|It's on my hard drive now, ya bastards!|
First off, let’s dispel one rumor: country album, my achin’ ass. Most of Countryside Blvd isn’t terribly different from the poppier end of Zander’s day-gig band. Think “My Obsession” on the up-tempo end, or “Voices” on the ballad side, throw a little pedal steel guitar on top of ‘em, and you’ve got a good idea of what this sounds like. In other words, it has the same relationship to actual country music as Bon Jovi’s Lost Highway: that is, it’s about what you’d normally expected from the credited artist, with the occasional country trimming dressing it up. Thankfully, it’s also as much more dignified and less cheesy than Lost Highway as, well, Cheap Trick is to Bon Jovi.
Which is not to say that this is an ersatz Cheap Trick album: for one thing, that band rocks a lot harder than much of anything to be found here. If you’re looking for a “He’s a Whore” or a “Sick Man of Europe”, sorry, not here. Honestly, that’s just as well: there is no way that this batch of Nashville cats could do that sort of material half as well as Rick Nielsen and friends. This album focuses on Robin Zander the pop singer, and it makes for an interesting listen; he’s a fine one, and it’s a facet of his personality that often gets obscured by his main gig’s penchant for volume and chaos.
Two songs will be immediately familiar to fans: “Walkin’ Shoes” also appeared on Zander’s previous solo album, a 1993 self-titled affair, and “Love Comes” hails from Cheap Trick’s decidedly crap-leaning 1985 outing Standing on the Edge. In the case of the former, this arrangement isn’t all that different than the original, although it is stunning to play them back to back and hear how little Zander has lost vocally in the intervening seventeen-or-so years. “Love Comes” is more revelatory: shorn of the synth-and-reverb-sandwich production of the original, the song reveals its core value as a fine mid-tempo pop number.
The rest of the album is consistently enjoyable, which almost works against it to some extent: there are no turkeys in this here chicken coop, but very little stands out as being head and shoulders above the rest, either. In other words, it finds its groove early and stays locked in, which makes it an easier listen than Zander’s ’93 debut. That album that veered back and forth between the inspired and the insipid like a drunk driver at 4:30 AM, whereas this one finds a wide-open lane, hits cruise control, and lets the wind blow back its hair with an easy confidence. The only downside to this is that Countryside Blvd lacks a show-stopping heart-tugger on the order of Robin Zander’s “Time Will Let You Know”, although his dignified reading of “Save the Last Dance for Me” comes within shootin’ distance.
Recommended to Cheap Trick fans, of course, but also to those looking for some fresh sounding power pop. Country fans probably need not really bother, as there ain’t nothin’ here but window dressin’ in that regard, bubba.
As regards my previous post, honestly, I have no idea why the release of this album has been stifled so many times. It’s not the greatest album ever made, true, but it’s both respectable and marketable. In fact, it made my iPod, which was no foregone conclusion the first time I heard “Robin Zander” and “country album” used in the same sentence.