Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Trick Tuesday: "The Latest" (2009)

I never said it wasn't worth the wait...

I'll always have a small grudge against The Latest, stemming from the fact that it took whoever handles the band's merchandising nearly two months after its release date to get my copy to me.  From this, I learned a valuable lesson: never, ever order the CD of something at the same time as the limited, likely to be delayed vinyl.  This remains good advice for all you multi-format types, by the way.  Speaking of multi-formats, yes, they did release this one on fully-functioning EIGHT TRACK - you know, those big, honkin' cassette-like things that alright mommies and daddies played in their Camaros way back when -  as well.  And, no, I do not own one: had it been $10 or so, sure, why not.  For $30?  No thanks.  Bought a t-shirt with a picture of the eight track for ten bucks less than that and called the whole thing even.  Never looked back, either; honestly, I wear the shirt fairly often...and I don't even own an eight track player.

I know a blogger who needs to do laundry!
Fine, right, whatever: more music, less merch talk, I got ya.  The Latest is as solid as everything they've done since 1997; not quite as good as Rockford, but certainly in that same neighborhood.  In many ways, it seems drawn equally from the same wells as their previous two albums: Rockford-esque rockers ("Alive", "California Girl", the amazing lead single "Sick Man of Europe"), intermingled with a good dose of Special One's inspired power-pop ("Miss Tomorrow", "These Days", "Times of Our Lives").  Somewhere in between, there's a nifty Slade cover ("When the Lights are Out"), a closing ballad that would make your teeth rot if it weren't so unquestionably sincere ("Smile"), and THE BEST BEATLES SONG THAT BAND NEVER BOTHERED TO WRITE.  Seriously: if the actual Beatles had more stuff in their catalog as knife-edge beautiful as "Everybody Knows", I'd listen to Abbey Road a whole lot more often than I do.  I realize that this is a bold statement; the comments box below this post is available for your complaints.  Type legibly.

The pop-leaning material is a bit more fully scored here than it was on Special One, and a quick spin through the credits makes it immediately obvious why: Roger Joseph Manning Jr - Keyboards.  And then some: although he's not credited for it, Manning's arrangement touch is all over the album.  If the name is unfamiliar, Manning was one half of the creative team behind turn-of-the-'90s power-pop phenoms Jellyfish, a band whose two albums should prove worthy of examination by most Cheap Trick fans.  His work throughout The Latest is truly inspired, a virtual clinic on how tastefully played and arranged keyboards can enhance guitar-driven rock, rather than simply slathering on a layer of Velveeta.  Just as Cheap Trick fans should check out Jellyfish, fans of that band who've never heard The Latest should make it a priority: it may be as close as you'll ever come to that third album, folks.

Jellyfish probably had fewer more rabid fans than Rhea.  We saw Cheap Trick play Irving Plaza in early 2011, their first headline date in the New York area after The Latest's release.  (The less said about the fact that they had appeared at Jones Beach the previous summer as an opening act for fucking Poison and Def Leppard, the better.)  Manning, along with first-album Jellyfish cohort Jason Falkner opened for the band, much to Rhea's delight.  Beyond that, the pair then played with Cheap Trick for their entire set as  well.  Folks, I have never seen someone so absolutely thrilled to be witnessing live music as Rhea was that night.  (Well, maybe my reaction to last weekend's D Generation gig came close.)  After all, it was the closest thing she's likely to ever see to one of her favorite bands reuniting, and perhaps closer to it than anything she'd previously imagined.  I can't do her reaction to it justice at all; you'll have to ask her about it if you ever get the chance.  What I can tell you about it is this: in general, I like my live Cheap Trick better sans keyboards, but this gig almost made me rethink that stance.

This gig happened in 2010, nearly thirty-six years after the band played their first gig, and thirty-three years after the release of their first album.  I'm a realist: they certainly don't have another thirty-six years in them.  On the right night, though, you do begin to wonder if another twenty or so is really all that far out of the question.

Next week: did somebody say "Beatles"?

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