As we approach the year end best-of lists, I’ll post reviews of a couple of more contenders for best of 2009. This review ran in the print edition of Bucketful of Brains.
Two songs on the new Cheap Trick album are less than ninety seconds long. The first (“Sleep Forever”) is an odd choice for an opener, a somber tribute to a fallen friend that no doubt will be played or sung at many funerals. Almost an acapella performance, it immediately serves notice that while other veteran rock vocalists are playing in lower registers, Robin Zander’s voice is as stunning as ever. The second, “Everyday You Make Me Crazy” is an infectious rocker that would be a highlight on Voices or Dream Police. One of their catchiest riffs on an album loaded with hooks, it ends far too soon. And “California Girl”, “Alive” and “Sick Man of Europe” (a post-Nazz, pre-CT band of Rick Nielsen’s) all rock just as hard and are standouts.
But the bread and butter on this one might be a series of mid-tempo melodic tracks that mine the same vein as “The Flame” – “These Days” and “Everybody Knows” are textbook structure. “Smile” and “Times of our Lives” will have those Bic lighters – excuse me, cell phone screens – swaying back and forth as the ladies swoon. Producer Julian Raymond did a nice job getting Zander’s pipes out front and center, a challenge he does not back down from. In fact, the entire band sounds rejuvenated, with Tom Petersson’s fluid bass playing a nice return to form.
Raymond also shaped the sound of this record to straddle the decades; it’s current and fresh sounding but frequently recalls the bombast of the early albums. By covering the Slade track “When the Lights Are Out”, Cheap Trick simultaneously pays homage to its own classic pop past while taking a page from the Oasis songbook (and then kicking them in the nads with it). Ditto “Closer, The Ballad of Burt and Linda”, which outdoes the Gallaghers’ attempts to surf the psychedelic edge of the Fab Four.
Some might complain that many of the songs are too derivative – “Miracle” apes Lennon circa “Mind Games” in structure and vocal style; strains of “Within You Without You” are woven into the coda of “Times of our Lives”. And some of these songs are not brand new; some have been floating around in one form or another for years. So what? After thirty-five years, the fact that a band can still be this good – newly relevant, even – is more than enough. Not many artists can clear their own high bar at this stage of the game, but count The Latest among the band’s strongest efforts.