People who may like Cheap Trick a little too much – Part II

People who may like Cheap Trick a little too much – Part II

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:

“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.

“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.

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.

“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.

“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.

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…

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.

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:

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 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.

“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.

People who may like Cheap Trick a little too much – Part I

People who may like Cheap Trick a little too much – Part I

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.

Sidebar: Read this article by Alex Castle: I don’t know exactly how much Nielsen has in common with Van Halen but I’m sure it pertains in some way.

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.

WATCH: Cheap Trick – When I Wake Up Tomorrow


Other Articles by The Keith Hartel


Cheap Trick In Color mix by Steve Albini

Cheap Trick In Color mix by Steve Albini

I’m a late comer to this lost mix sessions by Steve Albini of Cheap’s Tricks record called In Color which has been posted over on the Rock Town Hall blog in it’s entirety for download. I’ll also admit I had no clue that parts of Cheap Trick (Nielson & Carlos)were once hired as session players for John Lennon on the Double Fantasy album then probably fired by Yoko probably. Who knows. What I do know is that Albini respected Cheap Trick and covered them on a split touch & go 7″ I have with “He’s a Whore” b/w Krafwork’s “The Model”. A commercial ploy I think not but damn was it good crap to find and unearth.

Now my dear readers onto the original point of this post. The In Color mix by Albini rocks so hard it’s like a lost treasure in a sea of apathy. 15 Tracks that rock with grittyness it’s going to make you appreciate this band all over again. Dig it.

Southern Girls – Cheap Trick – In Color Mix by Steve Albini
Hello There – Cheap Trick – In Color Mix by Steve Albini
He’s A Whore (Cheap Trick cover) – Big Black 7″ TG23
Bonus – Surrender (Cheap Trick cover) – Big Drill Car 7″ CRZ701