CHEAP TRICK: LAP OF LUXURY (1988)
1) Let Go; 2) No Mercy; 3) The Flame; 4) Space; 5) Never Had A Lot To Lose; 6) Don't Be Cruel; 7) Wrong Side Of Love; 8) All We Need Is A Dream; 9) Ghost Town; 10) All Wound Up.
Oh boys, you've got me all wound up — this is one really messed-up Cheap Trick album, with quite a few good things and bad things going on at the same time. On the positive side, as you can quickly see from the album cover, this is where they happily reunite with their original bass player: Petersson's solo career never took flight, his attempts to get other bands going all flopped, and it took him half a decade to understand that his only viable future was with Cheap Trick (or peddling shoe polish). They also got rid of Tony Platt, although his replacement in the producer's seat, Richie Zito, was not much more of a blessing (his future credits would include Bad English, Heart, Cher, Poison, Ratt... you get the picture), but at least he did not make such a big point about covering the band's guitar sound with a ridiculously thick synth coating.
On the other side, this is where Epic Records came up to them and threatened to dump their contract unless they agreed for a bunch of outside songwriters to take over the lion's share of creative duties — the result being that only one song out of ten here belongs exclusively to the band, everything else being either completely written by corporate craftsmen, or «doctored» to the extent that you never ever know where Nielsen and Zander end and the big Eighties songwriting machine begins. There are altogether a whoppin' ten contemporary writers co-credited (of course, that's nothing compared to, say, a Britney Spears album from the 2010s, but in 1988, it was not yet common practice to co-credit a songwriter for contributing one vocal harmony line or modifying one chord sequence), which is kind of an insult for a band once known for penning some of the finest power-pop anthems in the business.
Nevertheless, next to the overall sound of The Doctor, Lap Of Luxury does feel like a comeback. In fact, if the average level of the songs here were up to the level of the enthusiastic opener, ʽLet Goʼ, it could easily qualify as their best record of the decade — of course, it does have those booming Eighties drums, and its jangly guitar opening is directly lifted from George Harrison's ʽIf I Needed Someoneʼ, but... it's, like, a Beatles rip-off! On an Eighties Cheap Trick album! A real Beatles rip-off, right off the heels of The Doctor — fascinating. With psychedelic Revolver-style vocal harmonies, too. The chorus, though, ain't Beatles at all — much more modern, screamy, and muscular, but still well-constructed. Really good song, thanks to co-writer Todd Cerney (his other contribution, ʽWrong Side Of Loveʼ, however, is a generic glam-pop load of crap, with boring tough guy riffs and ugly synth punctuations).
Other halfway decent pop-rockers include ʽNever Had A Lot To Loseʼ (this is the one and only completely original tune, by Zander and Petersson), fast-paced, playful, and featuring some more Beatlesque harmonies; ʽAll Wound Upʼ, co-written by Hall & Oates associate Janna Allen (so it does sound kinda like Hall & Oates, but not the bad kind of Hall & Oates) — it's fairly hard for me to resist the "you've got me all wound up — we're ready to go — hey hey hey!" combination, and even if they weren't actually having fun, it still sounds like they are; and as corny as it is, I still have an affection for their cover of ʽDon't Be Cruelʼ, if only because it is a throwback to the good old days, when Nielsen would perform his wild antics and pull his crazy faces to ironically reinterpreted retro stuff like ʽAin't That A Shameʼ — and he does pull off some classy lead licks and a good solo, in addition to generally reinterpreting the song as a glam-rock number while at the same time retaining all its hooks and that subtle innocent charm.
Alas, none of this is sufficiently enough to atone for one of the greatest sins of the 20th century. As far as the general public is concerned, Cheap Trick's greatest song — greatness, of course, implied by the fact that it was their only single to rise to the top of the charts — is ʽThe Flameʼ, a slow, soulful, hyper-tear-jerking power ballad that none of the band's members had anything to do with in the first place. As hideous as it sounds, I actually prefer the Diane Warren-co-written ʽGhost Townʼ — you know that I usually regard Ms. Warren as Satan incarnate, but in this case, I am almost ready to make an exception, because ʽGhost Townʼ is a ballad written rather intentionally in the style of Roy Orbison (and faithfully sung by Zander in the same style), and it is hard not to be taken in by the gradual build-up from verse to bridge to chorus, and the gentle fall-down to the "until you come back to me" resolution. Even Nielsen, turning his guitar into an emulation of the Hammond organ, delivers a poignant solo.
ʽThe Flameʼ, however, has none of that retro cuteness: it is as straightforwardly Eighties as they come, and very similar in style to that other equally nauseating power ballad, the Bangles' ʽEternal Flameʼ — what is it with 1988 and this «flame» idea? Big drums, big synths, big acoustic and electric guitars, grand operatic vocals, visions of knights in shining hairdos, plastic hearts on plastic sleeves, the works. Everything about it is just so outrageously bombastic and formulaic that it seems incredible how it could work that cheap magic on millions, but then, 1988 was all about puffed-up sentimental bombast; too bad Cheap Trick had to fall into that trap. (For that matter, I'd even take Aerosmith power ballads over this stuff — at least with Steven Tyler's voice, you get that «nastyness» angle that, even so obviously manufactured, is still preferable to Zander's dead-on chivalrous delivery).
So, as you can see, this one's totally a mixed bag. It got them out of one bunch of troubles (ridiculously overwrought electronic production splattered over embarrassing cock-rock posturing) at the expense of getting them into another one (faceless corporate songwriters providing them with bland and boring «adult» material). Fortunately, the peak of that second bunch was yet to come: Lap Of Luxury is their transitional record from the cesspool of glam-rock into the cesspool of adult-pop, and in between, they (almost accidentally) managed to gulp a few breaths of fresh air for a life-saving change.