CHEAP TRICK: STANDING ON THE EDGE (1985)
1) Little Sister; 2) Tonight It's You; 3) She's Got Motion; 4) Love Comes; 5) How About You; 6) Standing On The Edge; 7) This Time Around; 8) Rock All Night; 9) Cover Girl; 10) Wild Wild Women.
Truest album title ever — this is a huge letdown compared to Next Position Please, but if we keep in mind the horror that would follow on its heels, then 1985 does present the band as truly «standing on the edge», before taking the final plunge the following year. Ironically, they are turning back to Jack Douglas here for production, so you'd think the idea was to try and recapture the spirit of their very first album. But in 1985, that just wasn't meant to be. The musical values had changed, the atmospheric demands had changed, and the production standards had «progressed» towards the point when, during the final stage, mixer-extraordinaire Tony Platt came in, mixed the plastic keyboards higher than Nielsen's guitar, put a whole load of ear-splitting electronic effects on Bun E. Carlos' drums (so much so that Carlos allegedly asked to be credited for «acoustic drums» to preserve his reputation), and made it all sound like a bunch of loud, chaotic, and essentially tuneless party-rock with a hair metal flavor.
Of course, we should never place all the blame on the producer. Nielsen and Zander still co-write most of the songs — and they also allow them to be «doctored» by a guy called Mark Radice, who plays the awful keyboards and shares the credits for 8 out of 10 numbers here; considering that his previous work expertise included collaborations with Michael Bolton and Barry Manilow, you can probably understand what that means even without assessing his contributions for the Tricksters. As for the «spiritual content» of the songs, it is largely confined to the same two styles that, although directly contradicting each other, formed the bulk of any popular rock artist's repertoire at the time — cock-rockers and power ballads.
I am not saying that the songwriting is totally abysmal. If you can stand the production long enough to submit yourself to 3-4 listens, it becomes clear that the guys are still inspired by classic pop and R&B: ʽHow About Youʼ, for instance, hops along to the beat of ʽEverybody Needs Somebody To Loveʼ (been watching a tad too much of The Blues Brothers, eh?); ʽLittle Sisterʼ borrows the verse melody of the Stones' ʽ19th Nervous Breakdownʼ; and ʽCover Girlʼ is — theoretically — an exuberant power pop anthem whose roots lie in the classic singles of The Who; the problem is that you have to adjust your ears past several layers of glossy noise and noisy gloss to understand this, and with this kind of derivativeness, the playing style, the arrangement, and the mix are super-important. And they're awful.
The most bombastic and sentimental track on the album, ʽTonight It's Youʼ, was chosen as the lead single, and it even managed to temporarily put them back on the charts — at the expense of drying the last drops of irony and intelligence, leaving behind a completely straightforward serenade, capable of waking the neighbors for miles around by way of the electronic drum cannonade and hideously overdriven acoustic guitars that merge with the synthesizers in one silky-glossy whole. It's got a solid construction, for sure, rising from a slow start to a desperate mid-section to the bombastic knight-in-shining-armor chorus, but everything is so obviously calculated that I am not sure how it would be possible to praise this song and put down any given Aerosmith power ballad at the same time — and since I have already done the latter, I am obliged to refuse the former. Which is, by the way, quite easy for me, because I have yet to experience a real tear flowing down my cheek as Zander's voice, singing "all I want is a place in your heart to fall into!", cuts me to the bone and presents the very idea of romantic love in a completely new light. (Also, doesn't Zander have to reduce himself to microscopic proportions in order to achieve this?)
Ultimately, I'd rather go with the playful stuff like ʽLittle Sisterʼ and ʽCover Girlʼ and ʽHow About Youʼ, all of which could be very decent tracks with less obnoxious production. But sometimes they go decidedly over the top with the playfulness — ʽShe's Got Motionʼ, somehow forgetting about the romanticism of ʽTonight It's Youʼ, plunges into the joys of totally casual sex and features one of the most absurd musical imitations of the love-making process ever recorded in the history of poodle-metal; and then there's ʽRock All Nightʼ, which was probably the band's worst song recorded up to that point — both of these tunes are a good preview of the sonic nightmare of The Doctor, and the most horrible thing about it is that Nielsen and Zander probably thought that with this crap, they were essentially doing their usual loud-and-ironic schtick. Loud, yes, but any sense of irony is completely lost — atmosphere-wise, this stuff is indistinguishable from your average Def Leppard or Mötley Crüe: really, what is the difference between ʽGirls, Girls, Girlsʼ and ʽWild Wild Womenʼ? Okay, so there's probably no need to hate either, but they're all just leftover curios from the AIDS decade.
No thumbs down, though, for a couple of reasons — they go real easy on the power ballads for now, and I like it how even through all the sonic muck you have these echoes of traditional Sixties-style melodicity every once in a while. Indeed, I can easily imagine at least half of these songs done really well: maybe if they'd thought about re-recording them during or after their period of musical convalescence, the results would be more impressive than with the actual new material they penned in the 21st century. But instead, I think they ultimately just forgot this record ever existed — ʽTonight It's Youʼ seems to be the only song from here that keeps cropping up in their live shows. Too bad, I'd rather it be ʽLittle Sisterʼ or ʽCover Girlʼ.