CHEAP TRICK: THE LATEST (2009)
1) Sleep Forever; 2) When The Lights Are Out; 3) Miss Tomorrow; 4) Sick Man Of Europe; 5) These Days; 6) Miracle; 7) Everyday You Make Me Crazy; 8) California Girl; 9) Everybody Knows; 10) Alive; 11) Times Of Our Lives; 12) Closer, The Ballad Of Burt And Linda; 13) Smile.
Hmm, this does not at all sound like Rockford. One point off for the way too careless album title (which became completely false in 2016), but other than that, the record, being just as nostalgic as Rockford, actually sounds lovingly nostalgic — it's not so much about «let us go back to being the circa-1977 Cheap Trick because this is what everybody expects of us» as it is about «let us ignore all trends and fashions and make some music in those styles that inspired and influenced us in the first place, because we don't really owe anything to anybody». With a few exceptions, Rockford was a balls-out rock'n'roll album, disappointing because they did not quite have the energy and inspiration for it. The Latest, also with a few exceptions, is a psychedelic pop album that should have been dedicated to «The Two JLs», John Lennon and Jeff Lynne; and it succeeds where Rockford failed because (a) it does not actually require as much energy as a rock'n'roll album to be convincing, (b) it finds the writers and the players in a more inspired state of mind, and thus, features slightly more creative melodies and arrangements.
There are only two or three Rockford-style fast tempo pop-rockers, which means they have a better chance to stand out among the crowd, and ʽCalifornia Girlʼ does stand out a little — although it may simply be due to the title's analogy with ʽCalifornia Manʼ, with which it shares some irony (but not the outstanding hook — this one's more of a generic rockabilly pastiche). But the bulk of the record places its trust in handsome vocal melodies and lush arrangements, sometimes bordering on «symph-pop» and often featuring psychedelic overtones, taking you all the way back to the age of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. Sometimes it goes a little too far with the adoration — a song like ʽTimes Of Our Livesʼ literally sounds like a variation on several of Pepper's themes, including direct musical quotations from ʽWithin You Without Youʼ, etc. But I'd still rather have their expert take on this idiom than watch them churn out monotonous (non)-riff-rockers for the rest of their lives.
On ʽSick Man Of Europeʼ (a title that goes all the way back to those days when Cheap Trick were not called Cheap Trick yet), they seem to be issuing their own local manifesto — "This ain't the new, it's the old generation / It's all real, not a cheap imitation" — and almost gleefully reveling in their own nostalgic stubbornness; but in all honesty, after two decades of some of the most horrendously embarrassing sucking up to fashions, they have nothing left to do but to look up to the distant past for future inspiration. And God bless them for that, because an anthemic ballad like ʽThese Daysʼ, had it been written around 1990, would have born the Diane Warren seal of approval — here, even though it is still set to a muscular power-chord guitar backing, the rhythm section sounds alive, the lead counterpart is represented by electric jangle rather than corny synths, and the chorus has a wonderful melodic lilt where Zander shows how he can still be maddeningly passionate without drowning in vocal bombast à la ʽThe Flameʼ.
If, after the speedy onslaught of Rockford material, you find yourself initially bored by the preponderance of loud, slow, dreamy ballads, don't give in — a couple listens into the record was all it took to convince me that they have really nailed this vibe, even if there is so little originality or freshness about it that memories of these songs will not hold for long. But while the material is playing, it sounds awesome — ʽThe Ballad Of Burt And Lindaʼ, for instance, with these ʽRainʼ-style vocals (the Beatles' ʽRainʼ, I mean), really makes you want to close your eyes and gently rock to and fro in sync with the vibe. Just a perfectly balanced sound, guitars, keyboards, strings, vocals, the works.
Let nobody be fooled by the fact they are covering a Slade song here — ʽWhen The Lights Are Outʼ is a power pop classic from 1974, representative of the sunny-side-up facet of Slade rather than their gritty barroom attitudes, and it perfectly fits in with the Beatlesque vibe of the album. And although it is the Lennon part of that vibe that they adore the most, the record still ends with a lovable McCartney-style ballad (ʽSmileʼ); again, they may go a bit too far with these lyrics (come on now guys, you're not that idealistic under your skins to invite us to "take a look around the world, it's a wonder" — leave that to Paul and put some barbs on it, woncha?), but in this case, old age works in their favor, because Zander's sentimentality feels more natural and «excusable» as he grows older, and there's nothing like a bunch of Magical Mystery Tour-like string arrangements to make it seem even more authentic, too.
Yes, I do believe that I won't remember much about this record when I wake up next morning, but as long as the dream is not over, let me still fix a thumbs up here, because I really dug the experience: every single song had something to offer by way of pure emotion. Bottomline: when Cheap Trick in 2006 want to sound like Cheap Trick in 1977-78, they fail, but when Cheap Trick in 2009 want to sound like the Beatles in 1966-67, they sort of succeed. So what exactly does this prove?..