Posts Tagged ‘Rick Nielsen’

Decades Removed From Their Glory Days, Cheap Trick Return with a Late-Career Triumph

Just this week, two days before the release of Cheap Trick’s 20th studio album In Another World, comedian and SNL star Pete Dadvison and Jimmy Fallon attempted to play the band’s biggest hit “I Want You to Want Me” using a guitarrón and melodica while members of The Roots tried (unsuccessfully) to guess what song it was. Of course, the Beastie Boys had already turned Cheap Trick into something of a meme 30 years ago when they opened their album Check Your Head with a snippet of Cheap Trick vocalist Robin Zander’s famous stage banter from the 1978 live album At Budokan, to date the band’s biggest seller.

Judging from the way Cheap Trick playfully reference their own legacy on “In Another World”, they don’t seem to mind very much. On “Quit Waking Me Up,” for example, the band folds Beatles and Brian Wilson influences back into its own classic tune “Surrender,” as Robin Zander drags-out the word “souuuuuund” in the chorus to a chord progression that must surely have been designed, almost like a wink, to get you to think about the past. Likewise, on “The Party,” the band rolls the familiar grooves from both its own ‘70s-era track “Gonna Raise Hell” and Zeppelin’s “Trampled Under Foot” into one. And a cover of John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth” points back to guitarist Rick Nielsen and original Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos’ session work on Lennon’s Double Fantasy.

Back in the ‘90s, when hip figures like Steve Albini, Billy Corgan and Stone Temple Pilots gave Cheap Trick their blessing, the band played along. After all, why wouldn’t they be grateful for the endorsements? In a USA Today interview that ran the day before the release date, Nielsen remarked that “We’re a lot of people’s fifth-favourite band. They say, ‘I’ve got Zeppelin, Ozzy Osbourne, the Beatles … ’ But I don’t mind being fifth.” The self-effacing attitude looks good on paper, but it’s unfair: The reason why the band can get away with copping its own licks at this point is that it isn’t content to just self-cannibalize.

For one, other than a passing (if carefully placed) nod to “Surrender,” “Quit Waking Me Up” bears no other resemblance to the older song. Similarly, “The Party” quickly veers away from the familiar into all-new hooks that sound fresh when paired against older, tried-and-tested ideas. As for the hooks, it’s hard to remember a time when Cheap Trick sounded this abundant with catchy parts that move you to sing along. Just as importantly, the band breathes life into every note on In Another World with a verve that’s nothing less than shocking at this point in its career.

After coming out of the gate with their fiery, Jack Douglas-produced self-titled debut album in 1977, Cheap Trick spent the rest of the ‘70s putting out records—In Color, Heaven Tonight and Dream Police—that presented the band (not necessarily by its own choice) as purveyors of radio-friendly power-pop. Nielsen has remarked over the years that the band’s label at the time, Epic, essentially forced them to accept mixes of those albums that weren’t as raw as he would have liked. And while Zander’s airy, heartthrob vocal style certainly fits the “power-pop” bill (especially on the new material), Cheap Trick were way heavier than those classic albums indicate.

Zander’s rhythm guitar, along with Nielsen’s explosive playing and bassist Tom Petersson’s 12-string bass work, created a dense—at times, even harsh—wall of sound. Petersson, the musician who first proposed the invention of the 12-string bass, has always been crucial to the band’s lush tone, at least when they’ve managed to achieve it. Cheap Trick got even softer and more pop-oriented in the ‘80s, and they’ve in a sense been chasing their own past glories ever since. They’ve often arrived at intriguing results, but if we’re being honest, it’s been at least three decades since anyone expected any new twists from Cheap Trick.

Which is what makes the new album’s blend of old and new flavours such a left-field triumph. In the past, when the band tried jangle-lite arrangements and keyboard strings like what we hear on the new song “Another World,” the menu consisted mostly of air-fluffed power-ballad soufflé. Today, those same types of moves at least contain organic traces. “Another World” is basically, a modern-day power ballad, but you can hear the flesh and bone that went into it. To be clear, it’s pretty apparent at this point that Cheap Trick aren’t going to come close to recapturing the thrilling roar of their stage sound circa 1978, but they don’t have to. In fact, if the new material is any indication, the band sounds liberated, loose and more alive than it has in years for not pressing too hard.

