|Promo-only comic artwork - probably the best thing about this one, actually.|
Forget about The Doctor, willya? This, friends, is the true bottom of the barrel. It’s the moment where Cheap Trick forgot one of life’s most valuable lessons: if you’re going to sell out, you’d best make sure that you get paid in the process. It’s also one album that the perspective of time has done nothing to improve: it was a disappointment then, and it’s a stinky little pile of poo in the yard of the Cheap Trick discography even now.
In the summer of 1990, I turned sixteen years old. Two years makes a lot of difference during that part of your life: I was two mid-teenage years savvier, I had been exposed to a lot more things, and I was becoming more independent. I didn’t still love all the music I was into two years before, but I hung on to my love of Cheap Trick even as my other tastes were moving away from the metal of the day and more into punk and indie music. To be teenaged is to be hardcore about things, not to mention unwittingly myopic. So, for the time being, it was goodbye Iron Maiden, hello Hüsker Dü. Au revior Metallica, bonjour Motörhead. Later in life, the former two would become alphabetical roommates…and the latter switch I would still see as trading up. No matter what the era of my tastes, however, Rockford’s most famous citizens somehow never lost their place at the table.
You need to understand how different things were before the internet became a part of our daily lives. Things like release dates for albums could be fairly nebulous, especially if you were a teenager living in a town whose music needs were mostly served by the staff at Sam Goody’s Dorkatorium and Music Stand. The answer to “when’s so-and-so coming out?” was never “oh, the first week in July” or “three weeks from now”; flawlessly, it was a quick, furtive glance at the new releases rack and a mumbled “try next week.” And try next week I did, from sometime in the spring until June 27, 1990 (at least according to the album’s Amazon page.) Rushed home, popped the tape in, and was confronted – and eventually overwhelmed – by suck.
It’s obvious that the Mensa candidates over at Epic Records were desperately hoping for Son of Lap of Luxury, as even a cursory listen to Busted hammers home. Initially, there was reason to be hopeful: despite the production overkill, advance single “Can’t Stop Fallin’ into Love” was just the kind of smart, clever pop one would expect from Cheap Trick. While it still would have sounded out of place on, say, Heaven Tonight, it was at least clearly the work of the band that turned in that classic. The rest of the album, sadly, turned out to be a case of saving the best for first. Let’s put it this way: seeing a “Mick Jones” credited as an additional musician on a Cheap Trick album, one would logically assume the reference was to the Clash guitarist. In the case of Busted, we’re speaking instead of the guy from Foreigner, and therein lies the problem with the album in a nutshell.
Let’s be positive first, shall we: to be fair, there is an excellent five-song EP lurking within Busted, comprising the great, Stones-y opener “Back n’ Blue”, “Can’t Stop Falling into Love”, a gorgeous slow one co-starring Chrissie Hynde (“Walk Away”), the power-pop-tastic “Had to Make You Mine”, and the rave-up closer, a cover of Roy Wood’s “Rock n’ Roll Tonight” that had been a staple of the band’s early live sets. Even at that, you’ll still need to track down “Walk Away” on a later compilation, in the version that doesn’t have Hynde largely dialed down at the record company’s request. That’s the good stuff; the bad stuff is the rest of it, all of which falls into one of two categories: snoozy song-factory ballads that fail to relight “The Flame”, and half-hearted mid-tempo space-fillers. In the latter category, a special demerit goes to “You Drive, I’ll Steer”, a song that clearly was once meant to be a title track for Lap of Luxury, and its lame, wishful-thinking mentions of both In Color and Heaven Tonight. For shame, especially since the song sounds more like a Bon Jovi b-side than anything from either of those seminal works.
At the end of the day, every lengthy career has to have a nadir. For Cheap Trick, Busted was it; sometimes, you’ve got to hit the pavement hard to realize you’ve set out on the wrong path. Commercially, Busted went from sure-thing follow-up to huge tank in exactly the amount of time it took for people to hear the thing. The numbers tell the story: as an advance single, “Can’t Stop Fallin’ into Love” peaked at a respectable number twelve on Billboard. The album limped to number forty-eight*, and several follow-up singles all stiffed. Back to the drawing board, then – and not a moment too soon, artistically speaking.
*weirdly, according to the bastion of truth that is Wikipedia, the album did go gold in Canada. What gives, hosers?
Next week: waking up, groggy but feisty.