“Can you honestly tell me you forgot? Forgot the magnetism of Robin Zander, or the charisma of Rick Nielsen?”
Ah, yes… Damone. Ridgemont High’s resident ticket scalper knew about Cheap Trick’s power pop appeal. And though the band’s lengthy career continues into the 21st century, there was a magical stretch of time from the late ‘70s into the early ‘80s where the Tricksters ruled Japan (and ultimately the States) with irresistible tunes like “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender”. The band mixed sharp songwriting with catchy hooks and power chords, played large and small venues with equal skill, and experienced platinum record sales while looking as anti-rock star as possible. In actuality, Cheap Trick was decidedly cartoonish in appearance, (squeaky clean and impeccably dressed singer, shaggy yet anonymous bass player, Pillsbury Dough Boy drummer, and of course, gonzo guitarist) yet the quartet from Rockford, Illinois compiled a sizable catalogue and bridged the gap between lumbering arena rock behemoths and skinny tied new wavers. Cheap Trick was, for several years, a huge global sensation.
The band’s zenith came in 1979 with the release of the monster live album, At Budokan, and its fourth studio recording, Dream Police. While the former has evolved into the band’s defining moment, the latter generated two hit singles and remains a prime example of Cheap Trick’s sophisticated musical dexterity. With the re-release of Dream Police, fans can step back two-and-a-half decades and revisit a time before smarmy teen divas, plastic boy bands, and MTV. A time when Cheap Trick’s infectiously quirky approach dominated radio.
With the addition of four bonus tracks, the newly minted version of Dream Police offers a baker’s dozen of songs to re-examine and enjoy. Opening with the title track, the album is anchored by Rick Nielsen’s soaring (and shamefully underrated) fretwork. The music world’s own Huntz Hall and his custom guitar collection drive each song in various directions, alternately chugging along with Ted Nugent-esque solos and melodic riffing. Consider that Nielsen is responsible for penning all the included material (with occasional co-writing credit) and his creative genius becomes obvious. Nielsen’s playing is augmented by Robin Zander’s singing, as his vocals exude passion and energy irrespective of the given song’s tempo. It’s also interesting to hear the influences incorporated into Dream Police, from the Beatles (“Voices”) to ELO (“Way of the World”) to crunchy generic ‘70s rock (“Gonna Raise Hell”). Cheap Trick may have been power pop, but there are no signs of lightweight poppiness anywhere on the album. Truth be told, Dream Police is a heavy, polished effort, and one that sounds more contemporary in 2006 than it did in 1979.
As for bonus material, an alternate take of “Dream Police” is sandwiched between live versions of “The House is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)”, “Way of the World”, and the Tom Petersson-led “I Know What You Want”, all of which compliment their studio counterparts and offer attractive contrasts. The liner notes consist of band member commentary snippets for each track, as well as lyrics so that everyone can sing along. For a re-released album, Dream Police lacks many of the bells and whistles that fill other discs, but no worries, the record stands comfortably on its own. It’s as unpretentious and honest as the band that recorded it. Not bad for an album turning 27 this year.
Hey, Damone, don’t worry, man, we didn’t forget.