This past weekend Atom Driver celebrated the release of their throttle punk EP Slackjaw on Powerbunny 4×4 Records at Pino’s in Highland Park, NJ. On the bill with them was Amy & Alex from Prosolar Mechanics as Bear Claw making their noise duo debut and as well as Couch and Commando cooking up some of their down home music before Atom Driver blasted everybody at Pino’s with songs from their release and a bunch of new tunes.
ATOM DRIVER AND FRIENDS COVERING “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene” By X
Towards, the end of their set Amy and Anthony from Bionic Rhoda made their way to the stage to help hammer home an ode to Chuck Berry with a cover by X from their 1980 album Los Angeles. This is a feel good rock song and proof positive that even though the performances was taking place on the other side of Raritan River, rock is very much alive in the Hub City.
SLACKJAW EP REVIEW – Powerbunny 4×4
Now, we highly recommend Atom Driver’s debut EP Slackjaw, and not just because we’ve known Mike from Buzzkill who plays drums, or Mark Segal from Boss Jim Gettys’s on Guitar and Vocals for more years than we care to admit but because this band has molded perfect parts big noise and melodic metalcore. All tracks will blow the windows out of those soon to come self-driving cars that millenials will be driving around aimlessly and getting lost when the GPS goes out. These rock songs are powerful maps to what fresh rock stank and what ear bleeding hooks should be like. Justin Ingstrup on bass is also my new favorite bass player now as he really holds-up the wall of sound in this band. Recorded and mastered by Jesse Cannon Found Soundation, Union City, NJ, and mixed by the bands long time friend and engineer Steve Evetts.
LA PUNK HISTORY: This is a short Black Flag Documentary which largely focuses on the artwork side and how disruptive the band was before social media. This looks great and Henry Rollins really puts their impact in perspective. Includes interviews with Keith Morris, Chuck Ducowski, Henry Rollins, Raymond Pettibon (Buy an Original) and Flea. If you’re into flyer artwork get the excellent book ‘Fucked Up And Photocopied’ which has huge amounts of flyers from the time. This short film was Directed by Brian Ray Turcotte and Bo Bushnell.
Black Flag Art by Raymond Pettibon
Flea is in this documentary, because not only is he an amazing human being but also because he was in the punk scene way back in the 80’s before starting the Red Hot Chili Peppers with Anthony Keidis. He was in the los angeles band Fear for a while and in the film Suburbia directed by Penelope Spheeris who also directed Decline of Western Civilization. He’s been in a bunch of punk documentaries. Same for Duff McKagan. If you don’t know your music history he’s in quite a few others you’d be “wtf, why are they in this?” All those old punk bands and the various scenes around the country that they flowed through. Dave Grohl used to be quite the hardcore punk drummer too, long before joining Nirvana, as another example, he was in Scream I believe.
Today, I just wanted to share the best ever NSFW anti-trump rant by Angelo from Fishbone at their House of Independents(HOI) show last night. This newish club is now my favorite place to see “bigger” bands live in Asbury Park. I still dig the intimacy of places like APYC and the questionable sonic sound but when you have a 8-9 piece band with horns you seriously don’t want the experience to get lost in cacophony of noise and the sweet stench of cheap beers. Which reminds me I also dig that HOI serves local micro-brews up front and center from Dark City Brewing Company and Asbury Park Brewery and from I understand APB will be available in cans! I think in life fishbone shows have always been fun and life affirming, having seen them over a dozen times since 1987 or so. Only one oldschoolCity Gardens chump got ousted early on in their set by the bouncers until Angelo told them to chill and let people dance and have fun. There may have been a 10 year old kid body surfing and one of the other dad’s made a frowny tisk tisk emoji beard face.
I only got to shoot these two videos for the Review Stalker YouTubes on my iPhone, which the channel almost bizarrely has 500 subscribers for some reason which I think maybe it’s the DJ Red Alert video with over 100,000 listens! crazy contributing to that math.
Anyway, I really wanted to enjoy and dance my freakin’ ass/feet off a little bit- and that I did. I also managed to live stream a couple songs on my personal facebooks and instagram because I’m loco. I’m sure I’ll pay for the bandwidth usage later.
Fishbone is still one of the best bands in not only America but the whole wide World in my humblest of opinions. So go see them in this lifetime soon. Before the show Angelo being the gentleman and showman he is spent time with fans signing autographs and hanging out. Seriously their fuck racism tees are awesome and you can give people a little of your mind with their classic t-shirt online here.
