Let it be known that I’m a massive fan of all things ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. When Drake and Future say “What a time to be alive,” I’m pretty sure they’re really talking about those three decades, because it really was a time to be alive. It was the time to be alive. It was mildly more acceptable to be politically incorrect. Crazy kids worrying about school were hard to come by. And of course, there was the music.
Lacking the overproduced tone that embodies modern music, the ’70s is probably the last decade that was really dominated by pure music — pure in the sense that popular music hinged on a certain level of vocal talent and instrumental creativity. The guitar still had a voice of its own and studios weren’t necessarily manufacturing bands for profit and pop stars for radio sound. Instead, you had legends being legends: Queen, Pink Floyd, The Who. And since we can’t all be legends, there were also the talented bands with several hits that you’d still flock to see live — chiefly, and for conversation’s sake, Cheap Trick.
With unquestionable hits like “Surrender” and “I Want You To Want Me,” Cheap Trick undoubtedly should be remembered. These songs are classic jams that went into shaping the ’70s, but that’s about it. These two Cheap Trick songs are probably the only two Cheap Trick songs that will ever be relevant, at least to future generations; the remainder of songs from the 17 albums Cheap Trick produced are unremarkable, including the entirety of their latest album, Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello.
Released a week before their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the 11-track record isn’t bad. Compared to so much shit produced for the 2016 mainstream radio, I would even dare to say that Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello is great. There are three solid standouts supported by a remainder of ’70s-esque noise fillers, but given the current state of rock music, these three standouts are greatly appreciated.
“When I Wake Up Tomorrow,” “Sing My Blues Away” and “Roll Me” are really all you need to listen to off Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello. Released as a single, “When I Wake Up Tomorrow” is the best song on the album and makes me understand why Cheap Trick is being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Dubbed by Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen as a moody, interesting piece reminiscent of a “sultry David Bowie song,” it’s evident that the band is still capable of churning out more than just noise. With smooth Bowie vocals, U2-esque keyboard interludes and their hallmark heavy guitar, “When I Wake Up Tomorrow” could easily be mistaken as a legend’s work.
With the bar set high by “When I Wake Up Tomorrow,” it’s no wonder that the rest of the album falls short. “Sing My Blues Away” and “Roll Me” are comparatively more memorable than the rest of the album in that they have that classic ’70s Cheap Trick vibe while being more than just guitar songs. “Sing My Blues Away” has a catchy upbeat chorus while “Roll Me” features more angsty, sexy vocals, accompanied by equally ferocious guitar riffs. But that’s really all I can say because they both still sound so much like most Cheap Trick songs.
So then the question is why? Why is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee’s latest work since 2009 average at best? It could be a function of who’s writing the music; guitarist Rick Nielsen does most of the songwriting, so it makes sense that, as a guitarist, he writes most of the music for the guitar. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because who doesn’t love a great guitar riff? But the problem is that those really great guitar riffs seldom appear. The same overbearing riffs dominate most of Cheap Trick’s songs, leaving little room for other instrumental or vocal creativity.
The homogeneity of Cheap Trick’s music then calls into question the inevitable — do bands have an expiration date? This is a tricky and touchy subject, one that I won’t even dare to touch right now. For the time being, let’s just enjoy the wonderfully different “When I Wake Up Tomorrow” and stick to the classics — after all, “Surrender” and “I Want You To Want Me” are probably the sole reason for Cheap Trick’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in the first place.