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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Cheap Trick: The Doctor

CHEAP TRICK: THE DOCTOR (1986)

1) It's Up To You; 2) Rearview Mirror Romance; 3) The Doctor; 4) Are You Lonely Tonight; 5) Name Of The Game; 6) Kiss Me Red; 7) Take Me To The Top; 8) Good Girls Go To Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere); 9) Man-u-Lip-u-Lator; 10) It's Only Love.

A more appropriate title for the album would be The Doctor From Hell, which is precisely the kind of function that Tony Platt, now officially promoted to the position of the band's producer, is (largely successfully) trying to exercise for Cheap Trick here. You know what is the most vici­ous­ly sadistic part about it? These songs, most of them still written by Nielsen and Zander, aren't really all that bad — once you get past the initial sugar-shock, two or three listens are enough to prove that the boys still have not completely lost their pop instincts. In fact, with a little stretch of imagination, I could see the album turned into a... well, say, a halfway decent Duran Duran re­cord (although you'd still need to color it a little darker).

The principal problem, on which I agree with popular / critical opinion, is the awful, awful sound: 1986 in all its glory, with all the three main textural elements (Nauseous Synthesizers, Steroid Pop Metal Guitar, and Ridiculously Loud Electronic Drums) taken to the extreme — no, the boys have not yet mastered the art of the tear-jerking power ballad to complete the picture, but they have completely adapted to The Age of Excess, and almost everything that could be declared «good» about The Doctor is instantaneously drowned in such a raging sea of electronic-metallic noise that it makes Standing On The Edge sound like Woody Guthrie in comparison.

Case in point: ʽRearview Mirror Romanceʼ. Strip this song of its ludicrous drum, synth, and ec­static vocal overdubs, and I can totally see it as a fine, enjoyable power pop anthem — roll the tape all the way back to 1977 and give it to Blondie. But as the song goes on, the level of noise and chaos only increases, with more, more, more sonic idiocy (ever louder drums, ever more synth overdubs, ever more stupid tape manipulations with Robin's vocals), leaving you with little more than a confusing headache in the end. And, mind you, this is one of the better songs on the album — relatively catchy, relatively inoffensive, and even with a bit of acceptable humor.

The sleaziness quotient is also increased, with song titles that speak for themselves — ʽMan-u-Lip-u-Latorʼ? ʽGood Girls Go To Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere)ʼ? And ʽThe Doctorʼ sure as hell ain't about lobotomy, which is the only thing that could have truly helped the album: no, it's about "making house calls in the middle of the night" (listening to this song and realizing that there actually may have been impressionable human beings of the female sex in 1986 to feel aroused by this mating call just makes me feel dirty all over, and not even in a good way). This combination of cheap sexual aggression with horrible sonic ideas lands the band square in the same field with contemporary Rod Stewart — not even contemporary (let alone classic) KISS, who at least were consistent enough to keep up a «dirty» visual image along with the «dirty» musical core; whereas hearing this crap from pretty boy Zander and nerdy freak Nielsen leads to nothing but an endless series of facepalms.

Since most of the rockers are so deeply infected with cocky crap-ola, it is no wonder that the sentimental songs stand out as the finest on the album — in particular, the single ʽIt's Only Loveʼ, based on a sad little riff that I think these guys pinched from solo McCartney, though the name of the song escapes me at the moment; and I'd also have to mention the triumphant chorus of ʽTake Me To The Topʼ, which is really a cool melodic find and even contains a bit of emotional cathar­sis (no, really). That is not to say they are wonderful or anything, but they are a wee bit less clut­tered and obnoxious than the rockers. And, for honesty's sake, I must also tip the proverbial hat to Zander's falsetto hook on the "take each and every day as if it is your last" line from the opening moralistic number ʽIt's Up To Youʼ, which basically invokes us to shake awake and enjoy The Doctor with all the strength of our hearts because, who knows, maybe the next thing happening is a brick falling on our head, and do we really want to end our life overcome with such negative emotions? It's a good chorus anyway — too bad you have to chop your way through an electronic jungle to get to it.

The bottomline is — contrary to rumors, The Doctor is so goshdarn awful not because Nielsen and Zander have completely run out of talent (which is what the record executives thought, and saddled them with corporate songwriters for the next album), but because they have completely run out of taste. For classic Cheap Trick, irony and multi-layered composition were their regular trademarks; by the time we reach The Doctor, «straightforward stupidity» is the word of the day. Thumbs down are inescapable here, but the record is worth hearing at least once as a strong purgative — and if your stomach is strong enough, hearing twice or thrice to understand what it really means to take some potentially decent songs and spoil them so thoroughly that no self-respecting person of good breeding would ever want to marry them.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for your work. One thing, though; will you re-review Captan Beefheart's discography? Anyhow, every one of your inputs are valuable and enjoyable. Thumbs up.

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  2. Totally agree with you George .... underneath the overdone 80's production aesthetic lurks a decent Cheap Trick Pop album. At the time of release, I kinda tolerated and even liked some of it, but the passage of time has rendered The Doctor unlistenable for all intents and purposes (except for maybe, Take Me To The Top and Good Girls).

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  3. I am not passing judgement...
    but this album seems to have been made under the influence of a massive pile of cocaine. I can see how it would have made sense in that context.
    BTW. This continues the tradition of pushing Neilsen out of the cover art. Next Position Please pushes him out of the frame. Standing On the Edge has him as the murkiest and hard to see in the fog. Now The Doctor gives us an ameobic mass...

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