This next one is so Bootsy Collins with Norwoods getting crazy ass bass sounds you couldn’t help but funk it up and shake your booty thing. Man I wish the sound was better but listen to that bass! I can do so much better magic with my NJ based video production company VLHfilms.com for live bands on a budget but alas I was really at House of Independents to get my groove on.
In case you care what I have been listening too lately (and I know you secretly lose sleep wondering)…here you go…since you insist….
Local Maplewood, NJ hometown indie rock A-Leaguers, Tri-State, continue their collective, at ease, upward momentum with their latest 5 track release , we did what we could do(2016) on the ultra-cool and equally Jersey label, Mint 400 Records . The killer riff on the opening track (and one of my personal favorites), “Summer Nun” kicks in the thruster a bit since their beautifully gliding, yet slightly subdued 2 song EP, New Minuits (2015). Again you find guitarists Julian Brash and Jeff Zelevansky trade off engrossing and seamless electric six-string conversations when not splitting vocal duties, while the complimenting percussionist union of Mason Rather (bass) and Brady McNamara (drums) keeps everything delightfully moving and grooving along. wdwwcd is simply a fun record from start to finish. It’s a perfect album on replay, tapping your foot on a sunny, sandy Miami beach while lounging lazily under palm trees, slightly concerned about falling coconuts, weird, unrecognizable birds and equally weird, unrecognizable insects (proven this past holiday weekend). Other stand out tracks include “Petty” (“boy, you got a lot to say….”), Siamese twin track “Suture”and “Automatic Man.”
My “Buffalo Bro” Daryl who I can “geek talk” music for days, weeks, even months on end (and have the never-ending text to prove it), have been digitally nudging (read: nagging) me to listen to the latest Touché Amore’ record, Stage 4 (2016) for months, but not as long as he has been nagging me to listen to Elliot Smith’sXO. I finally broke down, found time and listened…and listened…. WOW. I like it…. a lot! Based out of Los Angeles, this four-piece hardcore band found the perfect balance of familiarity and unique, of the definable and almost indefinable. They apply a unique spin on an otherwise played out genre, somehow making melodic shoe-gazey, indie rock riffs hardcore with minimum doses of extra crunchy distortion and beautifully bridging the hardcore and post-hardcore/emo sound, similar to Title Fight. Atypical singing patterns/rhythms and very deep, extremely personal thought provoking lyrics only add to their refreshing approach. The album title holds a double meaning, being the bands 4th record and also the very worse stage of cancer, a subject that rears its ugly head throughout the recording, apparently due to leader singer Jeremy Bolm losing his mom to the dreaded disease recently in 2014. The subject matter certainly sends my brain hurtling back 30 years ago when I lost my own mother in the same fashion, leaving me slightly envious that Bolm could scream about it for months on end touring and finding relief while I just buried those feelings deep down inside somewhere long ago where they mostly remain to this day. Ironically, after all this time, I can find some relief in Bolm’s circumstances and the bands music, knowing I am not the only one that ever went through such a soul-shredding event. Opening track, “Flowers and You,” “Displacement,” “Benediction,” and “Water Damage” are just some of the many great songs on this record. Check it.
The Menzingers is a Philly band I heard of a number of times but only started listening to their music because I saw they played a recent show at Garwood, NJ’s infamous Crossroads, this time nudged by the club’s Facebook page. Another 4 piece, the band plays an all too familiar sound, but they do it in a way that keeps my interest. Punk -n- Roll at its finest. The first song of theirs I got hooked on, “Remission,” off of 2014’s dour-ish Rented World, is nothing special when it comes to many other songs I subsequently discovered in their impressive catalog, but it only takes that little something to keep the tune and video on replay in my life (in this case, it’s that little “uh” leader singer Greg Barnett blurts (Accidently? Deliberately? Both?) after the first verse, or even the killer sing along chorus “Everyone needs a crutch…I need a wheel chair…I need a reason to reason with you…”). Their new record, After the Party (2017), was released just a few weeks ago and remains in heavy rotation in my life. A much cheerier release, they managed (and I slightly plagiarize from another review because I agree), to keep their street cred intact while making radio friendly songs. Check out song like “Lookers,” Mid-Western States,” “Your Wild Years,” “Black Mass” …oh, just listen to whole record, it’s great from start to finish!
