At first, it all felt too quiet. After about two weeks of listening to nothing but the debut album, I guess that whatever Cheap Trick album I dipped my toes into next would seem a bit less…well, just a bit less, I suppose, than that first album. Indeed, it took me ever so slightly longer to be wowed by In Color than its predecessor. Five more songs, to be precise: if Cheap Trick boom-boom-thwack-boom-boomed its hooks into me on the third song, In Color made me a true believer by track eight.
Every year through the end of High School, my parents would take advantage of the time we were given off for Rosh Hashanah for a family vacation; by the time I was a teenager, the destination was invariably Cape Cod. Like clockwork, our first night there found me standing in a Strawberries Music store in Hyannis, knowing exactly what I was going to spend my first dollop of vacation money on. This may have been the first understanding my poor, underfunded music geek’s soul had of the joys of a Sony (then CBS, actually) Records Midline sale: $3.99 later, my most played cassette of the past six months finally had a younger brother to hang with. (Sorry, folks, no sexy photos of outdated media this time around; 99% of my cassettes have long since relocated to a landfill somewhere.)
Unlike the debut album, which I’d never heard a note of before rolling the dice on it on my first day of high school, I knew two things about In Color going in: “I Want You to Want Me”, and the fact that, according to some sort of Encyclopedia of Rock book I’d gotten the previous Christmas, it had followed the first album into stores within a matter of months. Based on those things alone, it couldn’t possibly lose. By the time my folks had settled in for the night in front of some awful TV movie and I could finally be alone with my walkman, I was practically drooling.
At first, everything seemed just as I’d expected; within the first ten seconds or so, I was confronted with a loud, obnoxious guitar riff over which Robin Zander was yelling “are you ready to rock?” It was phrased as a question, but delivered like a demand; it’s this kind of nuance that breathes new life into a cliché. As for me, I was indeed ready. By the third song or so, though, something seemed a bit off: the band sounded muffled and muted in a way they didn’t on the first album. At fourteen years old, a kid – even one as music-geeky as I was – doesn’t know what “bad production” is; ‘twas the first of many lessons I’d learn from In Color over the years.
Soon enough, I was confronted by “I Want You to Want Me”, and the second lesson I’d learn from In Color: sometimes, the version on the album you’ve bought isn’t quite the one you’re familiar with. I liked the version I’d heard on the classic rock stations well enough, but this was…this was crap. I remember my brilliant bit of internal-dialogue teenage disappointment as though it were yesterday: “this sounds like fucking Peter Frampton or some shit.” Happily, one more song and we were suddenly back on track: “You’re All Talk” actually sounded like the stuff on their first album. Finally.
Time to trepidatiously flip over the tape: “Oh Caroline” and “Clock Strikes Ten” kept the faith that “You’re All Talk” had instilled in me. Then it happened: just like last time, it all started with the drums. This time when the guitars came in they teased instead of jackhammered, but the feeling mirrored my first encounter with “He’s a Whore”: this, right here, is my idea of music.
Being fourteen years old wasn’t much fun back in 1988, and I’m sure little has changed in the time since. It was the time when your hormones started evolving a lot faster than your brains. I didn’t know exactly what all the late-teenage girls in the tight dresses were doing standing in line outside the bars on Main Street in Hyannis (call me naive, but I was a few years away from “trying to get in on a fake ID” became part of my vocabulary), but I knew the tight dresses were something I was suddenly a lot more interested in than I had been even six months previous. I didn’t know exactly why, nor did I really understand what I was supposed to do with these women should the opportunity ever arise, but I did understand that somehow, the music I was listening to right at that moment had something to do with it all. Get out on the street, you’ve got nothing to lose; there were still a few clues missing for my poor pubescent soul, but some of the pieces were starting to come together.
Thusly reinvigorated, I listened to the last couple of tunes and then started the whole thing again; this time around, there was a lot more love in the air. I still wished it was loud like the first album, but now the songs were getting their hooks in me just like the ones on Cheap Trick. All of ‘em except for this version of “I Want You to Want Me”, that is: seriously, what the hell happened there? No matter: as it turned out, I was about three days away from adding the word “Budokan” to my lexicon.
A few weeks later, sitting back at home listening to WNEW, it hit me: “Oh, the songs on In Color sound more like the other songs on the radio than the ones on the first album.” Witness the birth of my music geekdom in one simple sentence; feel free to celebrate or mourn as you see fit. In that moment, I realized that on In Color, Cheap Trick had surrendered, but not given themselves away…
…but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself with that talk, aren’t I?