CHEAP TRICK: BUSTED (1990)
1) Back 'n' Blue; 2) I Can't Understand It; 3) Wherever Would I Be; 4) If You Need Me; 5) Can't Stop Fallin' Into Love; 6) Busted; 7) Walk Away; 8) You Drive, I'll Steer; 9) When You Need Someone; 10) Had To Make You Mine; 11) Rock'n'Roll Tonight; 12) Big Bang.
Foreword/spoiler: I do indeed fully and completely conform to the general consensus that Busted is the worst Cheap Trick album, ever — with one important addition: most of the time, it does not even feel as if I'm listening to a Cheap Trick album here. This is more like a Bon-Jovi-meet-Michael-Bolton album, for some unexplained reason given to Cheap Trick to record. Where The Doctor was at least «rambunctious» — loud, cartoonish, irreverent, kicking up the dust, even if it did it all in a sonically disgusting manner — Busted is well-combed, sterile, polite, one hundred percent predictable adult pop. For all I know, these guys could get behind Celine Dion on one of her «rockier» nights out and nobody would even notice.
Of course, it all has to do with the success of ʽThe Flameʼ. The music industry saw that it was good (because it sold), and wasted no time in moving in for the kill, saddling Cheap Trick with tons of power ballads and sentimental rockers to confirm and expand the suave image — and no matter how much they would complain about it in the future, at the time they seemed happy to oblige, because much of that schlock was written by the band members themselves. Outside songwriters still remain involved on a casual basis, though, including Diane Warren, who gets the chance to rectify her silly mistake with ʽGhost Townʼ (i. e., writing a decent retro-pop song) and come up with a solid, bullet-proof, totally reliable musical atrocity called ʽWherever Would I Beʼ (amazingly, it didn't sell all that well — probably needed a brain-numbing Hollywood blockbuster to go along with it, with Rick Nielsen starring as Bruce Willis).
The boys themselves turn out to be strong competitors for Diane the Terrible, contributing ʽCan't Stop Fallin' Into Loveʼ — never mind that "falling into love" is not wholly grammatical, but any romantic power ballad that begins with the line "hey little ladies, there's some cool young dude" is guilty before it has a chance to get to the bridge, let alone the chorus. That said, the chorus is an overblown nightmare in itself — bringing on visions of the National Football League singing it in unison at the Super Bowl rather than anything subtle and emotional. Not that subtle and emotional had ever been Cheap Trick's forte, but this is the first album where their understanding of «love» completely eludes both subtlety and irony, leaving only power. If you were a girl and you had to marry Zander in 1990, I'd bet he'd never let you out of the gym.
Other notable details: (a) the first song is co-written with Taylor Rhodes, who later went on to co-write ʽCryin'ʼ with Aerosmith and some other shit with Celine Dion; (b) the fourth song is co-written with Foreigner's Mick Jones, who also plays guest guitar so that it would sound even more like Foreigner; (c) the ninth song is co-written with Rick Kelly, whose musical talents are described on his own website in the following words: "Rick Kelly has the kind of voice and a knack for melody that is both richly and warmly familiar, ranging from the pop styles of Adam Levine to John Mayer to Billy Joel". In case you might be wondering, the track itself (ʽWhen You Need Someoneʼ) does sound «warmly familiar» — as in, when you've just finished barfing and whatever you puked up is still warm on the floor... okay, sorry, got a bit carried away there.
So, anything good here? Well, if you put a gun to my head and demanded to extract at least one track for a comprehensive anthology or something like that, I would probably go along with ʽI Can't Understand Itʼ, free of outside songwriters and basically functioning as a normal power pop song, still spoiled by production (the drums are too loud, the guitars too out of focus, etc.) but at least upbeat, catchy, and mildly funny. Their cover of Roy Wood's ʽRock'n'Roll Tonightʼ, rounding out the record, is also OK, although, unfortunately, it comes round way too late to save the day — it's in the vein of ʽCalifornia Manʼ, and it shows that the boys can still have moderately tasteful fun when they put their minds to it. Also, ʽWalk Awayʼ is sort of an okay ballad, with that nostalgic chord progression and retro-pop harmonies, arguably the only one that you can listen on here without getting the urge to... well, you know.
Interestingly, one of the guest stars is Sparks' Russell Mael himself, but his presence is largely wasted on the glam-rock swaggerfest ʽYou Drive, I'll Steerʼ (admittedly, this particular period was not the hottest one in the history of Sparks, either). All I manage to remember about the song is that every time Zander and Mael duet on the line "I'm in the lap of luxury", I always hear "I'm living at the grocery", which, if it were true, could, perhaps, partially explain the abysmal quality of the album — at least, you'd really have to give it away as a freebie at the local grocery to get anybody interested. Anyway, a complete and total disaster here, critical, commercial, and artistic, best summed up in the band's own words in the prophetic title track: "Busted, busted for what I did / I didn't think it so wrong". Thumbs down with a vengeance.