Dinosaur Jr.’s latest, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not (2016), is also filed under easy listening in my life. For die-hard fans, this is a typical, predictable record for the original band lineup, and that is just perfectly dandy for us. Interestingly, a little bird (i.e. drummer Murph) mentioned in an interview that GAGOWYN came to life because J. Mascis “freaked out” about not having any new songs and quickly threw some together. Many in the know would agree that the thought of J. losing his shit is hard to imagine, considering he never seems to have a pulse and really quiet during interviews. And when he does say something it is quite clear why he constantly accused of being a stoner (which he isn’t, at least according to him). Yes, the final results sound rushed when knowing this little back story, but the results are still rockingly impressive. Standouts include the opener “Going Down, “I Told Everyone” and “Tiny” but my favorites are “Lost All Day” right into “Knocked Around.”
The Cloud Nothings is another band I was slow on the draw about until I stumbled upon their latest release, Life Without Sound(2017). An incredibly solid listen from start to finish. It took me multiple listens on many runs final figure out what I love about this band/record: I can’t pigeonhole this band because they don’t sound like any other band that I heard of. I can’t honestly think of any other band that the Cloud Nothings sound like. Offering a completely refreshing, catchy indie sound. they mix the perfect blend of melody with umph…what’s not to like? Such tracks as the piano-tinged opener “Up to the Surface” and “Internal World” are pretty rocking tunes.
Hey all, just wanted to share some great info your life desperately needs for both your listening pleasure and mental health.
First, many NJ friends of mine have great internet radio shows you should check out.
My bro Jerry Lardieri of the excellent NJ band The Brixton Riot, spins an equally excellent indie rock show called Audible Effects every Friday morning @ 9AM at Stevenson University. You can find recordings of this show on Mixcloud.
Then my other bro, Paul Alirangues and team spins their own fantastic show every Sunday called, well, Sunday Ramble, playing and touching every music genre you can think of . Guest appearances and sets also add to listening pleasure. Recordings of the show can also be found on Mixcloud.
Then you have my other bro, Chris Morpeth and company have another kick ass radio show every Tuesday evening at The Mike & The Morph Show.
Finally, Psychologist and bro Michael Friedman writes a fabulously fascinating weekly article for Psychology Today, interviewing musicians of all shapes and sizes (some legendary) about a host of psychological issues. Check out his latest article with legendary Bad Brains front man H.R. discussing the awesome power of P.M.A. (Positive Mental Attitude)!
Read the articles. Listen to the shows. Like/follow them on social media. Because I said so, yo. xo
Just some of the stuff, old and new, I have been listening to a lot in 2016…. hey, 8 months late is better than never….
Not sure what the deal is what my bros of Snapcase and the now mostly defunct San Diego post-hardcore outfit, Drive Like Jehu, but both ex-guitarist Scott Dressler and singer Daryl Taberski continually ramble on about how god-like their 1994 release Yank Crime is. I actually had to go back and listen to the album to remind myself that I know it very well and indeed godlike! Hence, it is now on heavy rotation in my life. Glad to see they are touring again.
Rivers Cuomo and the boys from Weezer finally stopped taking their silliness way too seriously with their most recent release, (delightfully entitled, due to the album cover, “The White Album.”), taking yet step towards returning to true “blue” form. While I lean towards 2002’s Maladroit, one can make a strong case that when a color-themed Weezer record shows up it is bound to be decent. “California Kids,” “LA Girlz” and “King of the World” are just some of the few Beach Boys-metal-tinged a la fuzz pop that makes you yearn for the palm trees and lovely strangeness of Venice Beach.
Ann Arbor, MIs Pity Sex has recently caught my attention. Their name alone kicks ass and then they got all silly and made some kick ass music to go along with it. Lo-fi, surfy, shoe gaze done wonderfully.
The latest Violent Femmes album, We Can Do Anything, is a predictable and sometimes silly, but still fun release. It doesn’t even dare touch their 1983 S/T release or even 1991’s Why Do Birds Sing? but it still brings a familiar smile to your face. The Femmes are like the movie, American Beauty….both made sense when we were younger, but all fell into perfect place when we listened/watched when we hit mid-aged….
Not sure why I didn’t listen to another bro, Adriaan Klaassen, about this band back in the day when we worked together at ING. But I am happily ashamed to admit that 14 years later, I finally discovered the genius of NYC’s Longwave’s (RIP) 2003 release, “The Strangest Things.” Interpol meets Sink Tapes (were the latter even born back then?…ha! Sorry…couldn’t resist) is always a good combo! My favorite track that I listened to on repeat while on a two hour shopping spree at Jersey Gardens, “I know It’s coming Soon,” can be found below.
