Cheap Trick

The buzz on the street is that Cheap Trick, the cartoonish, perennial popsters of yore, are back with a vengeance. Practically everything about Rockford, their sensational new CD, heralds a dramatic return to pomp and form. The fact is, however, Cheap Trick never actually went away. For 30 years, they’ve maintained a consistent, rigorous schedule, sporadically recording new music while trotting out their tasteful batch of hits from the 70s and 80s for the dedicated fans attending their numerous concerts. With such a prolific, colorful history behind them, they could easily settle down in the cool comfort of the casino concert circuit and churn out a decent living. But with Rockford, Cheap Trick have risen above the nostalgic slump plaguing many of their contemporaries, producing an intoxicating mix replete with the kind of power pop flavorings missing in action since 1979's Dream Police.

On the surface, Rockford offers plenty of distorted guitars, heavier drums, and layers of vocals that give the disc a fuller and fatter sound. And damn if it doesn’t work every nerve in the cerebral cortex of musical appreciation. “Perfect Stranger,” co-written and produced by hitmaker Linda Perry (Concrete Blonde, Pink), is teeming with all the proper ingredients — Robin Zander’s smooth and confident voice gliding through each cadence, lovingly stoking the fires of the steady, pulsating instrumentation effortlessly laid down by guitarist Rick Nielson, drummer Bun E. Carlos and bassist Tom Petersson.

If any band has a right to emulate the Beatles, Cheap Trick deserves the honor. After all, they’ve worked with both George Martin and John Lennon; they provoke a similar adolescent zeal; they write clever little pop tunes you can intuitively sing along with; there’s four of them; despite his goofy demeanor, the drummer is rock solid; and Japan loves them. With that mind, a generous slice of Beatle-like bopping seeds the record throughout. “O’ Claire” (not to be confused with “Oh Claire” from 1978’s Heaven Tonight) is overtly Lennonesque about a minute in before it shifts into a McCartneyesque melody, creating an endearing and highly addictive amalgamation. “Dream The Night Away” is as startling catchy as any single from the Fabs’ songbook, but its modern dalliances and fluttering guitars give it a distinct aroma all its own.

Still, others like “Welcome To The World,” “Come On Come On Come On” (not to be confused with “Come On Come On” from 1977’s In Color) and “Every Night And Every Day,” each with their custom-fitted choruses, are about as old school Cheap Trick as you can get. But just when you think you’ve got the whole thing nailed down, “Decaf,” co-produced with Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, John Lennon), comes booming out of the speakers like a long lost, hard rockin' brother. It sloppily, yet stylishly stirs things up one last time before putting the platter to rest. As a whole, Rockford delivers the kind of songs that could very well revive the screams echoing in the halls of Budokan and beyond.

~ Shawn Perry

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