For fans of classic rock—especially The Beatles—bands like Badfinger, ELO (Electric Light Orchestra), The Bangles and Cheap Trick once represented a virtual telescoping of The Beatles’ career for holdouts hoping the Fab Four would reunite and blow our minds once again by leading the music world to new, uncharted galaxies.
Among the most visible young Turks of the power pop vanguard, Cheap Trick helped keep rock’s torch lit throughout the ’70s and ’80s, surviving a firestorm of competing genres, including folk, country, disco, punk, glam, heavy metal, electronica and new wave.
Hard-driving, melodic barnburners like “Hot Love” and “On Top of the World” exploded onto the airwaves with a vengeance. Pop gems like “Dream Police,” “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender” delivered them to the mainstream.
They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame® this year, crossing over from cheeky, wild rebels to hard rock statesmen—it happens.
Unlike many of their surviving peers, they have not gone soft as the cottage cheese you might expect they’d be gumming by now. They’re not retiring to the clichéd rest home circuit of county fairs or shaggy oldies concerts.
Their latest adventure, “Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello” has been a long time in coming. But…they waited until they had a full set of brass knuckles inside their boxing gloves and could deliver a knockout punch instead of risking being seen as doddering old coots who might do better to spend their twilight years playing in celebrity golf tourneys or sipping a glass of warm milk by the fireside.
They bust out the gate of their new CD with a seething fireball, “Heart on the Line.” The pounding, pulsating rhythm is reminiscent of Robert Palmer’s “Doctor, Doctor,” but only at the beginning. It doesn’t take long before it flies off the rails and jets to the stratosphere.
Rappers brag about their beats—but no rapper ever had rhythm like this. If you don’t jump off your seat and start dancing to Daxx Nielsen’s scorching stick work by the first chorus it’s because someone Crazy-Glued you to the chair. (Daxx is lead guitarist Rick Nielsen’s son, filling in for drummer Bun E. Carlos.)
Golden-tressed front man Robin Zander proves he’s still got it after all these decades: halfway through “Heart on the Line” his dulcet-toned pipes kick into overdrive, and he gives the performance of a lifetime—pure, vintage Cheap Trick.
He still attacks the microphone with unbridled passion and when his ferocious upper register goes full-throttle he can belt the pants off any hot dogger that ever inspired a kid to dream of rock stardom.
Eccentric lead guitarist Rick Nielsen unleashes his patented taffy-sweet, razor-edged bluster with rocket-psychotic licks that do more than just make his guitar sound like it’s having a seizure.
Part maniac, part classical genius, Nielsen’s lead work mirrors The Beatle tradition of infusing a song with a lead line that is memorable unto itself, yet is so seamlessly integrated it becomes an organic extension of the melody.
“When I Wake Up Tomorrow” is their first hit single in 19 years, rising up Billboard’s flag pole to #35 on the Rock charts (so far). This is mature power pop so well-crafted that it is must-see TV for the ears.
You don’t often associate soaring harmonies with hard rock, but “The Sun Never Sets” takes the silkiness of The Beatles’ “Because” and hypes it in the heart with adrenalin à la “Pulp Fiction.”
“Roll Me” is a jagged-edged confection as luscious as red velvet cake, yet which rocks with more manic urgency than Billy Idol performing barefoot on hot coals.
Most albums fade to an Aeolian wheeze by the end—but not this one. The final track, “All Strung Out,” is a quirky journey through obsessive love whose lyrics are vivid, full of surprises and fearlessly written. It sounds like Iggy Pop meets David Bowie meets John Lennon—a piquant chestnut indeed.
“Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello” is as relentless as anything put out by The Donnas, except that it never runs out of gas. Song after song, Cheap Trick are evergreen, seasoned veterans who always land on the perfect, savory note.
Today’s Top 40 recognizes little that doesn’t come from the rap or hip hop fields, but that doesn’t mean great songs don’t exist outside this range. It just means you have to mine deeper to uncover more diverse entertainment.
Well, dig no more: Cheap Trick’s “Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello” is here, and waiting for you to play it—loud.