NYC’s Dead Star’s 2016 release, Bright Colors, starts right where 2014’s Slumber stopped. Fuzzed out indie pop where a heavy does of 90’s Dinosaur Jr. and early Weezer collide.
Finally, ex-Husker Du/Sugar God and front man Bob Mould has a brand spanking new album out called Patch the Sky. I agree with the hailing critics that it is a great experience but disagree that Bob is tapping back into his Du days. I would argue that like 2012’s Silver Age and 2014 Beauty & Ruin, Bob is flirting back to 1989’s Workbook or even 1990’s Black Sheets of Rain. Or better yet, his other project Sugar. So there, mofos!
Rest in peace Prince we now know when doves cry and every once in awhile we get crazy for covers and nostalgia of some amazing sexy song writing, so we felt it appropriate for us to add to the Prince Covers bin and share some we’ve collected or have been contributed from RS blog music fans and our special muse(s). Great music like his is something special that connects people through auditory pleasure like the sound of a baby laughing or the tone of a voice that makes you happy except with a beat you can dance or get funky to. That feeling you get when people applaud something great you have all witnessed or shared my dearly beloved music fans. That happiness is what great music does when you experience it either in your car, at home, a concert or at the gym when you work-out. Wherever or when ever. Music like his has the universal power to join us through the sound we hear and interpret in our own way. Thus always great to hear a rendering of art by somebody else which reminds us how great it is; as it transcends life and the afterlife. Music is basically magical like his and many other greats.
If you are a good musician it’s pretty damn hard to fuck-up a Prince song unless you can’t sing; as his songs are perfect canvas for other artists to put their own spin on things, so here is a variety of indie artists doing their thing. Enjoy and live life without any regrets because you never know when your time will be done.
SEGO – “WHERE I BELONG” – Slackerish in dress but total shiny pop duo does Beck and slanted in enchanted meanderings on Raygun Music. Actually, we like (me) the noisy guitar stuff on this so put down the top on your convertible and lets slow drag race down sunset strip in your tube top.
THE DANES – “AR FROM LOVE” – Electro goth pop with this female fronted group featuring Dana Hobson (vocals), Daniel Wolf (guitars, production), and Patrick Zeinali (drums). I didn’t know any of their musical references so for those of you reading along might appreciate the Sinead reference but without the disdain and if she had a big ass keyboard.
THOSE PRETTY WRONGS – “NEVER GOODBYE” – Two guys named Jody Stephens and Luther Russell, old friends blah, blah, blah make pretty roots rock in Ardent studios in memphis on 2″ tape and it sounds like this tune via Ardent/Burger.
THE CONTINUED AND ACTUAL SONG FOR SONG ALBUM REVIEW: Cheap Trick’s new album is called “Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello” and it is important to mention that this album, since it doesn’t have Bun E., it cannot be considered a 100% authentic Cheap Trick album. On the other hand, the Peterssonless “One On One” and “Next Position Please” are fine albums and this new one reminds me a little of those at times.
This album sounds powerful and clean and every instrument is PUNCHING YOU IN THE FACE and Robin Zander is loud on top of it and you can hear every word. This sounds like the work of a band who have something to prove. As a unit of players and singers they have never sounded better. Too bad about Bun E. but at least Daxx does not suck. His first name sucks, but aside from that he’s a heavy hitter and allows the band to retain their near-Zeppelin level of heaviosity which is a key factor setting them apart from all other so-called “power pop” bands. What a great gimmick: be the heaviest and still be the most catchy and melodic. This is loud guitars but tap your foot and sing along music. So the good news is the band is rocking harder here than on any studio recording since their first album. It’s like they’re doing it on purpose. Rick Nielsen’s guitar takes up more sonic real estate than maybe ever and the “everything louder than everything else” production style is very flattering to the band and plays to their strengths.
