Cheap Trick

Special One

If you checked out on Cheap Trick the way a lot of us did 15 or 20 years ago, it will possibly come as a dual revelation that 1) the band is still alive; and 2) it is kicking harder than you might think. Of course, when so many of Cheap Trick's former contemporaries have utterly failed in trying to stay relevant, the band is worth doubting simply by vague association. But while it's much easier, and arguably more entertaining, to take potshots, Cheap Trick sure makes it difficult with Special One.

Which is not to say there's any overtly new shtick here -- even Rick Nielsen is still sporting his patented flipped-up baseball cap and funky-fresh guitar straps. No, Cheap Trick sticks to the formula, blending sensitive melodies with motor-driven testosterone, thereby allowing manly men to accept a ballad or two in their diet of meat-and-potatoes rock (though some might have trouble digesting the ultra-effeminate "Scent of a Woman"). Nielsen's penchant for writing the great, tortured power-pop song emerges on "Best Friend," in which singer Robin Zander howls about the darkly addictive things in life with enough ferocity to awaken the Dream Police. And get this: In what turns out to be an odd but successful collaboration, producer Dan the Automator (Gorillaz) steps in to remix a song originally recorded by ubiquitous producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, everyone else) on "Hummer." Something of a "rock without borders" kind of tune, it fuses some Albini-esque gnashed guitars with one of the Automator's lock-step breakbeats and Zander's lip-smackin' vocals. Very cool.

Cheap Trick combats its susceptibility to clowning with thought-provoking lyrics, hooks that make you want to throw up a giant foam hand, and freewheeling songwriting that's a far cry from Mr. Robato's mechanical ways. We should appreciate this for the Olympus-like feat that it is: These elder statesmen rock bigger and better than most all of today's pipsqueak punks and maudlin metalheads. Yet even atop rock's peaks they boldly expose their soft pink underbellies, something the youngsters won't feel confident enough to do for another few dozen years.

 
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