Cheap Trick CD review [Big Three]

Music Reviews
Cheap Trick CD review [Big Three]
Jun 6, 2006, 16:29


You want a solid discography bottom to top, look in another direction. Cheap Trick's songs have sucked and sapped, waxed and waned, vapid ballads and trite rockers. So, aside from the first two albums, for recorded output, fuck them. They won't go back to singing about Richard Speck and dead pals, or make something as quaintly pop and saccharine as In Color, perhaps the best Beatles album ever made. But Rockford is a smashing senior career moment. And the story is a little bigger than that… I've seen 'em a few times and watched from the sidelines as CT lost its way and came back again:

December 1977 — Lansing, MI: Cheap Trick play the Michigan Theater, an historic building in the downtrodden downtown. A snowstorm greeted the band and myself and 35 other brave souls who showed to see the band in perhaps its finest moment. The show was long, leading off with “Ain't That a Shame,” and moving through most of the first two LPs. Saw Bun E. in the lobby talking on the pay phone and mowing down half a pack of cigs.

September 1978 — Saginaw, MI: another movie theater in another downtrodden downtown. Heaven Tonight stuff was just ok, although “Stiff Competition” was fat and more energetic. On the other hand, “California Man” turned out to be a song that played too much like a party boy anthem. Jammed house.

March 1982 — E. Lansing, MI: MSU Auditorium, terrible venue, Tommy Tutone opening. Hard to say who was worse. Cheap Trick had hit bottom and no one was watching.

1982 — 1999: Fallow period; Next Position Please, Lap of Luxury, Busted… who cared?

July 1995 — Dallas, TX: I was working for The Met, a now defunct but then great alty-weekly in Dallas. I interviewed CT bassist Tom Petersson, who was genuinely funny and engaging. He enjoyed talking to the press, it seemed, and what was supposed to be a 15-minute chat turned into an hour of a two-way conversation.

Q: At what point did you realize that Cheap Trick was making money and you were getting some of it?

A: When I found myself at a magazine store in the airport and I could buy any magazines that I wanted and not have to worry about how much it would cost.

He seemed to be very serious. Conversation also ranged to acid-tinged escapades in a Japanese disco and the waning quality of CT music.

August 1999 — Dallas, TX: “What are you doing tonite?” A pal who ran the city's largest club called me in the afternoon at work. I had plans, I said. “Cancel them and be down town on Elm at 7. I'll meet you there.” I agreed. When I arrived, a large tour bus sat in front of a small bar that held perhaps 200 people at best. Yup, it was Cheap Trick doing a promo series for some brand, I think it was Marlboro. Inside the club, Neilsen's guitars were lined up along a wall. Then band played, me 10 feet from the stage. Zander sweated like a pig. Then later asked a pal of mine for something to take the edge off…

December 2000 — Mt. Pleasant, MI: in a half-filled ballroom at Soaring Eagle casino, the band does “Heaven Tonight,” the first time I've ever heard it live. It makes the otherwise obscure set list a winner. I mean, really, “Woke Up With a Monster?” I doubt I'll be listening to that with much zeal.

Jan. 2001 — Washington D.C.: at the 9:30 Club, one of the nation's worst music venues, with a sound system that ensures the band sounds like a low muddled utterance and floor sight lines that border on criminal. (A venue that confirms Barnum's maxim). Despite the obstacles, it was a good Trick show, with a strong version of “Southern Girls.”

August 2003: I was watching VH1 and a band came on doing a cover of “Surrender” sung by an overweight, red-faced chap in a cowboy hat and featuring an out-of-tune guitarist. Curious, I hung on to see this train wreck ruin a fine slice of pop. Slowly, I began to recognize this band… the guitarist… was Rick Nielsen, looking and sounding like any of his imitators. The singer was Robin Zander. The band was Cheap Trick, for the first time looking its age and then some. I feared it was over.

June 2006: Rockford comes out, the missing link, the logical extension from In Color. Composed of a smattering of songs from various sessions, including more material with Steve Albini, along with stuff from four or five other studios. “There's drum tracks from all over,” Carlos said in a recent interview. “There's all sorts of demo things we did and one-offs… the Albini thing's probably the best because he's got golden ears.” Truly, though, Rockford is Zander's shining moment, a victory over age and a triumph over logic—the chords get weaker, right? His voice sounds deeper and rougher than ever before, strong and sure behind Rockford's simple song structures and restrained guitar antics. Truly fine-wine type ageing, and while the single is “Perfect Stranger,“ co-written by nowhere pop producer Linda Perry, the real single should be “Give it Away,” which begins like a riff-rock stranglehold before Zander shreds. “This Time You Got It” is a Move tribute that should shake Roy Wood (who is moving along with one miserable retread career). Curiously I find myself talking in terms of commercial success for CT—perhaps because this is a band that deserves the success it has had, despite its aurally-tragic lapses (see “1982-1999”). Now playing the county fair and festival circuit. They're cool enough though that it shouldn't matter.

And by the way: [Big Three]


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