The Latest

Cheap Trick

When you think of bands that have been around for 30 years or longer, the thought of any of them continuing to make strong new albums is met with a stream guffaws and a list of impracticalities. Playing hits on the casino and fair circuit may work for some, but there's more to it than that for Cheap Trick, a band in defiance of popular trends and new business models that still makes pretty damn good albums. Without an overwhelming demand, a big budget or a huge record label, they released the excellent Rockford in 2006. And now they’ve done it again with The Latest. But don’t think for a minute these records have anything else in common. Listening to both is a day and night experience. Which makes Cheap Trick even less predictable and more ambitious than we originally thought — even at this late stage in their career.

It’s obvious Cheap Trick are plying their sound to adhere to contemporary standards — all without sacrificing their role as a power pop machine that can churn out hook-filled melodies without breaking a sweat. The influences are wide and varied; everything from Radiohead to ELO to a cluster of pop-the-meter sensibilities has seeped into Cheap Trick’s musical vocabulary. The shadow of the Beatles is omnipresent despite the fact that Cheap Trick has outlasted the Fabs by a couple of decades. But it isn't quite that simple. Sample the ominous aura of lead track “Sleep Forever” — a step forward, despite its brevity, that gives concerted pause for a second before the band blasts off with “When Lights Are Out,” an upbeat, hop-along crowd-pleaser. Far more intriguing is “Miss Tomorrow,” with its whiny intro that suddenly drops into a double-time chorus you’ll find yourself singing all day and into the night. This is what Cheap Trick does.

The punky hue of “Sick Man Of Europe” gives way to the Lennonesque drama of “Miracle” and “Everybody Knows.” But then the Trick get profound on “Closer, The Ballad Of Burt And Linda,” a true-life tale about Burton Pugach, a lawyer who spent 14 years in prison for hiring men to throw lye in the face of his girlfriend and future wife, Linda Riss. Somehow, the hip-shaking “California Girl” loosens the mood like the well-seasoned cousin of “California Man,” the Move song Cheap Trick turned into an anthem. “Smile” is more MyCartneyesque, to borrow another French transitive suffix, which adds to the Beatlesque (oops!) myth. Even as they perform Sgt. Pepper with the same conviction, Cheap Trick have learned to reach around the genius of Lennon and McCartney, creating their own brand of Trickesque music with a zen for universal melodies. And it works every time. The Latest may borrow what it can from the masters, but it’s more accurately a definitive statement about the mastery of Cheap Trick themselves.

~ Shawn Perry

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