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Cheap Trick - Rockford Review

by Anthony Kuzminski

There are those who say once you leave home, you can never truly go home again. Over the last quarter century, Cheap Trick has been fighting an up hill battle trying to recapture the grandeur of their first five albums. To their disadvantage, Cheap Trick produced some of the most exhilarating and captivating melodies of the modern rock era. "Cheap Trick", "In Color", "Heaven Tonight", "At Budokan" and "Dream Police" are arguably some of the "must own" rock albums from the 1970's. However, in the 1980's and '90's while the band created some good music; they could not recapture the essence and feel of those initial albums.

After a creative and commercial slump in the mid-80's, the band recorded "Lap of Luxury" (1988) and "Busted" (1990), utilizing outside songwriters who gave them some of their biggest Top-40 hits. However, most die-hard fans felt the band sold themselves out for commercial success. I'm a little younger than your average Trick fan and these were the albums that gave me my initial exposure to the band. While it's true they did not have a huge hand in the songwriting of these albums, there are a number of songs which still resonate with me (most notably "Ghost Town", "The Flame" & "When You Need Someone"). I credit Robin Zander's delivery and haunting voice with sending shivers down my spine, regardless of who authored it. After their brief commercial resurrection, the band attempted to go back to their roots with some success. 1993's "Woke Up With A Monster" and 2003's "Special One" were steps in the right direction and had a number of endearing tunes on them. Months after their initial releases however, I did not find myself returning to these albums for repeat listens. 1997's self-titled album was considered (and still holds up) as the band's best post-"Dream Police" record with no nonsense rock, appealing melodies and effortless songs. Sadly, the album never found an audience largely due to distribution and promotion woes beyond the band's control.

All of this brings us to the present day. Cheap Trick still is a vital live band (for further proof one needs to look no further than 1999's remarkable live album "Music For Hangovers") but they have yet to achieve a major critical or commercial impact in over fifteen years. However, all of this is about to change as they serve up a delicious piece of rock n' roll ecstasy with their new album "Rockford". Right from the fixating opening chords of "Welcome To The World", it appears the band tapped into their state of mind from a quarter of a century ago for inspiration which ultimately has led to their best album since "Dream Police". Cheap Trick is one of those bands who continually put albums out every few years and there is some reviewer who praises it as their best album in over a decade. The truth is that Cheap Trick, much like Alice Cooper, is continually consistent with their output. They have made numerous genuine albums over the last couple of decades, however, what differentiates "Rockford" from the others is that it's not merely a good album, but in fact a great one.

"Rockford" is composed of twelve ferocious tunes that showcase what Cheap Trick does best- write, record and perform raucous rock n' roll. "Welcome To The World" and it's fervent pace instantly seizes the listener and never let's go for the duration of the album. The Linda Perry produced first single "Perfect Stranger" is a quintessential Trick tune with a memorable melody without sounding like they're trying too hard to have a hit; "If It Takes A Lifetime" is a song that could have been on "Busted" or "Lap of Luxury" and would have been in contention for a single with its soaring and elegant chorus; "O Claire" is a glorious ballad without any schmaltz; "Come On Come On Come On" is a full tilt rocker evocative of their best 70's material while "This Time You Got It" is a perfect hybrid of a Beatles-esque rocker with a Cheap Trick fingerprint. The album's second side is equally impressive as each song is a flawless power pop masterpiece created with perfectly textured harmonies. After two decades of making a number of virtuous albums, Cheap Trick has finally made an album as illustrious as their legacy. Even though the band has worked with George Martin, Jack Douglas, Roy Thomas Baker, Todd Rundgren, and Ted Templeman over the last twenty years, none of these producers could pull it all together to make a definitive Cheap Trick album. "Rockford" is self-produced with a little help from some friends (Linda Perry, Chris Shaw, Jack Douglas and Steve Albini). The album's sonic beauty lies in its engineering and mixing. Each song focuses solely on guitars, bass and drums with other remaining sounds and instruments merely providing color and texture, but never overwhelming the essential ingredients which initially made Cheap Trick such a prominent musical tour de force; Robin Zander's towering vocals, Rick Nielsen's blistering guitar, Tom Petersson's ever subtle bass and the thundering backbeats of drummer Bun E. Carlos.

If "Rockford" had come out in 1988, there would have been potentially four or five singles on this album. The signature sounds of these songs easily match up to the template of the band's classics. If you were to throw these songs into a set list with the classics, someone who is largely unfamiliar with Cheap Trick would not be able to decipher whether the songs were from 1976 or 2006.The band is so defiant in their delivery of each song that not one of them is disposable. It may be reminiscent of their early glories, but it's rare and wondrous when you find an album as fun, easy on the ears and as remarkable as this one is. "Rockford" encompasses twelve powerful rockers which can be the perfect summer soundtrack. More importantly, "Rockford" proves that sometimes you truly can go home.

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Cheap Trick - Rockford

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