Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Trick Tuesday: "Lap of Luxury" (1988)




Say what you will about "The Flame", but its non-LP flip-side, "Through the Night" is one of THE hidden gems of the Cheap Trick discography.  Sounds like music snobbery, I know, but it's absolutely true.

I have no idea if the album is really any good or not, and I don’t much care.  Lap of Luxury, and the resurgence in Cheap Trick’s popularity that came with it, is the reason we’re a couple of months deep into a series about Rockford, Illinois’ most famous sons rather than one about, I don’t know, Led Zeppelin or Queen or something.  It is the reason why, of all of the brilliant, timeless music I made first contact with in that coming-of-age summer of my fourteenth year, this band stood – then as now – head and shoulders above the rest for me.  If that in and of itself isn’t good enough reason for me to give Lap of Luxury an automatic pass to the front of the line, I defy you to tell me what is.

I’m neither a hippie nor a religious man, and as a result I’m usually not much one for talk of destiny or fate.  All that said, there are some things in this world that don’t come with a good explanation.  I’ve no idea why I actually picked up Lap of Luxury in the first place.  I was with my mother, in a Pathmark drug store – the famous grocery chain dabbled in CVS/Rite-Aid-style installations for a short while – a few blocks away from our ultimate destination: my grandmother’s house.  They had a half-aisle of music in the joint, and Mom was often good for a gift when we found ourselves there; call it bribery if you must, or maybe just making sure I had something to do while the rest of the family argued.  The nature of the deal was very use-it-or-lose-it, however, and this discriminating fourteen year old knew that it always behooved him to “find something interesting” amongst the store’s small variety of recordings.

Whatever it was that I was really hoping they had is long since lost to time.  Looking for a runner-up prize, something just drew me to a tape copy of Lap of Luxury.  I’m not at all sure why: I knew nothing about the band save that I’d heard their name before, didn’t think I knew any of the songs on the back cover, and hadn’t even remotely considered it before walking in the door.  I just looked at it for a minute or two, and decided this was what I wanted.  I handed it off to Mom, who met it with a raised eyebrow: “You like these guys?”

Crap.  I had no idea if I liked these guys or not, but I wanted a free album, damn it.  I came up with some insta-bullshit about having seen a good video of theirs on MTV, and awaited Mom’s reply with a bit of baited breath.  “That’s cool.  They’re a really good band, actually.  You know they’ve been around a while, right?”  At that moment, I didn’t care about that at all, actually; I just cared that the free booty was in the bag.

As it turned out, I liked the tape just fine.  I wasn’t obsessed yet – that would happen a couple of months later – but I listened to the thing all the time that summer.  I knew “The Flame”, which was already well on its way to hit-dom, upon first listen, but truth be told I liked the more rockin’ tunes a bit better.  Some things never change, I suppose.  At the time, I would have told you that it was “one of those tapes where I don’t fast-forward any songs.”  Still one of the best compliments one can give an album, provided you adjust the terminology to match technology’s march.

And you know what?  Twenty-three years on, that’s still mostly the truth.  Sure, Lap of Luxury doesn’t have the type-A personality of, say, Heaven Tonight, but as a collection of commercial hard rock it’s a fairly solid listen.  If you’re trying Cheap Trick on for size because Steve Albini or Kurt Cobain or somebody like that said good things about ‘em, this isn’t the place to start.  If, on the other hand, you’ve got a sweet tooth for BIG ‘80S ARENA ROCK but could live without the dimwitted-ness of, say, Poison or Bon Jovi, then Lap of Luxury should be just your speed.  Even as admittedly diluted by record company meddling as they are here, Cheap Trick has that little something that most bands just don’t.  “The Flame” didn’t become a number one because it was a brilliant composition.  It became a number one because of the band’s tasteful arrangement and Robin Zander’s brilliant, dignified vocal.  Is it my personal favorite Cheap Trick moment? Not hardly; hell, it’s not even remotely my personal favorite Lap of Luxury moment (that’d be “Never Had a Lot to Lose”, if you must know), but it is a big part of the reason they’re still viable as a touring act to this day.  Without that second wind, they might have been completely lost to time, playing third on the bill behind REO Speedwagon and Foghat in a Sizzler parking lot in Waukesha or someplace…or, even worse, long since disbanded.

Without that second wind, maybe they also wouldn’t have entered this particular teenager’s life at just the impressionable moment they needed to.  What a shame that would have been.  So here’s to sappy song-factory ballads, here’s to re-formed original line-ups (welcome back, Mr. Petersson), here’s to well-timed second winds, and here’s to an album that manages, at least in my world, to be brilliant without even necessarily being good.

Next week: Never had a lot to lose, indeed.

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