Album opener “The Summer Looks Good on You,” for example, marries the dissonant chord voicings of the gloomy debut album track “The Ballad of TV Violence” with an infectious Beach Boys-style harmony that resounds with hope and possibility. Undoubtedly, the song was custom-crafted for driving with the windows down and letting the wind blow your troubles away. For the time being, that’s more than enough. Cheap Trick and others from their graduating class may be perfectly content to carry on as walking memes, but In Another World reminds us that this veteran rock act still has lifeblood coursing through its veins.

I’ve always admired Cheap Trick. First of all, they didn’t look like any other band. They had two bonafide looking rock stars in lead singer Robin Zander and bassist Tom Peterson. Their great guitar player Rick Nielsen looked like a Leo Gorcey from the old Bowery Boys films and the drummer Bun E Carlos looked like an old uncle you would have somewhere.

They were a hard-working band from Rockford Illinois in the mid-70s. None of their first three albums made it in the top 40 but they did have a single to chart…a single off their third album “Heaven Tonight” was the first to chart in America…“Surrender” (Studio Version) peaked at #61 in 1978. They were not getting any traction in America but in Japan, they were getting huge.

They toured Japan in 1978 with a Beatlemania atmosphere and played at Budakon and recorded a live album there. “Cheap Trick at Budakon” is what finally broke them in America in 1979.

They never had that milestone studio album that really marked their career like some bands but they made enough good music to be remembered. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.

Cheap Trick have never stopped. Since 1974, those familiar faces — drummer Bun E. Carlos, guitarist Rick Nielsen, bassist Tom Petersson and singer Robin Zander — have become part of rock ‘n’ roll’s fabric and a pop-culture staple.

Cheap Trick is an American rock ‘n’ roll institution.

Formed in Rockford, Illinois in 1973, they were grouped with the era’s reigning arena-rock kingpins by the time they went multi-platinum with the landmark live album, Cheap Trick At Budokanin 1979. But the band always had an acerbic, sneakily subversive edge lurking beneath their larger-than-life, cartoonish persona. They might have shared a producer with Aerosmith in the ’70s, but Cheap Trick felt closer to punk. Dig deep into their catalogue and you’ll find songs about serial killers, suicide, middle-aged pedophiles, pot-smoking parents, and other darkly comic snapshots from the underbelly of Middle America.

The band’s main songwriter is guitarist Rick Nielsen, whose dweeby stage clothes and knowingly ridiculous performance gimmicks — the multi-neck guitars, the dozens upon dozens of tossed-off picks are complemented by a deeply sarcastic sense of humour and an unmatched ability to chronicle suburban kinkiness. His songs are a big reason why Cheap Trick remains a common touchstone for a wide range of artists who would never otherwise commingle.  Unlike so many other bands that have broken up, reunited, cashed in, traded up, fell apart and reunited again, Cheap Trick have just always been there — whether they sell millions of albums or struggle to dent the charts, and delivering great live shows all the while. Few, if any, other bands have that kind of track record, and its most dedicated fans have stuck by the group though its massive arena gigs and even the small club shows.

Cheap Trick’s recorded legacy is full of genius-level highs and somewhat embarrassing lows. Thankfully, the ups outweigh the downs for Rockford, Ill.’s most famous export. From that first album in 1977, right up through 2009’s The Latest, the band has continued to deliver high-energy rock ‘n’ roll songs stocked full of melody, anger, sweetness, absurdity, cleverness and, most of all, great hooks.

As we look through the highlights of their recorded works, Cheap Trick’s the albums uncover a long and fruitful legacy. sticking to just their studio albums for the moment discounting their best selling album, 1979’s “Live At Budokhan”. So many gems from their vast catalogue.

