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…
People who may like Cheap Trick a little too much will like this review on Facebook regardless.