Here’s a song by song play by play:
GIVING THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT SONG
“Heart On The Line” has all the classic Cheap Trick ingredients. It is a chugging, driving rocker with and Robin Zander sounding as great as ever singing vocal singing an almost stereotypically Cheap Trick-like melody. The low E rumble is reminiscent of their great “Everything Works If You Let It” from the Roadie soundtrack. It also reminds me a little of “Auf Weiderschen”. This song has some great surprise sections and reminds the listener of about four different great Trick songs over the course of its four plus minutes. But then I can’t help but notice Daxx is putting cymbal crashes in places I don’t think Bun E. would. He has a similar effect on the sound of the band as Matt Sorum had on Guns ‘N” Roses but Cheap Trick is enough of a better band that the Sorum-likeness doesn’t hurt them too much. The guitar stands out as especially assertive in the mix. The guitar is so loud all over this album that I’m convinced that either 1) Rick Nielsen is intentionally making such a ballsy hard rocking album that the fans will have no choice other than to forgive the unfortunate change of drummers. 2) Bun E., for some reason, wouldn’t allow Nielsen to mix his guitars as loud as he wanted. This seems fairly unlikely. Whatever the reason, it works for me. This is the most they’ve sounded like an authentic straight ahead hard rock band since their debut opened with “Hot Love”. I love the sound Nielsen gets on this album, no reverb or delay, no excessive gain, just a plain electric guitar mixed at a healthy volume for perfect clarity. Nielsen is a long time admirer of AC/DC and the righteous purity of his gigantic guitar sound on this album lives up to that standard. There are two vintage Rick Nielson solos in this song. There is more lead guitar in this song than appears on some entire Trick albums. This is a very very good thing. Robin Zander just sounds very much like himself, which is a great thing.
UNCOOL COMMERCIAL POP SONG
“No Direction” turns things decidedly and abruptly “power pop”. It comes in with chimey guitars and superfluous vocal harmonies right off the bat, spelling out the whole vibe right from go. It also has a very uncool chorus that reeks of the dreaded “this could be played on the radio” genre of yesteryear.
The song sort of reminds me of a rocked up version of Missing Person’s – “Destination Unknown”.
I don’t think Cheap Trick is stealing from Missing Persons, it’s very likely an example of the inevitable occurrence of parallel mediocrity as a result of intentional commercialism. “No Direction” has that kind of chorus that you have a hard time believing the band themselves would actually enjoy listening to. This is the opposite of what makes Cheap Trick great. They are rock and roll scholars with impeccable taste and have a gift for translating the sophistication of someone like Roy Wood into something an American mainstream rock audience can enjoy. And that’s why the chorus to this song makes me sad. But at least there’s another great guitar solo here. He plays some licks from “Oh, Caroline” to boot! This is the old stuff we love. But then it leads into a gratuitous bit of “Life In The Fast Lane” style phase-shifting which highlights the makeshift, random-stuff-pushed-together, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink vibe of the writing and playing on this song and they take that crappy chorus all the way out. Still, Nielsen will not stop with the ceaseless commentary of awesome rock licks. For me, Rick’s guitar is the saving grace of this album. He’s just giving more great guitar than ever before. Zander and Petersen don’t exactly sound like they’re watching the clock either. This sounds like an album that was made with a great care for detail and quality control. Even on a bad song this band is sounding pretty great. But skip this song anyway, it sucks.
NEIL YOUNGISH SINGER SONGWRITER TUNE
I have read that Zander did a great Neil Young when he was a solo acoustic folkie busker-type before he joined forces with Neilsen and co. This song (“When I Wake Up Tomorrow”) sounds like something Neil Young would write and record if he hadn’t suffered from epilepsy. It’s a nice song with a nice melody and another really cool guitar solo. And maybe more importantly, there’s an undercurrent of dark droning A string pedal from Rick Nielsen, which is an early Trick staple on songs like “Taxman, Mr. Thief”, “High Roller”, “Hello There” and others. It’s not totally convincing here but it’s the thought that counts. A good non-Cheap Trick sounding Cheap Trick song.
“AUTHENTICALLY POWERFUL DINOSAUR ROCK JAM”
“Do You Believe Me” sounds cool in a Mutt Lange production of Shania Twain/Def Leppard kind of way followed by Mutt Lange AC/DC style in the jam at the end. I think this song is an homage to Mutt Lange, generally. Maybe they’re hoping he might do a Todd Rundgren-Meat Loaf thing with them and produce their next album and have it become a gigantic monster that no one could have ever foreseen. Who knows? We do know that Cheap Trick admire Lange’s classic productions of AC/DC like any other sensible practitioner of two guitars, bass and drums. They are jamming like Zeppelin. The pre-chorus heads into dark stomping Lennonesque territory, which is the most Cheap Trick thing about this song. And then finally we get to a chorus that just has NOTHING going for it. No meaningful lyrics, no melody, it just gets into more AC/DC type crashing chords, leading into yet ANOTHER awesome guitar solo. This one is extended and Rick is on fire here. Daxx is a good drummer but he’s doing the sort of bullshit tasteless rock dude fills only a drummer could love. I’ll call this one a mixed blessing.
