CHEAP TRICK: WOKE UP WITH A MONSTER (1994)
1) My Gang; 2) Woke Up With A Monster; 3) You're All I Wanna Do; 4) Never Run Out Of Love; 5) Didn't Know I Had It; 6) Ride The Pony; 7) Girlfriends; 8) Let Her Go; 9) Tell Me Everything; 10) Cry Baby; 11) Love Me For A Minute.
Ugh, no wonder this album was a total commercial disaster — I mean, just look at that album cover: looks like a perfect one for a fetish porn movie soundtrack. Who the hell would buy something like that in a music store? It's okay to opt for a little change after the last two records, where the boys' looks always reflected the degree of the musical inspiration, but not at such a terrible cost — just by looking at the sleeve, one already might experience visions of dusty, tattered, cracked CD cases in used bins with fifty-cent stickers on them.
Pitiful, that, because the record was actually an attempt at a fresh start. After Busted showed that ʽThe Flameʼ was really a fluke, and that the world was not particularly interested in putting Zander and Nielsen on the regular payroll for power balladeers — and after the grunge revolution happened and burst the bubble of the hair metal era in general, the band gradually began coming back to its senses. For their next producer, they chose Ted Templeman (of Van Halen fame); the number of outside songwriters was seriously reduced, though questionable figures like Survivor's Jim Peterik still wound up on the list; and the emphasis was placed squarely on the heavy rock sound again, with adult contemporary overtones limited to an absolute minimum. Oh, and the keyboards are out — for good.
The problem is, having breathed so much poison over an entire decade, it's hardly possible to get it out of your lungs all at once, and the album still suffers from two serious problems. First, even despite the sparse and familiar instrumentation, the production is fairly shitty. Nielsen's electric guitars sound either overcompressed or just too glossy much of the time, and his sprightly acoustic sound, reserved for the more sentimental tunes, consists of dull, bombastic power chords that anybody could have played — and Zander's vocals are often buried so deep in the mix, you'd think they were expressly interested in squashing his personality. (On the other hand, this might have been a good idea for some of the more sexually explicit numbers: the less lyrics of ʽRide The Ponyʼ you manage to make out, the better for your digestive system. Is it even grammatically possible, let alone sexually, to "satisfy your funk"?).
Second, in Cheap Trick's endless battle of Irony vs. Sleaze, Woke Up With A Monster is still firmly on the Sleaze side — in a way, that album cover does reflect the fact that too much of the record still presents the band as intentionally «anti-intellectual» cock-rockers, pandering to an AC/DC-type audience but without the Spartan qualities of AC/DC that make the Young brothers such a delightful un-guilty pleasure for certain intellectual types as well. And I'm not mentioning AC/DC just like that, out of the blue: ʽGirlfriendsʼ, one of the record's hardest-rocking tracks, is basically just a minor rewrite of ʽBad Boy Boogieʼ (although the way they play the opening riff also reminds me that ʽBad Boy Boogieʼ itself had copped its riff from ʽRoute 66ʼ), so much so that, when after the guitar break Zander begins to sing the exact same vocal melody that Bon Scott does, the words "ain't the same old line from a rock'n'roll song!" have to be taken quite literally. The tight little number, with Bun E. Carlos kicking away like a trusty old packmule, is still fun — but when the very next one, ʽLet Her Goʼ, opens with a riff that is a minor variation on ʽDirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheapʼ, it's like, «No way! They can't be that obvious, can they?»
The one and only number that steps a little beyond the formula of the sentimental ballad and the cock-rocker is the title track — slower, moodier, with disturbing lyrics and a bit of creepy vocal acting from Zander; most memorable, of course, is the combination of its chorus riff with supporting vocals, sort of like a mix between the Beatles' ʽI Want Youʼ and a middle-Eastern ʽKashmirʼ-like epic. The last time they tried something like that was probably with ʽHeaven Tonightʼ, although ʽWoke Up With A Monsterʼ is, of course, a far cry from the inspired melody and arrangement of their creepiest song — among other things, it suffers from the same overcompression as everything else here, and it could certainly use a denser arrangement, maybe with some cellos thrown in for good measure. Still, as a conscious attempt to write an art-rock song, it is clearly a standout here, and how long has it been since we were able to talk about «standouts»?..
Other than that, well, bad lyrics aside, the album is generally listenable and occasionally enjoyable. The upbeat power-pop tracks like ʽMy Gangʼ and ʽYou're All I Wanna Doʼ (ugh, that title!) work well, and even the few power ballads here are a big step up from the level of Busted — ʽNever Run Out Of Loveʼ has a thoughtfully crafted vocal melody with perfectly placed falsettos, a living-and-breathing rhythm section, and a gritty rather than pompous lead guitar part, and ʽTell Me Everythingʼ once again returns them to Roy Orbison mode, which is much better than the Michael Bolton mode anyway.
So, if anything, this record is in bad need of a complete re-recording — maybe throw away some of the worst lyrical offenders like ʽRide The Ponyʼ, correct production issues, and somewhere within this package lies a perfectly normal Cheap Trick album (much like The Doctor, although that one could only be salvaged with some top-level surgery). At the very least, there seems to be a near-common consensus that this was a major step up from Busted at the time, and I fully concur — too bad that the album flopped so badly (the band blamed Warner Bros. for lack of promotion, but I think there were deeper issues as well... then again, there's always that matter of the clown and the tattooed lady), although at least the flop did serve its purpose: it taught the band to finally stay away from big labels, corporate songwriters, and fickle contemporary trends.