Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Trick Tuesday: "Next Position Please" (1983)

Honestly, you could probably just snag one of these from a dollar bin somewhere and be just fine.
I promised myself when I sat down to write this entry that I would not do as every other reviewer under the sun has done and refer to this album as Next Producer Please.  Whether making that my opening sentence constitutes having kept my pledge or not is up to you, dear readers.  Regardless, it is a phrase that I wish one of the members of Cheap Trick had uttered somewhere along the line while recording this one.

I realize that I’m about to risk courting the fury of Todd Rundgren’s cult of worshipers, nearly all of whom I’d assume are also internet aficionados, but his production job here is one of the lousiest I’ve ever heard on a major label album: paper thin, screechy, and utterly devoid of both guitar and bottom end.  Judging by the humorous cover photo, Rick Nielsen and new bassist Jon Brant seem to have been present when the album was recorded, but all that seems to have made it to tape are Robin Zander’s vocals and Bun E. Carlos’ drums.  Sure, those two are amongst the finest rock music has to offer at their particular stations, but they really sound so much better when their buddies are actually audible.  The whole thing has always sounded like an extreme overreaction to One on One’s production bombast; unfortunately, the band are neither heavy metal, as that album’s producer seemed to think, nor Rick Springfield-ish AM radio lite-rock, as Rundgren seems hell-bent on typecasting them here.

As a batch of songs, Position is good but not great.  At twelve songs (on vinyl) or fourteen (on cassette and subsequently CD), it’s two to four songs too long.  Three are for the all-time mix tape: Robin Zander’s exquisite single “I Can’t Take It”, the title track, which had been kicking around since Dream Police but at least manages cut through the production choke-hold and rock a bit, and Rundgren’s written-to-order “Heaven’s Falling”, a brilliant pastiche of Nielsen’s own songwriting style that’s so good that it nearly redeems Rundgren’s poor production choices elsewhere on the album.  On the flip side of all of that, there are two real clunkers: “Dancing the Night Away”, a lackluster cover of a song by new-wave also-rans the Motors inserted into the album from a non-Rundgren session at Epic Records’ unfortunate insistence, and “3D”, which is essentially part two of One on One’s also-terrible “I Want Be Man”.  The rest just kind of floats by on a wave of hazy production: some of it a bit more memorable (“Borderline” – which the band has redeemed in recent live shows in a harder rocking arrangement – and the dopily titled “Y.O.Y.O.Y”), most of it a bit less.  In the final wrap-up, Next Position Please is the textbook standard of a mediocre album; it’s a wonder it didn’t come complete with a hype sticker loudly proclaiming “NEITHER HERE NOR THERE!” or “DOESN’T QUITE SUCK!” or “THEY SHOULDA FIRED RUNDGREN!” or something.

I’ll say this much for it, though: it fit my mood when I first acquired it just fine.  I was a couple of months into my freshman year of high school; the experience wasn’t particularly new and quasi-exciting anymore, but the fun of the holiday season was still a bit too far out of reach.  Likewise, I was a couple of months into the onset of full-bore adolescence: neither hormonally charged all the time nor black-hole-soul depressed in that way only kids in high school can truly be, I was just trying to float by and figure out what the hell was going on with me and my world, and how to navigate it all.  I was just okay, nothing more or less, and so was my new Cheap Trick tape.  We were all all right, I suppose, just in a less enthusiastic way than that phrase had been uttered a few albums, and a few months, prior.  Likewise, it would get worse before it got better for both pubescent me and Cheap Trick, but once it got better it would do so in a way that hardly needed a hype sticker to announce its quality.

Next week: The next producer is promising, but will it really just be singles-plus-filler anyway?  Standing on the edge of a cliffhanger, we are.

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