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Friday, September 16, 2016

Cheap Trick: One On One


1) I Want You; 2) One On One; 3) If You Want My Love; 4) Oo La La La; 5) Lookin' Out For Number One; 6) She's Tight; 7) Time Is Runnin'; 8) Saturday At Midnight; 9) Love's Got A Hold On Me; 10) I Want Be Man; 11) Four Letter Word.

A temporary, if not completely satisfactory, rebound, with the band going through some signifi­cant changes. First was Tom Petersson leaving the group, replaced first by Pete Comita and later on, by Jon Brant, arriving just in time for the early sessions for this album. More importantly, not being worthy of two albums in a row produced by George Martin, they were teamed up with Roy Thomas Baker, who at that point was mostly famous for producing the majority of Queen's al­bums, but also heavily invested in the New Wave sound — his hand is right there on all four of the The Cars' first albums, as well as on Alice Cooper's Flush The Fashion, one of the funniest and overall most successful criss-crosses between Seventies' glam rock and New Wave produc­tion techniques, and it is quite possible that this was precisely what Cheap Trick had in mind when they entered the studio with him at the end of 1981.

Production values aside, One On One was decidedly less innovative and experimental than All Shook Up — I guess you could qualify it as «a return to their rock'n'roll roots», with most of the songs being loud, braggartly, and often quite vulgar, as if the band were consciously afraid that All Shook Up made them look softened and sissied up, and now, before it was too late, they just had to do some serious penance at the altars of KISS and AC/DC. Unfortunately, this was not exactly a way to recapture the magic of In Color or even of Dream Police: not only did Baker's production tone down the former raw power of Nielsen's guitar, no matter how frantically the guy still tore at the strings in the studio (and let's not even talk about the obligatory electronic effects on the drums, reducing poor Bun E. Carlos to the same cyborg status as... well, almost everybody else at the time), but, aside from production issues, the band's mentality itself seems to have suf­fered — One On One relates to the 1977-79 records more or less the same way as The Stones' It's Only Rock'n'Roll relates to their 1968-72 records. Something, some of that barely tangible vibe that separates inimitable class from crafty professionalism, was irrevocably lost in the tran­sition between 1979 and 1980, and no conscious effort could help regain it.

Nevertheless, in terms of consistency and gut level enjoyment One On One is still a big im­provement over the stiff seriousness of All Shook Up. At its core lies a series of brash, sex-crazed musical explosions that are at least closer in spirit to classic feel-good Trick than songs like ʽStop This Gameʼ or ʽCan't Stop It But I'm Gonna Tryʼ. We got back some noise, some cat­chy choruses, some headbanging fun — at the expense, however, of a serious headache from too much headbanging: track after track, the roof is brought down with so much verve that you can't shake loose the feeling that these guys actually stormed the local tavern with a straightforward intention of raising hell... well, that's what they promised us on Dream Police, wasn't it? With songs like ʽI WANT YOU!!!ʼ, ʽOO LA LA LA!!!ʼ, ʽLOOKIN' OUT FOR NUMBER ONE!!!ʼ, and especially the anti-grammatical apeman anthem ʽI WANT BE MAN!!!ʼ (and yes, they just as well might have been spelled in all caps on the original release), we are given a whole lotta Zan­der at his most throat-tearin', though, I am afraid, not a whole lotta Nielsen at his most guitar-lovin' — he doesn't solo all that much, and the riffage is way too often reduced to hard rock, rockabilly, or punk clichés. Again, you could blame Baker's production for the «plastic» sound of Rick's guitar playing, but essentially, it's a matter of Nielsen not trying too hard. Even the best melodies sound oddly derivative — for instance, the opening riff of the title track is basically a variation on AC/DC's ʽWhole Lotta Rosieʼ! The song is still fun, but the downside is that it will never be half as fun as ʽWhole Lotta Rosieʼ anyway.

Of the two singles that charted, ʽShe's Tightʼ was just one more of these rockers — okay, but in­substantial, a mix of Ramones-like guitar chords with Cars-like bubbly synths whose title can't help reminding me of contemporary Stones songs like ʽShe's So Coldʼ or ʽShe Was Hotʼ, girl-crazy material, high on testosterone, but strictly B-level. The bigger hit was ʽIf You Want My Loveʼ, the album's only ballad where they try to invoke the Beatle muse with moderate success; I wouldn't exactly call the song «magic», but it is hard not to get infected by Zander's exuberance, and a few well-placed falsetto wooooohs never hurt anybody. Besides, it is probably the best composed song on the album — several sections, ascending-descending patterns, a mix of simple romance, desperation, and anthemic catchiness: everything a decent power ballad needs to be, even if they would very soon forget about all these ingredients.

On the other hand, the record is not entirely gaffe-free: ʽSaturday At Midnightʼ is not only a weird leftover from the disco era, but its chorus fairly openly and directly rips off ABBA's ʽSum­mer Night Cityʼ, and the tune in general is a messy oddity — when Nielsen hits you with that guitar break in the middle, it sounds like basic rock'n'roll, but the rest of the song is crude dance-pop, and rather obnoxious at that. I, for one, much prefer ʽTime Is Runnin'ʼ, with its subtle nods to Roy Orbison in the harmonies, and the pop-punk stride of ʽLove's Got A Hold On Meʼ that surround ʽSaturday At Midnightʼ on both sides — each of these songs could have made for a much better single. The last two tracks also leave something to be desired: the mantra-like "I wanna live in your body! I wanna live in your body!" at the end of ʽI Want Be Manʼ is not as bad as you could think it is (it's a song about robots who want to be people and about people who want to be robots), but the entire tune is too loud and brawny to qualify as a sci-fi parable and ends up sounding stupid; and ʽFour Letter Wordʼ (L-O-V-E, in case you're worried) ends the album on a really dumb cock-rock note with fake arena applause, «guitar hero» steroid riffs and way too much overscreaming.

Altogether, this is a weird proposition — pushing the balance so far in the direction of the rocking side that for every real good track, there's one another that teeters on the brink of self-parody. Still, as far as unreasonable disbalances go, I certainly prefer a rockier version of Cheap Trick to a poppier version of Cheap Trick, and the album does get a thumbs up: ʽSaturday At Midnightʼ, ʽFour Letter Wordʼ, and the awful dumb vocalise on ʽOo La La Laʼ aside, you can still have a light-headed fun romp through most of the other tracks.

1 comment:

  1. Petersson's departure really hurt the bands sound. His double bass provided most of the heavy riffing on their previous releases. Without that the sound became much tinnier and Neilson was always more of a flourish guitar player vs a riff man (especially after 79). Without that bottom end to anchor him he was left flailing a little.
    As much as I appreciate the man it pains me to say that as his confidence gave out the band suffered.