Music

Cheap Trick: Rockford

Cheap Trick had their best moments early in their 30-year history...until now. Rockford takes us back to a time when the entire album was worth the listen.


Cheap Trick

Rockford

Label: Big3
US Release Date: 2006-06-06
UK Release Date: Available as import
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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.

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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