bridge players sitting around comparing illnesses we always start with the old standards. First it’s “Heard anything new?” and then we inch our way past “You know who really sucks?” before heading into the prickly mosquito-infected swamp of our “choicest” topics. You know the ones. “Yoko or Linda? ,” “Axel Rose and Gonzo the Muppet, separated at birth?” and “Who in hell would actually want to be the new Bob Dylan anyway?”
We sit around for hours, airing our various long-held musical loves and hatreds, until inevitably, I haul out my favorite… the one that makes my friends queasy. It has mutated into many different forms but centers on the concept that Cheap Trick should have been the Beatles of our generation but instead caught some kind of nasty record company flu and went off the rails. After years of serving up this warm cup of half-hearted delusion it’s reached the point that I can actually hear their stomachs gurgle nervously whenever I say the word ‘cheap’ in any context, and no amount of antacid does the trick. I don’t know if, after years of disappointing Cheap Trick CDs, I bring it up merely to provoke them, but I have to confess that at one time I really believed it.
Their latest release Rockford may have me believing again.
There’s no need for me to run through the entire history of Cheap Trick so let me just say that their LPs (and now CDs) up to, and including, Dream Police are “kicking.” They kick your ass like a bad cold and they couldn’t care less if they’re rock or pop or whatever… whether they need to starve your fever or feed it… they just keep dishing up song after song of pure pleasure. “ELO Kiddies,” “He’s a Whore,” “Downed,” “Clock Strikes Ten” -- each of these songs is a cure for whatever ails ye, and most people seem to have forgotten that when they were released they almost single-handedly saved the world from the pandemic horror of un-funky, mechanized, blow sick disco lunacy. And that’s without even listing the radio friendly, overplayed, antibiotics: “I Want You to Want Me,” “Surrender,” and At Budokan’s Fats Domino cover “Ain’t That a Shame.”
Here’s the most straightforward way that I can think of to explain it. My first band, a rockin’ teenage combo that was way more attitude than ability, played the entire In Color at every gig we could beg our way into, and the songs on that 31-minute masterpiece are so good that the girls would start doing that hip swaying thing that meant our pimply, rhythmically-challenged, teenage renditions were getting us over. That, my friends, is what we were living for. That, my friends, is what rock music is supposed to be. That was Cheap Trick.
Armed with their antidote for blandness Cheap Trick headed into the ‘80s with an eye towards top of the mountain. It seemed as if there was enough magic in the medicine being brewed by Rick Nielsen’s songs and Robin Zander’s vocals to allow them to stand easily beside the elite bands of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. But they tumbled, and things went terribly wrong.
In what Alanis Morissette would probably see as ironic, their fall began on the George Martin-produced All Shook Up. Yes, that George Martin.
Sir George Martin. All Shook Up had a couple of great songs on it, my fave being “Stop This Game,” complete with McCartney-esque “Live and Let Die” break, but overall it was tired. It wasn’t as creative, or as consistent, as its predecessors. And that’s the story that has played out with every Cheap Trick release since. A few incredible songs and a lot of just okay. For every “Lookin’ Out for No. 1” or “I Can’t Take It” there were three like “All We Need is a Dream.” It was as if they’d gotten sick and didn’t have the strength to finish the climb. “We could have made it,” they say in my imagination, “but damn this chronic corporate pain in the ass, it’s sapping me of my will to write and record music that’ll stand up against our best releases.”
Even with this strange obsession, and my twisted viewpoint, I went ahead and picked up Cheap Trick’s latest, Rockford. My intention was to listen to it once or twice, find the good cuts, and dump them into my library for later enjoyment. Imagine my surprise when I put it on and it was, gulp, good. Really good. It took me back to those backyard dances where girls did the grind and their boyfriends tried to figure out whether or not we were scoping their girlfriends. (What do you think?)
“Welcome to the World” opens Rockford and jumps out at you in the same way “Hello There” did on In Color. It sounds both modern and traditional at the same time, and is a sign that it’s not just the same old thing this time. It’s an opener, a birthday song and a kick ass way for a CD to start, all in one. Like a multi-vitamin. Rockford turns out to be a release chocked with infectious melodies, feverish hooks and throat grabbing guitar sounds, and it pounds harder than 90 percent of the rock releases I’ve heard this year.
“Perfect Stranger” throbs in a way that’ll make the current crop of power pop purveyors turn red with jealousy, and while listening to “If It Takes a Lifetime” I figure that Rick Nielsen went to his “catchy hook” trunk, pulled out 10 or 15 and crammed them into the same song. And although the songs on Rockford are attributed to all four members of Cheap Trick, Nielsen’s manic guitar riff fingerprints are all over them. It’s the “too much is never enough school” -- and I like it! After a few more listens to “If It Takes a Lifetime” I turn a little red and realize that I’m the one who’s jealous now. I mean they’re tossing in musical afterthoughts that I’d give blood to have written. I flash on the thought that the masters of post-emo pop music are now looking for either fast food employment, or poison, because they can’t compete with the sheer pop explosion of Rockford.
And then “Come On Come On Come On” comes on and I wish I was that kid again, struggling with a nervous stomach and trying to tune my crummy Les Paul knockoff. This is the kind of song that makes you a rock star for three minutes, and then on Monday everyone at school knows your name. Later, some guy will punch you in the face if he can catch you.
Rockford gives you time to rest with the next cut, the mid-tempo Lennon-like “O Claire”. It’s perfect sequencing because you’ll need the opportunity to catch your breath before being hit with a continuous stream of Cheap Trick gems. “This Time You Got It,” “Give It Away,” “Every Night and Every Day” -- there’s not a bad song in on the CD, and for a moment I can hear the faint rustlings of my Beatles dream hovering. On “Every Night and Every Day” it even sounds like they’re singing “shit shit shit” in the same way the fab four sang “tit” on Girl. Did Cheap Trick get my memo about the sick state of music? It appears that they’re writing a pretty heavy prescription.
And just when it seems like they’re going foul the whole thing, which is what I thought when “All Those Years” started up, they toss in a musical curveball and you don’t end up with “The Flame,” but a song that you’ll actually want to listen to again.
Rockford ends with “Decaf,” an odd helium/adrenaline-influenced song that could have been yanked right out of CT’s prime, and sounds “anything but decaffeinated.” With its “yeah, yeah, yeah” chorus and repeated refrain of “it could happen to you,” it sounds like they’re attempting to take back their own vision of a Beatles-like greatness.
Rockford is a great Cheap Trick CD, and in making it they’ve journeyed to a musical place that I didn’t really believe they’d visit again in my lifetime. At the same time they appear to have rid themselves of a sickness that has lingered for 25 years or so. That’s a miracle cure that’s good for everyone.
Rockford is a great sounding, expertly produced and mixed CD, credited to Cheap Trick (except for “Perfect Stranger” which is also credited to Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes fame). It just sounds like a rock record, and that’s a good thing. What really jumps out is the bottom end. The drum sound is awesome and I don’t know what they did in miking Bun E Carlos’ kit, but the cymbals have a real clarity, and the snare a real snap, that’s missing from most CDs. They obviously weren’t afraid to bring the bass (guess I should mention Tom Petersson here) up in the mix and the vocals and guitars are as you’d expect on a Cheap Trick release of this high quality, perfect for each song. Rockford’s a really good “driving in the car” CD and although I listened to it in headphones it’s not really that type of recording. That being said, I now have the urge to learn these songs on guitar and who knows, maybe we’ll find a backyard party that’d like to have four old guys drop by and play Rockford. It’s good to dance to, ladies.