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In Another World (2021)

Rick Neilsen says The more I hear it, the more I like it. When you’re doing it, I don’t compare it to this or that unless it’s a direct steal from somebody or a direct steal from ourselves. We started it on Big Machine, and then as we were doing it, BMG Records wanted it. What’s this, record companies clamouring over us? We’ve been around so long, we’re never going to be the next new thing. We don’t know how to dance. We’d lose on American Idol or any of those shows. We’d never make it. But, they get what we do. There was no interference.

I like the rock stuff. “Summer Looks Good On You,” that’s a fun one. I like “Boys & Girls & Rock ‘n’ Roll.” They’re all kind of different.

I think we’re respected because we never gave up. We made every mistake there is — we’ve had success, we’ve had failure, but we keep going. To me, that’s success, the fact that we’ve done 6,000 shows and played seven nights a week, for no money, in awful places. But we always believe in ourselves. In Another World is out via BMG Records on April 9th.

Cheap Trick At Budokan (1979)

Rick Nielsen: We were starting to get some popularity because of playing with Queen and Kiss, the tours in ’77. When we played with Queen, we opened up two of the shows in Milwaukee and Madison. I think Thin Lizzy was supposed to open for them, but I’m glad they didn’t because we got the chance to open for them. The Japanese press were there for Queen, because they were huge there. But the Japanese press liked us, too. After the show, they asked me to write an article, what’s it like to tour with Queen. I’m so full of crap, I’ll write anything. What do I know? We used to make fun of every band, and Queen was one of them. But we didn’t on those two nights.

After I wrote the article, it came out in Japan and we started getting fan mail. And there were caricatures of ourselves in the Japanese magazines. We were kind of easy to draw funny. And then we had a number one hit with “Clock Strikes Ten.” And it’s like, only in Japan! Holy cow, what a great place. And then we started getting more and more fan mail. We hadn’t even been there. But I thought they were the smartest country on Earth.

So, in ’78, around the “Heaven Tonight” record, we went there, and it was like Beatlemania for us. They loved Cheap Trick! We flew coach from Chicago, and here were 5,000 kids when we landed. I thought, “Who in the heck’s on this plane?” We were in the back of the plane, a little late getting off. They were standing on top of the terminal screaming, and it’s like, “Wow, gee, careful there.” After we go through customs, the security people put us in these taxi cabs, and all these taxi cabs chased us from the airport all the way to where our hotel was. People were screaming, hanging out the windows. It was like, “Wow, this is cool.”

At that time, it was Tom and myself in one room, and Bun E. and Rob in the other room. We were sharing rooms then, but it was better than the U.S. because we’d probably be sharing a room for four people instead of two and two.

Every show we had was sold out. We didn’t know what the Budokan was. The Budokan made us famous, but we made the Budokan famous. I think Robin said, “Here’s a song from our new album,” and it was.

At Budokan

‘The Doctor’ (1986)

‘The Doctor’ is the sound of a rock ‘n’ roll band completely lost in the maze of mid-’80s production (courtesy of Tony Platt). Synth-driven rhythms, castrated guitars and dated gimmickry make this the band’s nadir. It’s not even so much that the songs are terrible, but it still sounds more like a bad Cars record than Cheap Trick. After a few poor-selling albums, the band was under pressure to deliver a hit, but despite efforts, it backfired.

The Doctor

If 2016’s terrific Bang Zoom Crazy … Hello was a long awaited comeback after a seven year lapse, then this year’s rapid follow-up shows that was no anomaly. Cheap Trick are determined to keep the adrenaline pumping.

With their Studio album number 18 , blasts out of the starting gate like a rabid stallion on uppers as the salacious “You Got It Going On” pounds out a hard rock riff as earth shaking as anything in the AC/DC catalog. At 64, Robin Zander’s vocals remain powerful and founding guitarist Rick Nielsen proves himself the king of power pop/rock hooks. Ditto for the following “Long Time Coming” whose simplistic lyrics of “Shake it, shake it, shake it/I’ll let it blow my mind/a real pole grinder” won’t win any Pulitzer Prizes but as pedal to the metal rockers go, it leaves most poseurs half their age in the dust.