UNEXPECTED GLAM ROCK GEM
“Blood Red Lips” is great. A best case scenario for a new Cheap Trick song, it doesn’t sound like a retread of anything they’ve done before, which is particularly tough for a group like this, but the glam rock style sounds perfectly in line with their aesthetic criteria. It’s got that swing. It’s got that swinging drum roll feeling that is used to such great effect in songs like Sweet’s Teenage’ Rampage.
This song pulls off a stunt that rarely is ever seen from a band with Cheap Trick’s history. They’ve written a quintessential Cheap Trick song that doesn’t remind the listener of any of their own classic era songs. The vocabulary stays squarely in rock and roll, so the Trick plays this music with great confidence and swagger. This is the first song on the album to deliver a truly satisfying chorus. It reminds me a lot of Sweet, it’s a Chapman-Chinn style composition and production in the best way. You can hear Slade and the Move and T. Rex in here too. It’s really that good, easily the best song on the album.
OBLIGATORY SEMI-POWER BALLADISH SONG
This song reminds me of an above-average Wings album track. There are some post 90s Jeff Lynne sort of harmonies on this song, which is a regrettable color to add to their palette. This is another one that sounds like they’re aiming for what used to be known as “could be played on the radio”. I don’t even know to what extent radio even actually exists anymore so I wish they’d stop doing this. On the other hand Robin Zander has never sounded better. And yeah, cool guitar solo…
URGENT ROCKER, DOUBLE TIME
This song has the heavy double time groove of songs like Kiss’s “Deuce” and the Pretenders “Mystery Achievement”. Rick is getting into his “Cold Turkey” mindset for the riffs here, which is a signature of his that is always welcome. “Roll Me” is the song that has the most overt rock cliches of anything on the album. The performance is impressive as usual but ultimately this is just another collection of well-executed gestures that doesn’t add up to a convincing song.
AN OBSCURE COVER OF AN OBSCURE COVER
It is not for no reason that this sounds like a guitar heavy Roxy Music, which is a pretty fucking awesome, if not best possible, way for a rock band to sound. That’s because “The In Crowd” is a cover Bryan Ferry did on his first solo album. The Bryan Ferry version, from 1974, starts out as a primitive mid tempo Velvet Underground groove and keeps it going. The Ferry version sounds like Roxy except the guitars are more prominent. The dominance of the basic open E chord on this weird and rocking song is something I’d imagine Rick Nielsen hooked onto way back then. I imagine Cheap Trick hearing this in 1974 as both an inspiration and an affirmation of the way smart and interesting rock and roll music should sound going into the 70s. The original three members aside from Zander toured Europe in 1973. And we know the band covered The Velvets’ “Waiting For The Man” in their early club days. This is a case of covering the cover that may well have been a key source for Cheap Trick’s own unique style. I am speculating Cheap Trick covered it out of 1974 nostalgia. Bryan Ferry – The ‘In’ Crowd (Lyrics)
Bryan Ferry covered it out of 1964 nostalgia:
WHEREIN RICK NIELSEN IS MORE JIMMY PAGE THAN JIMMY PAGE
On “Long Time No See You” the band sound like when Jimmy Page played Zeppelin music with the Black Crowes. Rick Nielsen’s arranging, layering, overdubbing, idiosyncratic riff making and soloing are nearly up to “Houses Of The Holy”/”Physical Graffiti” era Page standards. The band sounds great here and Daxx is impressive. There’s a funky rock groove that could be associated with Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith. And I hear a certain amount of Tylerism coming from Zander so I’m gonna think of it as their Aerosmith song. Nielsen evokes Page and Petersson gets up to Entwistle levels of bass tone and assertiveness. A VERY GOOD Aerosmith song.
THE BIG PRODUCTION
“The Sun Never Sets Up” wouldn’t sound out of place on “All Shook Up”. They’re showing some of the Move influence that characterizes much of their best work and there’s a touch of strings that remind me of “Dream Police” and “Stop This Game”. It is an epic pop production in the tradition of those two songs. This is not a particularly great specimen of that sort of song but a nice try nonetheless.
VINTAGE NEW WAVE ART ROCK
“All Strung Out” is a curiosity. It’s like an overly modern new wave power pop overproduction of a Velvet Underground song that wouldn’t sound out of place on the first Roxy Music album (again with the Velvets/Roxy thing) and as usual, the guitars are great. Robin Zander is doing a cross between Lou Reed and Bryan Ferry and the whole thing works. And it’s got the best bridge on the album to boot.
