This is looking like Cheap Trick’s year.
Over their long career, the band from Rockford, Illinois have seen their share of creative and commercial ups and downs. Their punk-era salvo of early albums was seminal yet underappreciated, until the surprise success of Cheap Trick at Budokan brought belated respect and superstardom, along with the high expectations to go with it. Alas, Cheap Trick struggled through the MTV era, hitting with the occasional great single nonetheless. Their late ‘80s commercial rejuvenation via “The Flame” proved to be short lived, and since then the band have released a handful of decent-to-very good albums, toured constantly, and maintained a modest but fervent fan base.
They maintained a remarkably consistent lineup, too, the core quartet holding together save bassist Tom Petersson’s ‘80s hiatus. That made the recent acrimony between drummer Bun E. Carlos and the rest of the band even more shocking and embarrassing. Carlos had stopped touring in 2010, allegedly due to health issues, and was replaced by guitarist Rick Nielsen’s son Daxx. But Carlos had not officially left the band, and sued over money he felt he was being cheated out of. The others counter-sued, the case was thrown out, and the band’s 40-year legacy was tarnished in an unexpected way.
But getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can, at least temporarily, cover a multitude of ill will, not to mention treacly MOR hits like “Ghost Town”. That’s exactly what happened when Cheap Trick were voted in earlier in 2016. Carlos appeared with his bandmates at the induction ceremony, a fitting career highlight for one of the most influential, most rockin’ rock bands in American history.
In a nifty bit of serendipity, Cheap Trick have released their first new album in seven years just in time for the festivities. As a result of the induction, Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello is sure to end up in many more hands than it would have otherwise. Which is great, because the album is not just the inevitable “return to form” bestowed on beloved musicians of a certain age. Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello is one of the best Cheap Trick albums… ever. If that sounds absurd to say about the 17th studio album, from a band who are all into their 60s, well, Cheap Trick have always been a bit kooky that way.
Let’s be realistic, first. Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello simply cannot match the freshness and pure, unfettered cool of the band’s immortal late ‘70s run. Cheap Trick have always toed an imaginary line between power pop and hard rock, and the clean but wide-angle production on the new album clearly favor the latter at the expense of the former. There’s no question about whether Cheap Trick want to ride off into the Middle-of-the-Road Sunset or keep on rockin’.
Here’s what is key, though, and easy to take for granted. Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello is 11 tracks of Cheap Trick doing what nobody can do better than them, and doing it damn well. They are invigorated, vital, and ready for your car stereo just in time for summer. There is the immediate, head-on rush of “Heart on the Line” and “No Direction”, the latter with a life-giving Nielsen arpeggio. There is the hammy, glammy stomp of “Blood Red Lips”, the streamlined new wave of “Sun Never Sets”, the urgent crunch of “Roll Me”, the glorious disco-boogie of “Long Time No See”, and then some.
Even the token stab at contemporary rock airplay, power ballad “When I Wake Up Tomorrow”, manages to impress, with its dark minor chords and Robin Zander’s moody, Bowie-esque croon. Zander, by the way, still has that voice, voice anyone who has ever wanted to be a famous rock singer has always wished they had. It sounds as perfectly virile as ever. Not even the absence of Carlos, a first for a Cheap Trick record, can keep Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello down. Daxx Nielsen does a fine job, holding his own while paying tribute to Carlos’ pummeling, controlled-chaos style.
There are times when you want to will a veteran act’s new album to be exceptional, just because their career standing seems to dictate it should be so. Well, Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello requires no act of charity. It really is that good.