CHEAP TRICK: DREAM POLICE (1979)
1) Dream Police; 2) Way Of The World; 3) The House Is Rockin' (With Domestic Problems); 4) Gonna Raise Hell; 5) I'll Be With You Tonight; 6) Voices; 7) Writing On The Wall; 8) I Know What I Want; 9) Need Your Love.
Apparently, The Holy Trinity of classic Cheap Trick albums was meant to be a quaternity, but the unexpected success of Budokan led to the label delaying the release of the fourth studio album, and now it always gives off the impression of a «transition» between classic Trick and broken down Trick. It does have its own flavor, of course — namely, the addition of loud keyboards and strings that puts it more in line with mainstream arena-rock and dance-pop of that period — yet essentially, Dream Police still gives us the Trick we have grown to love, just the way they are: loud, reckless, humorous, sarcastic, and generally hooky.
So it may be a bit of a step down: there's nothing here that gets under your skin the way ʽHeaven Tonightʼ gets under it, and there is no blatantly successful generational anthem like ʽSurrenderʼ — the closest thing to a generational anthem would probably be the title track, which went on to become the band's last commonly recognized classic hit. Stylistically, it sounds not unlike Alice Cooper circa Billion Dollar Babies, a gruesome Orwellian nightmare story with Zander pulling a paranoid type to the best of his ability (I do have to say that he does much better when impersonating homicidal maniacs) and perfect climactic bits from Nielsen's synthesized strings. It's lots of theatrical fun, to be sure, but not really on the level of the band's top pieces — you don't get to feel true paranoia here, more like a funny caricature of it.
On the other hand, this is a pretty caricaturesque album in general, and I'll certainly take the joking nature of it over the band's Eighties' «seriousness» any time of day. And sometimes the goofiness really pays off well — ʽThe House Is Rockin'ʼ plays out like a straightforward headbanging rock'n'roller alright, until you remember the subtitle ʽ(With Domestic Problems)ʼ and understand that the song actually impersonates being pissed-off at the breakdown of a family relationship. Alternating between hilarity in the chorus ("oh boy, oh boy") and moments of seemingly real anger (exacerbated every time Nielsen takes to soloing — it's not every day that he gets to being that batshit crazy on his solos, and if the studio version is not enough for you, there's an early live version appended to the CD reissue where he's even crazier), it's one of their greatest pure glam-rock songs, with the entire band at its tightest (Bun E. Carlos gets a special medal of honor for keeping that complex beat throughout, unflinching), angriest and funniest at the same time.
Other times, the goofiness takes some getting used to: ʽI Know What I Wantʼ used to irritate the crap of me before I understood that they gave it to Tom Petersson to sing for a reason — there was no way Zander could have sung it in such a dorky manner. Clearly, it's a parody of a cheap arena-rocker, performed in such a way that it should be impossible to take the lead singer seriously as he wheezes his way through "it was love at first sight, when I looked in your eyes, I was blinded by the feelings in my heart..." like Don Kirshner with a clothespin around his nose. Of course, then the joke eventually wears thin, and unless you have new neighbors to irritate, you probably won't want to be enjoying it forever and ever.
The actual «progression» on the album comes in the form of large epics — each of the album's two sides ends with an extended number, and I'm guessing that this was not due to a lack of new material, but rather to Nielsen's desire to try and experiment with his guitar playing and the arrangements in various ways, stretching out like an art-rocker, but without any exaggerated virtuosity. I must say that it works, both times. ʽGonna Raise Hellʼ incorporates elements of disco (one more reason why it is so long — typical of dance-pop numbers of the era), both in terms of rhythm and orchestration, but Nielsen really shoots in all directions here, with hard rock riffs, blues licks, funky syncopation, and Beatlesque stretches of melodicity, and as repetitive as Zander's chorus seems to be, I have to say that few rock vocalists are capable of bellowing it out with as much conviction as the man does — you really do get to feel like the overtly patient bartender who'd like nothing as much as to toss that guy out the door, only he's a little afraid to do that...
And I do like this version of ʽNeed Your Loveʼ more than the even longer Budokan rendition. Zander's vocals, benefiting from the studio mix, sound even more psychedelic here, whereas the rhythm and lead guitars sound even scarier, especially as the song kicks into overdrive in the middle, and the whole thing becomes a pseudo-improvised jam with Nielsen trying out a new riff or solo every minute, almost like a tribute to a live Who track circa 1970. What is the song even about? Another psychotic outburst — the hero torn between maniacal pleading tenderness and a mad killing spree on which he embarks once the object of his passion has fled his grasp? Seems like it, in which case Nielsen's extended solo is a shooting spree, and Zander's final "need... your... love..." are the protagonist's last words before he puts the last bullet in his own head. There, I think that's all the enticement you need to go listen to that one again.
Putting it roughly, the album's not that serious, but all the songs are fun — and I haven't even mentioned the catchy (and sometimes deliciously trippy, particularly on the "world goes round... world goes round..." bit) ʽWay Of The Worldʼ, the psychedelic love ballad ʽVoicesʼ and those two other songs, I think one's poppier and the other's rockier, but both are good. So perhaps there's just fewer truly outstanding moments, but there can be no denying that this is still classic Cheap Trick classically doing what they do best — tossing off pop hooks, rocking their heads off, and putting a witty, humorous touch on all sorts of everyday situations like there was no tomorrow. With the fourth studio LP in a row delivering the goods, it's as if they just couldn't fail, right? No matter what happens? Thumbs up for eternity guaranteed? Oh boy, if only we could have foreseen what the Eighties would bring... then again, we'd probably either have to shoot ourselves dead, or everybody else dead. But then, it might not just have been the Eighties — see, Dream Police was essentially the last Cheap Trick album that the band made before they became megastars. And mega-stars, as it happens, no longer belong to themselves.