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.
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Slingsby Aviation built some of the world’s greatest gliders, and although used by the British during WWII, they were mostly tactical observation planes; drone bombers at best. The Hornet, on the other hand, was a piston-engine fighter plane used by the RAF, built by the de Havilland company. What this has to do with glam rock and powerpop takes on classic 60’s music is beyond me, but I can tell you that John Paul Allen’s angry insect logo is the antithesis of the pure joy coming out of the speakers when The Slingsby Hornets are playing.
Whatever Happened To is the follow-up to 2007’s Introducing The Fantastic Sounds of; like its predecessor it’s a one-man studio effort from Allen. Boasting a dense layer of guitars, stacked vocals and a simple but uncluttered rhythm section, Allen blends five original pop songs inbetween covers of classic garage and glam singles like “Pictures Of Matchstick Men” and “Rock’n’Roll Love Letter”. His solo vocals are more breathy than powerful, but the layered harmonies are skillful, even within production that’s smaller in scale that some of the bands you’ll be reminded of (Jellyfish, XTC and especially Queen – Brian May is obviously an influence). But there’s no denying the pure love of the music, but anyone that can cover The Osmonds and ABBA with the same respect as The Move and T. Rex is okay in my book. I really like the originals, especially “The Long Way Home” and “Black & White Movie”, but the covers are obviously the draw. My favorites are Klaatu‘s “Calling Occupants” and Marc Bolan‘s “Children of the Revolution” in which Allen also incorporates the related “Buick Mackane”.
My copy of the new album included the Knee Deep In Glitter EP which features five covers, including Cliff Richard‘s “Devil Woman” and “Skweeze Me Pleeze Me” by Slade. The guitars are much louder and overall the music rocks harder, even the chugging version of “Does Your Mother Know”. As with all Slingsby Hornets covers, they’re anything but straightforward copies of the original.
Introducing also has five originals, the best of which is the synth/guitar duel of “The Man From Yesterday” and the more delicate “Stop The Rain”. I’m no fan of Captain and Tenille so I’m not crazy about a cover of “Love Will Keep Us Together”, but at least it adds some muscle to the melody. I much prefer his take on “Fire Brigade” and a cover of “My Sharona” that sounds like Brian May (yes, again) jamming with Todd Rundgren. Again, Allen wisely alternates his originals with the diverse covers, as if to show that any radio station (or pair of ears) that would appreciate one would also find the other appealing. Use the CD Baby links above or check their MySpace page for more details and sound clips.
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