Friday, August 30, 2019

Catching Up with Cheap Trick: 'We're All Alright!' (2017)

I still don't quite know what to make of this one.

When it first came out, I was horribly disappointed in most of it: while the band sounded as spectacular as they had on their previous album, about half of the songs on this album just seemed really poorly written, rife with clunky arrangements and riddled with some remarkably poor lyrics.  About a week ago when I started un-shuttering this blog, I wrote a real hatchet-job review of this album that I published for a day or two and then withdrew.

Why?  Because it made me listen to the album again.  And you know what?  It's still nor all that great compared to their other latter-day albums.  It's their weakest since 1994 by a large margin.  But you know what else?  It's really fun garbage - loud, energetic and consistently hard-rockin' -  and maybe there's a place in the world for that as well.  Or maybe I'm just a hopeless fanboy trying to make something out of nothing.  It's probably both.

Let's talk about the extremes first.  On the good side, "Like a Fly" is absolutely brilliant, an edgy bundle of nervous energy that plays like a fine sequel to Rockford's brilliant closer "Decaf".  Negating that is "Lolita".

You heard me right: "Lolita".  Let's all take a moment to cringe about that together, shall we?  The song is even worse than its title/concept.  It's based around the sort of rhythm sound that old farts think constitutes a "drum and bass loop", over which Rick Nielsen plays trashy leads as though he can't even hear the rest of the song, and Robin Zander sings creep-o-rama lyrics about...well, you know.  And right before your ears, there it is: in my humble opinion, the worst officially-released Cheap Trick song ever.  So sorry, "Ride the Pony", you're a bit further up the creek now.

Elsewhere, there's a ton of pastiche: AC/DC on "Long Time Coming", the Ramones on "Nowhere", even Cheap Trick on something called - get this - "If You Still Want My Love".  (Really?!)  All of which tells us what we already know: they have great taste.  But so what?

They play great.  They sing great.  Unfortunately, they just didn't write great this time around, winding up with a huge serving of enthusiasm in service of lyrics that read like late-career Aerosmith rejects sprinkled on top of a bunch of re-heated riffs.

And yet, "Lolita" aside, it's still kind of a fun listen.  I'm not sure why - maybe it's because they're great in general.

(And speaking of great, that collage-art album cover is a real beauty.  Also available in t-shirt form, in case you're looking to skip the album itself.)

COLLECTOR NERD ASIDE: For some bizarre reason probably known only to the marketing team over at the Big Machine Label Group, the CD and streaming/downloadable versions of We're All Alrght! exist in both a basic 10-track edition and a "deluxe" 13-track edition.  Obviously, this review is of the 13-track deluxe, as "Like a Fly" isn't even on the 10-tracker.  The vinyl only exists in the 13-track configuration.  Your guess is as good as mine as to why or for whom the 10-track version even exists.

The Japanese CD expands to 15 tracks with spirited live versions of "When I Wake Up Tomorrow" and "The In Crowd" from Bang Zoom Crazy...Hello.  Worth hearing for die-hards, if not necessarily buying as an expensive import.

Catching Up with Cheap Trick: 'Bang Zoom Crazy...Hello' (2016)

I suppose there's no other way to truly plug this blog back in than to revisit one of its longest-running obsessions - and since it's not close enough to the Christmas Season to reopen that can of worms, we might as well catch up with the three - count 'em! - albums that Cheap Trick has released since my original Trick Tuesday series of album reviews wrapped up.

Bang Zoom Crazy...Hello was an album of firsts for Cheap Trick: their first album since 2009 (the longest gap between studio albums in their career), their first album without Bun E. Carlos, their first album with Daxx Nielsen on drums, their first album on a large, powerful record label since 1994, and their first since the announcement of their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  So, if you've been paying attention to the story thus far, there's only one assumption to be made: they blew it, right?

