One of the most popular rock bands on the planet in the late 1970s and early 80s was Cheap Trick. From Japan to the Americas, they had millions of devoted fans. Visually, they were a puzzling blend of peculiar (wacky lead guitarist Rick Nielsen and burly drummer Bun E. Carlos) and pretty (long-haired lead singer Robin Zander and his bassist Tom Petersson). But musically, they were a powerhouse, combining Beatles-inspired pop songs with a harder rock edge. I was a big Cheap Trick fan in those days, owning all the albums and of course several t-shirts that I bought at their concerts. During the early days of their career, with albums like In Color, Heaven Tonight, and of course the phenomenal live album At Budokan, Cheap Trick were one of the very best bands in the business.
But don’t go thinking that Cheap Trick sold their amplifiers and curtailed their career all those years ago. No way, kiddies! Cheap Trick never stopped touring, and they continued to record albums, some of them very impressive ones. In fact, the last few years have seen them make a resurgence of sorts. Rockford, an album they released in 2006, ranks as one of their very best ever. This is classic Cheap Trick; melodic rockers and power pop ballads, songs that stick in your brain and leave you smiling. Guitarist Rick Neilsen is still a loveable maniac, and lead vocalist Robin Zander sounds as strong and assured as he did 30 years ago. Listen to him belt out the lyrics to “If It Takes a Lifetime” and “Every Night and Every Day” and you will be a believer all over again. The rhythm section of the band also remains the same: drummer Bun E. Carlos and bassist Thom Petersson still supplying the dependable backbone of the band’s distinctive sound. The more I play this album, the more I’m convinced it’s a classic. Not a weak song to be found.
The followup album to Rockford, 2009’s The Latest, is also very good, chock full of tasty tunes and wicked guitar licks. An inspired cover of Slade’s “When the Lights Go Out,” along with majestic originals such as “Miss Tomorrow” and “Everybody Knows” are just a few of the highlights. It’s very reassuring to hear these “old geezers” still making music that sounds as fresh and invigorating as their early albums. With albums as sumptuous as Rockford and The Latest, Cheap Trick have proven to their detractors that they are not a “cheap” novelty band geared to youngsters, that hit their peak decades ago.. You can call them survivors, but this is a group of very talented and creative musicians who are making some of the best music of their career.