Cheap Trick – Cheap Trick (1977); We’re All Alright! (2017): Shadows in Stereo

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In April 2016, Kid Rock inducted Cheap Trick into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. During his humorous and irreverent speech, he referred to Cheap Trick at various times as a “bar band,” a “garage band,” and “the American Beatles,” Although it seemed (rightly so) that he was trying to express the breadth and depth of their influence and importance, each one of those descriptors was somewhat inaccurate.

First, Cheap Trick was never a bar band. Sure, they had to start somewhere like everybody else, but it’s likely that at no point did they ever consider any small gig as anything more than a brief stopover on their climb to the pinnacle of rock stardom. In fact, guitarist Rick Nielsen and bassist Tom Petersson had already been around the block at least once: in 1970, both belonged to a band called Fuse that actually had a major label release on Epic Records. Although eventually disavowed by both players to a greater or lesser extent, Fuse was decent enough: Think a prog/boogie/pop blend of Bloodrock, Cactus, REO Speedwagon and a half dozen other rock outfits from that era. But Cheap Trick always had aspirations to be more than just another band on the tour circuit.

Second, Cheap Trick was never a garage band. Classic garage bands are usually characterized as short on songwriting and musical talent, but long on enthusiasm, energy and psychedelic effects pedals. They certainly had enthusiasm and energy, but Cheap Trick could also play most of the competition under the table. The charge was usually being led by Nielsen’s guitar, alternately bursting with power chords and ripping lead lines, and the clear yet intense voice of singer, guitarist and nominal frontman Robin Zander. They even had a secret weapon in drummer Bun E. Carlos, who hid a subtle ability to swing while holding down a solid beat, giving every Cheap Trick song a swagger as well as a backbone.

As for the “American Beatles” tag? It’s easy to be misled by the obvious: Their work with Sir George Martin and their various covers of Beatles’ classics like “Day Tripper,” “Magical Mystery Tour” and the entire Sgt. Pepper album. Visually, they were more like the American Monkees, who were technically only really three-fourths American after all, thanks to the presence of Brit heart-throb Davy Jones. On closer inspection, it could be said that Cheap Trick had a couple of normal guys as stand-ins for Jones and Monkee guitarist Michael Nesmith; Bun E and his out-of-place accountant couture as a nod to perpetually perplexed Monkee bassist Peter Tork; and Nielsen’s manic stage persona as an over-the-top reinterpretation of the zany antics of Monkee drummer/vocalist Mickey Dolenz.

Still, it’s the Beatles connection that persists in the minds of many, likely due to the wealth of songs on some of their successful early albums that dealt with the typical pop conventions of young love and good times. However, based on their 1977 debut Cheap Trick, one could make the argument that the band was more akin to the American Who than anything else. Not only did the aforementioned power chording of Nielsen recall that of Who guitarist Pete Townshend, but one can hear the suggestion of Who vocalist Roger Daltrey in Zander’s singing, as well as the Who’s John Entwistle and his uniquely prominent bass guitar mix mirrored in Petersson’s pioneering 8- and 12-string bass rigs.

The Who-like tendencies were also reflected in the oddball lyrical subject matter on this initial collection of tunes. Suicide, taxes, gigolos and pervy old men were not topics that captured the imagination of the typical pop music fan. No doubt this probably contributed to the album not even cracking the Billboard Top 200, making it possibly the most underrated gem in the Cheap Trick canon.

This oversight might stand to be corrected with the June 2017 release of We’re All Alright!, Cheap Trick’s 18th studio album. Celebrating 40 years of recording history, the album does what so few are able to do when made by most groups late in the career: tap into what made them great in the first place.

So, what kind of bang do you get for your buck? A lot, as it turns out, and very little in the way of filler. We’re All Alright! begins with a traditional solid opener, “You Got It Going On,” then continues with a great pop strut in “Lolita” and a stomper called “Brand New Name On An Old Tattoo.” And for those of you keeping score, there’s even a song called “Long Time Coming,” in which the band manages to recycle the riffs from both the Kinks’ proto-metal classic “All Day and All of the Night” and the Who’s mid-’60s hit single “I Can’t Explain.” Who needs the Beatles when you can lift from both the Kinks and the Who?

The deluxe edition includes a cover of the Move’s “Blackberry Way” and an original called “Like a Fly” which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on any post ’60s Who album.

We’re All Alright! catches Cheap Trick as they come full circle mostly intact. Though Bun E. Carlos no longer tours or records with the band, he remains part of the organization, his drum throne now occupied by Rick Nielsen’s son Daxx Nielsen. Presumably, he was brought up in part on his father’s legacy, and has enough youthful energy to keep the band and the brand viable for a few more years anyway – and that is more than alright.

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JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito spends most of his day keeping the wolves from the door. When he's not occupied with this pastime, he's interested in all things rock and roll -- which may or may not have died back in the late 1950s, the late 1970s, or the early '90s, depending on who you believe. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
JC Mosquito
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