Wrong!  Defying all reasonable logic about how may times our boys have struck out during a key at-bat, Bang Zoom Crazy...Hello! is a remarkably strong and confident record.  If we consider the second half of their career to have begun with 1997's self-titled reboot, the obvious high water-mark of the "modern" CT era is unquestionably Rockford.  That said, I'd probably place this in a tie for second with the 1997 album in my rankings of their latter-day albums.  It's diverse without feeling disparate, and yet it never wanders too far from the tried-and-true.  Cheap Trick's hallmark power pop is well represented here ("No Direction Home", "The Sun Never Sets"), and well-balanced by both heavier fare ("Do You Believe Me?", fast-lane opener "Heart on the Line") and just enough quirk to remind you who this record was made by.

That last category is where Bang Zoom really lets its hair down and goes from very good to truly great.  A wonderfully imaginative cover of '60s rock chestnut "The In Crowd" nicely summons the off-kilter, somewhat menacing vibe of the band's peerless debut as though thirty-nine years had somehow not passed between the two recordings - no easy feat.  On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, "Blood Red Lips" is a glammy sing-along that has no real precedent in their catalog; maybe "ELO Kiddies" minus the sneer, but even that's a stretch.  It's a true, delightful earworm - shoulda been a single, in some other era when it might have made a difference and sold a record or two.

To be fair, Bang Zoom did sell a record or two. becoming their first top-40 album on Billboard since 1988's Lap of Luxury; you can probably thank Big Machine Records and/or the Hall of Fame hype for that.  Whatever the reason, those folks who hadn't tuned in for a while got a good earful of why this band is still so beloved by their fans: because they've still got it.  Not with an asterisk, not "they've still got it for a bunch of old guys", just "they've still got it."

'Twas a great "I-told-you-so" moment to be a fan.

COLLECTOR NERD ASIDE: the Japanese CD adds two bonus tracks, "I'd Give It Up" and "Arabesque", the latter of which also appears on a limited Record Store Day 10" called Found More Parts.  Both are good but not as good as anything on the album proper - but if you love the album, you'll probably want to seek them out.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Turning the Lights Back On...

...for a little while, anyway.

Good god, it's been a long while since I've visited this little hidden corner of the internet where I used to say a bunch of things.  I see that it pretty much ends with my getting married back in December of 2014.  That makes all kinds of sense, really: off the page and into the real world.  Navel-gazing - even public navel-gazing like this - kinda takes a back seat when you're part of an us and not just a you anymore, and that is as it should be.

So why am I back?  Why now, asked no one in particular since there's no way in hell that anyone who used to read this has had any reason to stop by in the last four-plus years or so?  Well, it's got to do do with that real world thing I was just rambling on about.  I'm about to start a new blog, one very separate from this one, dealing with things a lot bigger than the dad-rock dissertations that eventually became Turned On Its Ear's bread and butter.  It's a huge project that I'm about to take on, one that I'm simultaneously proud of and terrified by, and one that I know deep down in my heart that I absolutely need to see through.

Much like a former athlete that settled down and discovered the majesty of beer and wings, I feel out of shape.  The truth is that I haven't done much writing since my last posts on here.  I'm ashamed of this; while there are indeed very good reasons why I've neglected my craft, and they form the very core of the new project I'll be talking about more once I'm closer to launching it, the simple fact is that I've let my linguistic muscles get a touch flabby.  Just like the former athlete eventually makes his walk of shame up to the attic to reclaim his old workout gear because he knows it's time to pull it together, so have I reappeared here.

At least for the time being.  Once I'm back in shape and ready to get going on it, the Big New Project will likely occupy most of my writing time.  It'll be serious stuff though, so I suppose it's possible that keeping this place alive as a fun distraction to bullshit about dad-rock might have its place as well.  I really don't know yet - these are all just the first baby-steps towards far bigger things, and I'm still trying to plan it all out.

But plans are worthless without tools, so it's time to get writing and get sharpening.  If there is indeed anyone still reading here, it's very nice to make your acquaintance once again.

And if not, well, maybe I'll hand out some flyers or something...