In conclusion: if you love Cheap Trick you probably should get this album. You know who you are. If you don’t love Cheap Trick I can’t imagine you made it through this whole long rambling review and are reading this right now…
ALBUM REVIEW:Bang Zoom Crazy… Hello’ – I love Cheap Trick as much as the next guy except when the next guy falls into a category I call “people who may like Cheap Trick a little too much.” The first time I ever noticed this guy, it was myself. I don’t quite FEEL like that guy these days but that guy lives in me still. I have had and continue to have many friends who are or have been this guy. One of these friends is Tom Beaujour. He is a rock journalist (and a recording studio owner/operator and musician, etc.) who has interviewed Rick Nielsen many times. The last time I saw Tom he was telling me about his most recent interview with Nielsen. I wanted to know only one thing: what’s this Van Halen bullshit where a beloved original member is ousted to be replaced by the control freak guitarist’s offspring? I don’t get these rock stars who gotta be like Donald Trump with this foisting of their offspring on the paying customer. No one wants this. I may not quite be one of those “people who may like Cheap Trick a little too much” at the moment but I am righteously teed off nonetheless. In the history of rock there is no other band in which each individual member is more individually beloved than Cheap Trick. Musically, each member is as individually important as the members of Led Zeppelin or the Who. Image-wise, each member is as individually important as the members of Kiss or the Beatles. By these (not necessarily 100% scientific) metrics, Bun E. Carlos would be one of the twenty most irreplaceable rock band members in history. So they have some explaining to do. Bun E. has, in fact, done some of this explaining in easily Googleable interviews which are informative and entertaining. So when I spoke to my friend Tom, I immediately asked if Nielsen did any explaining about this new arrangement. To paraphrase Tom: “It was kind of frustrating because I asked their publicist if Rick’s son was replacing Bun E. and Rick said ‘Daxx is the touring drummer for Cheap Trick’ and I said ‘Yeah but they just made a new album and Daxx plays on it instead of Bun E. so it seems like he’s Cheap Trick’s new drummer…’ ‘Daxx is Cheap Trick’s touring drummer…”. The exchange went nowhere, The publicist was evasive, inscrutable and why wouldn’t he be? Because it’s just wrong and whatever explanation he could possibly have would suck anyway.
Before digging into the album let’s consider the true significance of a new Cheap Trick album in the year 2016. Their debut came out almost forty years ago and even then they were ten year veteran journeyman musicians. Cheap Trick was never new and they were never young, at least not in the way we typically think of new young bands.
Here’s a severely abridged Cliff Notes account of the long, strange career of Cheap Trick: Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson had a band called Fuse from 1967 to 1973. They recorded an album for Epic in 1970, which failed artistically and commercially. By 1973 they were playing with two members of The Nazz and good ole’ Bun E. Carlos, sometimes as “Fuse” and sometimes under the name “The Nazz”. They formed Cheap Trick in 1973, finally adding the key ingredient for world domination, the not remotely secret weapon Robin Zander in 1974. And they were finally… off to the races?
Well, not quite yet. The band had a couple years of touring ahead of them before finally being signed (again to Epic) in 1976 and releasing their debut in 1977. And then they were finally… off to the races?
Well, not quite yet. Their records were well received by the press and a slowly building cult following while their incessant touring, now opening for big headliners like Kiss and Aerosmith, was earning them a reputation as a top notch big time live rock act. But they weren’t selling too many records yet.
Their first album was “too raw” to get radio airplay. It’s a great example of a band’s first album consisting of them blasting through a road tested set with great energy and aplomb. It’s the sort of debut wherein the band avoids the red light fright by never acknowledging to themselves that they’re actually recording an album in a recording studio. That’s what it sounds like to me at least. This is my favorite Cheap Trick album, it’s the one that I think sounds like “the real” Cheap Trick. No fillers, no sweeteners, no trying to make it listenable to non-rock fans. It consists 100% of great songs and it’s HEAVY.
On the next album (“In Color”) Tom Werman’s production serves as a bit of an over correction. It is a slick album. Compared to the first album it sounds restrained. It is not for no reason that they rerecorded this album with Steve Albini in 22 years later in 1998 but it also is not for no reason that Albini wanted to rerecord it. This is the second in a string of at least five albums to come from this proverbial “great band at the height of their powers”. Nielsen’s pop songwriting genius is specifically highlighted here, primarily by making this album (along with pretty much everything they’ve done since) a showcase for Zander’s godlike vocals. In fact, the last thing you hear here is Zander’s voice holding what I’m pretty sure is the longest most beautiful high note ever recorded. The thing literally ends on a high note. Convincing.
