Sound — 8
Cheap Trick are an American hard rock band from the '70s. Their musical style is in the same vein as KISS or AC/DC but for one reason or another they never achieved the same fame. Of course, they haven't just been kicking around for the past forty years. Four of their albums sold well enough to achieve platinum status in the US and another two went gold. A handful of their songs still get airplay on US classic rock radio, songs like "Surrender," "I Want You to Want Me," and "Dream Police."
And like any good '70s rock band, Cheap Trick incorporates some characteristic visual elements to their shows, like their distinctive repeated logo, lead singer Robin Zander's outfits, and Rick Nielsen's plethora of guitars (notable ones are his five-neck guitar and his double-neck shaped to look like himself). There is a really cool Rig Rundown video that goes through Nielsen's guitars.
Another cool thing about Cheap Trick is their stable lineup. The core group of Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, and bassist Tom Petersson have been in the band since its inception (with Petersson leaving for some time in the '80s). Drummer Bun E. Carlos is the only classic Cheap Trick member missing from the album, though even his replacement is close to the band; he's Rick Nielsen's son. A result of the band's general stability has been a steady flow of albums; three in the 1990s, three in the 2000s, and now two in the 2010s.
To give it to you straight, this album may be one of the best '70s-style hard rock albums to come out in the past couple of years. This brand of rock is on the downturn not because it has fallen out of favor, but rather because the quality of the music has not been up to snuff. The Darkness proved, a very long time ago now in 2003, that a hard rock album could sell well and appear on even the pop charts in the twenty-first century.
This album from Cheap Trick is not quite the monster that The Darkness' "Permission to Land" is. But it's still excellent, in fact, every song on the album is at least decent (no duds) and many of the songs are great. Rick Nielsen is front and center with a great, meaty tone that sounds like a Marshall with a Les Paul. Guitar solos abound and the songs are all driven by riffs, some which are quite catchy and fun to play as a guitarist. In general, this album should be really fun to play for intermediate-level guitar players.
One of the real surprises is how well Cheap Trick does with their ballads. It's almost always the case that bands who write good hard and fast songs struggle to do the slower ballads, if they attempt them at all. On this album, Cheap Trick's ballads are the best one could hope for if the band isn't known for ballads. They don't drag, the guitar tones aren't sacrificed to fit a lighter theme (with the exception of the acoustic guitars on "Floating Down," which have been made to sound very thin), and there are some very hummable riffs.
Lyrics — 8
A lot of the album focuses on the interplay between the guitar and Robin Zander's vocals. The dichotomy between Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen is fun to hear after all these decades they have been able to play together. There are some call and response type of verses where Zander sings with Nielsen quiet and then Nielsen plays a riff while Zander takes a break. The choruses feature a lot of backing vocals that echo Zander much the same way Malcolm Young and Cliff Williams of AC/DC would echo Bon Scott.
The quality of Zander's voice is incredible given his age. Most rock singers don't sound nearly the same in their late sixties as they did in their twenties and thirties. While I'm not sure if he sounds exactly the same as he did in the '70s, Robin Zander's performance on this album certainly demonstrates that his voice today could stand up on its own in any decade. Not only can he still hit the high notes, but he can also still strain his voice to the breaking point in the sort of controlled destruction that made the careers of singers like Axl Rose.
Overall Impression — 9
The biggest pro of this album is the sound, the tone, the vibe (whatever you want to call it) that the three original members play with. Some weaknesses are the lack of songwriting variety and the lack of melody in the guitar solos (maybe this is heresy, but I can't help but think how great Rick Nielsen would be as a rhythm guitarist).
One inescapable thought is how this is the perfect summer album. This album would sound great on the beach at a party (though, to be honest, you'll be lucky if your friends would actually play music like this) or in the car on a long drive. It's one of the best classic, hard rock albums to come out in a while, a great hurrah for what appears to be a dying breed of rock music. So then another interesting thought is how well Cheap Trick have aged. Maybe they weren't the best hard rock band of the '70s, but their output today has got many more famous bands from that era beat. Rick Neilsen has that classic, rough guitar tone, Robin Zander has that classic yowl, and Tom Petersson has that silky, smooth bass tone that can only come from his eight-string bass. The best of the many standout songs are "Brand New Name on an Old Tattoo," "Radio Lover," "Listen to Me," and the kooky, but not that spooky "Blackberry Way."