What is it about Cheap Trick that’s allowed this quartet to endure four plus decades? The simple combination of hooks, harmonies and fat riffs that easily make them the greatest American power pop band still trodding the stage? Or the cartoonish approach to rock and roll that’s made them an influence on legions of younger acts?
Whatever it is, the foursome of Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson and Dax Nielsen continue to be a vibrant and relevant beast of a band that hasn’t lost a step. One spin of Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello, the band’s new effort and 17th studio outing, proves that.
Co-produced by longtime collaborator Julian Raymond (Glen Campbell, Fastball), these 11 songs snap, crackle…and yes, pop in a way that befits the band’s legacy. “Blood Red Lips” has an irresistible stomp to it that trades off between an infectious chorus and Zander’s snarling howl, while the cascading chords and thump of “No Direction Home” make for the perfect nexus of pop and rock.
And if the melancholy sorrow, Beatle-esque harmonies and couplets like “I get so sad and lonely/It hurts just to walk in the park/It’s only when you’re gone/I’ve got to turn my radio on/So sing me a song/You sing my blues around” that make up “Sing My Blues Away” don’t stir that part of your psyche where heartbreak and hope coexist, then you don’t have a soul. A reading of “The In Crowd” that’s far more sinister than Dobie Gray’s original version of this Billy Page classic is an added bonus.
While these songs had their origins while Cheap Trick was sans a label deal, Scott Borchetta and Big Machine (home to Taylor Swift) came knocking with Raymond in tow, who just happened to be the label’s vice president of A&R. It’s a development Nielsen and his bandmates welcomed.
“We started recording and we were basically doing it on our own. We didn’t have our own record deal and just wanted to record. Before you knew it, we had 30 songs,” Nielsen explained. “Right about that time, we got an offer to get signed by Scott Borchetta and Big Machine. We’d done it on our dime and all of a sudden, some of the pressure went off once somebody wants to take responsibility for what we’re up to.”
With the new album getting such a warm reception and the band getting its long-awaited induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past April, 2016 has become the year of these Rockford, IL, natives. Like most bands, the Hall’s machinations weren’t really on their radar despite the opposite being the case for Cheap Trick’s devoted fanbase, who felt kudos were long overdue for these Midwestern stalwarts.
While there was slightly above-average kerfluffle going on around this year’s ceremony, for Nielsen and his crew, they couldn’t have been happier with how the night went.
“It was a little frantic but it was all cool. It was a treat,” he said. “It was an honor rather than this being a lot of work or trouble or any of the excuses everyone else used.”
Currently on the road with Heart and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Cheap Trick is thrilled with the reaction they’re getting from a set packed with classics, a couple of new songs and a delivery that Nielsen describes as “Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.” One place Cheap Trick won’t be playing is the 2016 Republican National Convention that’s being held in Cleveland, home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While the band was offered $100,000 to plug in, Cheap Trick passed, a decision Nielsen has no regrets about.
“We were made an offer, and we said no thank you. I think no matter what the political scene is, it’s probably not a good idea to be aligned with either party, either way,” he said. “[But] this party—forget it. I don’t want to be associated with any of that stuff at all.”
Cheap Trick will be appearing with Heart and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts on July 28 at Nikon @ Jones Beach Theater, 1000 Ocean Pkwy., Wantagh. Visit www.jonesbeach.com or call 800-745-3000 for more information.