For their third time up, Werman and the band make a more satisfyingly slick album that reclaims the band’s signature heaviosity to an extent. Many people cite “Heaven Tonight” as Cheap Trick’s best album. It’s my second favorite but that’s just a matter of personal taste. What is a fact is that the best Cheap Trick album is either the first one or “Heaven Tonight”. So anyway, they slick up the production of their second and third albums and they’re finally… off to the races?
Well, almost. They were starting to sell a little more and the label was continuing with the Werman strategy and they were back in the studio working on what was intended to be their fourth release, “Dream Police”.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the fourth album. Would you believe it turned out those first three Cheap Trick albums, neglected in their native USA, were BIG IN JAPAN? So Cheap Trick had three gold albums in Japan and they went there and played a couple concerts at the legendary Japanese venue Budokan and they happened to record these performances for an album exclusively for their Japanese audience. And of course this throwaway live recording turned out to be the very thing that the world needed to hear in order to finally “get” this most extremely palatable rock band with all these great songs, the amazing Cheap Trick. What makes Cheap Trick a truly great rock band can only be truly heard in live performance. This combination of beautiful singing and songwriting coupled with caveman caterwaul and stomp is a unique and powerful thing that is to be treasured. And all the greatest bands rock in a way that is loose but tight and Cheap Trick has always been one of these bands.
In hindsight, Cheap Trick was a wildly successful record selling band for a grand total of two consecutive albums which were both released in America in 1979. So let’s say Rick Nielsen has been plugging away for 52 years and he’s had a total of one year of carefree runaway success? Later there was also 1988’s “Lap Of Luxury” but that was more of a “Deal With The Devil” situation which could never be sustained. What HAS sustained Cheap Trick for over forty years is their work ethic. They are a band who are very familiar with struggle and never far from it. We love to fantasize about what it would be like to be a big household name rock star but for Cheap Trick I imagine it’s “no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise” and that they “consider it a challenge before the whole human race” and they “ain’t gonna lose”.
Their next album, “All Shook Up”, has George Martin producing and they suffer diminished sales, a critical backlash and the departure of the beloved Tom Petersson, Nielsen’s partner in crime from ’67 on. Almost immediately after things start going well for these guys, they’re taking a turn for the worse. Then they make a different sounding album with Roy Thomas Baker (“One One One”) and it sells less. Then they make a different different sounding album with Todd Rundgren and it sells even less. Then they make two more albums that don’t do much.
But then in 1988 the band finally has a mixed blessing of a sort of resurgence after being forced by their label to record a hideous Hail Mary power ballad written by people not in Cheap Trick, but this doesn’t substantially alter the arc of their career, though having a ginormous hit single certainly didn’t hurt them. What really helps Cheap Trick in a long term way is the return of Tom Petersson. As I mentioned earlier, this is a band in which each individual member is very important to their fans. Knowing you were going to see “the real Cheap Trick” was a major selling point for their live show until Bun E’s departure in 2010.
Cheap Trick’s biggest album was an accident and no one ever figured out how to concoct a Cheap Trick album that would appeal to the gigantic demographic that constitutes all potential Cheap Trick fans. To restate: Rick Nielsen has been recording and releasing albums for 46 years and hit the bullseye, accidentally, exactly once with a live album. “Dream Police” sold a lot too, but that was largely attributable to the momentum created by “Budokkan”. It’s a good album, but not as great as the first three, not even close. Maybe it’s not even as good as “All Shook Up” but that’s a different discussion.
They never stopped touring. And once 70s nostalgia got going in the 90s Cheap Trick became the kind of band you see every year. Maybe in a festival, at an amusement park, a rock club, a theatre, they are on the road. From 1973 on, they are on the road. For 43 years they are on the road.
All this is a long way of saying that Cheap Trick is still grappling with the challenge of making a studio recorded album that lives up to their legend as a great live rock band. The pop thing is dangerous, it makes you think you need to think up some clever ideas in the studio. And too much thinking is kryptonite tor rock and roll.
The reason all this is important is Cheap Trick has recently released their 17th album. They had one big album that was an accident (“Budokkan”), one big album because it was their time (“Dream Police”) and one big album because the record business is evil (“Lap Of Luxury”). On the other 13 they were just trying to catch a break like anyone else. All things considered, this new album makes a fairly decent number 17. It’s a shame they called it “Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello” but the good news is that may be the worst thing about it.