Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cheap Trick -- The Latest

Cheap Trick -- The Latest (Cheap Trick Unlimited)

I suppose any band that’s made it through three decades is going to engender the inevitable “This is the best album since _____________” hype. That’s certainly happened with the new Cheap Trick album, the third Trick effort since the 1997 eponymous effort that proved to the world the band’s continued vitality.

Sadly, this album does not live up to the hype. But The Latest, like its predecessor, Rockford, shows that Cheap Trick is still more than capable. The musical excellence of Cheap Trick can’t be disputed. Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson and Bun E. Carlos are all superior instrumentalists. As good as those three are, the best of the bunch might be Robin Zander, who is simply one of the greatest vocalists of the rock era. It’s not just Zander’s range and power, it’s the fact that he is a true interpreter who tailors his vocals to what a song needs.

This album is a particularly good showcase for Zander, as it is dominated by mid-tempo ballads of varying degrees of quality. However, this surfeit of mid-tempo songs makes the album somewhat monochromatic.

There are only a smattering of rock numbers here, and even those get in and out a bit too quickly for my taste. The album kicks off with a cover of an obscure (i.e., not one of the band’s 15 UK Top 10 hits) Slade tune, “When the Lights Are Out”. The band arranges the tune to fit into the arrangement of the lead cut of the first Cheap Trick album, “Elo Kiddies”, from Bun E. Carlos’s distinct drum beat to some of Rick Nielsen’s guitar leads. The song is light hearted fun, which is how Slade intended it in the first place.

The band moves into “Way of the World” territory on “Alive”. And familiar territory it is, but when the chorus explodes with guitars and keyboards and Zander riding on top of the whole thing, it’s fairly irresistible.

“California Girl” is a glam-boogie rocker that passes by nicely, but if it took more than two minutes to write the lyrics, everyone in the band should be shamed. Actually, the band should be ashamed anyway. But the track cooks. So does “Sick Man of Europe”, which also has the benefit of not being stunningly juvenile. This is nagging and nasty rock, with a beefy Petersson bass line. It’s a shame that the track, which takes its name from a precursor band to Cheap Trick, is barely over two minutes long. It’s also too bad that there aren’t more stinging numbers like this to balance out the numerous softer numbers.

Now some of those soft numbers are pretty good. In fact, “Everybody Knows” may be the best song on the album, a yearning, pleading number in the vein of The Beatles and Electric Light Orchestra that is just a notch below Cheap Trick classics like “Voices” and “World’s Greatest Lover”. Inspired stuff. “Miracle” is a more subdued variation on the same theme, and shows that being subdued might not be the best way to go, though it’s a nice track.

The same can be said of the psych-pop “Closer, The Ballad of Burt and Linda”. But “Miss Tomorrow” and “These Days” hit the well a bit too often and verge a bit more into power ballad territory, especially the latter tune.

I think that this album emphasizes the soppy side of Cheap Trick just a bit too much and the rockers don’t often go into darker territory to provide some balance. So this album slots in a notch below Next Position Please and Rockford in my personal Cheap Trick rankings (Also ranking ahead -- the first four studio albums, the first live album, One On One, All Shook Up, the 1997 album). That makes it a nice record that gives me hope that the next one might be great.


pghhead said...

Thanks for keeping us in the loop as regards Cheap Trick - - hopefully they don't destroy their legacy with too many "average" releases. I stopped following them after "Rockford" (not bad, but not one that I'll remember them for) - - but I'll never forget how much I listened to them in their hey-day. They rarely left my turntable. I'll always remember them for those days of greatness, and they deserve their place in rock history.

Laura Faeth said...

The Latest has really grown on me after numerous listens. I think that's one of the things that makes Trick's music really interesting. I find deeper and deeper layers to many of the songs the more times I play them.