I know what you’re thinking… Cheap Trick? Really? Many of you are probably amazed they’re still around, although just last year they were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. And many others of you are thinking, Cheap Trick, why bother? But if you’re like me, you remember the latter half of the 70s when Cheap Trick were huge. They were the soundtrack of my junior high school years.
Their early records, ‘Cheap Trick,’ ‘In Color,’ and ‘Heaven Tonight’ are all exceptional, must-have records. Although it wasn’t until their fourth record, the epic ‘Live At Budokan’ that they hit it big. I can remember late junior high school/early high school, when every day my buddy Brewster would come to pick me up in his tan Chevy Monza. He had, of all things, an 8-track player and each morning without fail we listened to Cheap Trick’s ‘Live At Budokan.’ It took years for me to know the exact playing order of the record because the 8-track bounced around in a seemingly random way. I never understood that technology… Anyway, everywhere you went in those days you’d hear “Surrender” or “I Want You To Want Me.”
Cheap Trick always had a bit of a split personality to me… Maybe it was the divide in the band of two good looking guys and two goofy looking guys that gave me that impression. At least they were smart enough to keep guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos on the back of most of their early album covers. Put the pretty members in front of the tent to draw the chicks in… On one hand, Cheap Trick had a garage rock feel to me. Now that I’ve discovered Big Star and their exceptional LP, “#1 Record” (reviewed earlier on B&V The Music of Cinemax’s Quarry Led Me To Big Star’s “#1 Record” ) I now realize the huge debt Cheap Trick owes them. Big Star was always described as power pop, but Cheap Trick were always a little heavier. That said, their early career couldn’t be possible without the song “Don’t You Lie To Me” from Big Star.
The other side of Cheap Trick for me was their intense Beatles fetish. Not that there’s anything wrong with a Beatles fetish… If you’re going to emulate a band, it might as well be one of the greatest. The zenith of their Beatlesque tendencies was the follow up to ‘Budokan,’ the George Martin produced ‘Dream Police.’ You can’t get more Beatles than George Martin. Two members of Cheap Trick actually played on the John Lennon ‘Double Fantasy’ sessions. For me, I always appreciated the rockier side of Cheap Trick vs the overblown Beatles-esque stuff. At their best however, they were able to blend the best of both sides. They did a nice rocking re-work of George Harrison’s “Taxman” as early as their first record.
After ‘Dream Police,’ as suddenly as they had ascended, Cheap Trick’s commercial fortunes started to fade. Maybe they should have stuck with the rockier, Big Star side of their personality. It got so bad the movie “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” made fun of them as “kiddy music.” If I’m using a cultural sub-reference as deep as “Fast Times…” you know these guys have been around a long time, but I digress. To Cheap Trick’s credit, they shouldered on. The 80s and 90s were particularly tough on them. Bass player, Tom Petersson even left during that tumultuous time, only to return later. Even though they were no longer the creative/commercial juggernaut they’d been in the 70s, it seemed every so often, they’d put out a great song. “She’s Tight” caught my ear in the early 80s as did “The Flame” later that decade. So in a way, I was always aware they were around.
I figured they were making the concert circuit, a good “greatest hits band” and that was all there was to it. But then came the surprisingly great 2006 album, ‘Rockford.’ There was life left in these guys after all. It’s the kind of late career gem that B&V was created for. ‘The Latest’ in 2009 was another solid album, if not quite up to ‘Rockford.’ They were inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame last year and released another solid record in ‘Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello.’ Somehow I missed reviewing that one… too much going on. I was sorry to see that original drummer Bun E. Carlos had been booted out by that time… to paraphrase the “Big Lebowski,” “I didn’t like to see Bun E go out that way…” And here we are a year later and they’ve already put out their next album, ‘We’re All Alright,’ a title that harkens back to their heyday and their biggest song, “Surrender.” Putting out an album a year? This really does feel like the 70s.
‘We’re All Alright’ is another late career triumph for Cheap Trick. This is a great album. I would definitely suggest the deluxe edition, as it has three strong, additional tunes. The triptych opening of the swaggering “You Got It Going On,” my favorite tune “Long Time Coming,” and the punky “Nowhere” rock with a joyful abandon. Singer Robin Zander sounds almost unhinged on “Long Time Coming” in a very, very good way when he sings “Shake, shake, shake it…” “Radio Lover” and “Lolita” are also great Cheap Trick songs. The track, “She’s Alright” is driven along by a great Tom Petersson bass line, which is a nice change of pace tune. Rick Nielsen is just shredding on lead guitar. He’s the star of this record in my mind, although Robin Zander’s vocals are pretty amazing too. While the album rocks from start to finish, they do mix it up the sounds a bit to give this album a lot of flavor. The aforementioned “She’s Alright” and “Floating Down,” a soaring, mid-tempo ballad help break up the full on rock assault. They do find time to indulge their inner Beatles fetish on “Blackberry Way” which sounds like it could have been an outtake from the ‘Sgt Pepper’ sessions. “Rest of My Life” is another standout mid-tempo track. “Brand New Name On An Old Tattoo” is a fun, almost Motley Crue-ish tune.
If like good, ol’ fashion, guitar rock and roll, this is a must have record. Something has really kicked these guys into gear. Maybe it’s Nielsen’s son on the drums now, but these guys are on fire on this record. Even the Rock Chick strolled into the lab here at B&V and said, “Is this that new Cheap Trick, it’s great.” I suggest putting this record on, turned up to 11, with a nice glass of rye whiskey.
Happy 4th of July! Keep all your fingers safe out there folks!