And so it goes through ten tracks (13 on the expanded edition—worth springing the extra bucks for the killer cover of The Move’s psychedelic rocker “Blackberry Way”) as Cheap Trick grind through the paces. Only a few mid-album ballads like the anthemic “Floating Down” give you a chance to catch your breath between hot tamale sizzlers guaranteed to be future live staples such as “Brand New Name on an Old Tattoo” and the nitro-burning “Listen to Me.”

Most of the Beatles nods apparent throughout Trick’s long lifespan, and which came full circle when they covered “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” to commemorate that album’s 40th anniversary, are gone. Rather the swirling strings added to “Nowhere” sound like a reference to ELO, who were themselves heavily indebted to the Fab Four. But fist pumpers like “Radio Lover” are just pure gritty, garage punk rockers this quartet was likely churning out 40 some years ago, before their 1977 debut.

Few acts inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as Cheap Trick deservedly was in 2016, are cranking out music as fresh, honest, energized and explosive as these guys have released in the past two years. And if this recent burst in activity keeps going, they will be the poster boys for how ageing rock and rollers can stay relevant without selling out or trying to be hip.

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Dream Police

One of my favourite CHEAP TRICK  albums is Dream Police, it was released thirty-seven years ago today on September 21st, 1979. I knew it was 1979, Dream Police, befitting the name of the record label that released it, is epic. it was  Cheap Trick’s fourth studio album, but also a big step forward in it’s sound and production. Filled with orchestration, and additional keyboards, Rick Nielsen’s riffs carry the tunes “The House is Rocking (With Domestic Problems)”, Robin Zander’s vocals are of course, stellar (“Voices), Bun E. Carlos’ drumming is efficient and swinging “Need Your Love” and the whole thing is anchored by Tom Petersson’s melodic and at times ominous 12-string bass guitar “Gonna Raise Hell”.

Dream Police was the instant, and perfect, follow-up to the band’s new-found success after the release of the Live At Budokan Album. In many ways, Dream Police just solidified every aspect of what Cheap Trick had been working towards since day one, and wove it all together into one perfectly simmered brew. The album’s title cut opens things up, and is so full of energy, excitement and flat-out fun, it was (and still is) irresistible. With a simple one-two snare drum intro, things are off and running directly toward sheer jubilation.

The title track was the big radio hit, and remains a staple of every Cheap Trick show to this day. Other highlights include the sheer pop brilliance of “Way of the World” (guaranteed to improve any mood), is one of the band’s great lost songs. Before they began pulling it into live shows over the last few years, the song seemed all but forgotten. It’s one of countless great rockers in the band’s catalog. Again, the strings add a certain excitement here, just some nice coloring, never flooding the gate or weighing down the rock action at hand. As is so often the case, vocalist extraordinaire Zander shows off those pipes — power and grace, truly one of the greatest singers in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.

Side two kicks in with the classic Cheap Trick sounds of “I’ll Be with You Tonight.” It’s a no-frills power pop item that dates back to 1974, with a big guitar hook that sets the scene. Everything falls into place from there. It’s the Raspberries, the Move and the Beatles all rolled up into one perfect ball.

The aforementioned “Voices” – a beautiful ballad which should have been as big as “The Flame” was nine years later; “Need Your Love” is a killer, relentless jam, as is the mean, dark “Gonna Raise Hell.”

The album still sounds great today; the songs still hold up. Most Cheap Trick fans will rank this album as among the band’s best.

  • The release of the album was delayed for months because of the runaway success of the Live at Budokan album
  • That snapping snare drum sound on “Gonna Raise Hell” is augmented by 2×4’s slapping together
  • Steve Lukather played the solo on “Voices”
  • “Need Your Love” was first heard on the Live At Budokan album