During the 2005 calendar year, your humble reviewer took in 21 concerts for review/perusal. Granted, several of those shows were blowaways, but the one that stuck out was a band who opened up for headliner Alice Cooper: Cheap Trick. Seeing the Rockford, Illinois, quartet up on stage, bristling with tight, taut energy, and playing a majority of their canon of excellent songs caught me unaware. Those 60 minutes stuck out when it was rumored that the boys were releasing a new CD this year. But, the key problem with Cheap Trick, except for the first few albums of their 30-year career was this: each album has a few excellent songs, but they hadn’t made a great overall album since Dream Police.
Without hesitation, their newest release, Rockford (released on their independent Big3 label), is their best overall effort since their first four studio markers on the music scene, Cheap Trick, In Color (and Black and White), Heaven Tonight, and Dream Police. Just like those efforts, this album is focused on memorable melodies and solid hooks. It’s not as though the quartet had to re-invent themselves, though. Robin Zander still has a rock voice, and can handle a rhythm guitar part flawlessly. Tom Peterson still does the bass/backing vocals thing well, and drummer Bun E. Carlos (nee Brad Carlson) still can hammer away with the best of them, while keeping it simple. Zany looking kooky guitarist/chief songwriter/backing vocalist/focal point Rick Nielsen somehow finds new catchy melodies to make the focal point of each Cheap Trick tune.
Of course, it’s no secret that one of the band’s biggest influences was/is the Beatles. For the Trick, it’s all about hooking the listener in with a different flavor of ear candy, and whether it’s the guitars or the harmonies that flush out the Fab-Four influence, they can still make it their own sound. Rockford takes one back to the days when it seemed effortless for Cheap Trick to come up with original material that sounded fresh.
The album starts with a two-minute, poppy ditty titled “Welcome to the World” (shades of “Hello There”), where Zander follows Nielsen’s sing-songy melody to celebrate the actual birth day of someone somewhere. Then comes “Perfect Stranger”, which, in a perfect world, would bring this band back to the forefront of the pop/rock sector of the music industry. You wanna talk about “catchy”? This song has it all, and with it’s driving beat it’s not a standard ballad like “The Flame”.
The band, without major label constrictions, seems to have made Rockford as much for themselves as they did for their core audience, and it works out just about all the way through. “If It Takes a Lifetime” is another ballad disguised as a rocker, and has a sing-along chorus to boot. “Come on Come on Come on” (one more “Come On” in the title than the tune on In Color) is a punchy rocker, while “O Claire” is a full-on ballad, complete with keyboards — and it’s still a good listen.
Everywhere you turn, there’s a solid song (“Give It Away” and “Decaf” will cause heads to bop along). Cheap Trick has always been capable of making good, solid songs. What they had gotten away from was producing 10-12 of them on the same record. But the boys are back in the game with Rockford, a totally enjoyable listen from start to finish. Dare I say this should be one of the best albums of 2006? I think so.