Cheap Trick have BSL (Best Since Lodger) syndrome. David Bowie had it worst: every record got compared to Scary Monsters or Lodger. Cheap Trick suffer more than most: every album they’ve released since 1980’s All Shook Up has been hailed as a comeback, a return to form, their finest since… (insert title of last great Trick album, usually 1979’s Dream Police).
This time, though, it might be true. Nearly all their albums have something to recommend, even the ones in the 80s when they turned into the pretty vacant hair-metallists they started out lampooning.
Their 1997 self-titled release marked their effective rebirth, signalling the end of that period when they used outside writers and became themselves again. But no album since has had quite the consistency and urgency of this, their 17th studio record. Bang Zoom Crazy… Hello – the clue’s in the title – finds them, 40 years after their debut, pressing the reset button. Again.
First, the bad news. Bun E Carlos, 50 per cent of Trick’s dweeb corps, is AWOL. Subject of a recent lawsuit, the situation’s apparently been resolved, but not soon enough for him to beat time on Bang Zoom… In a baffling statement, singer Robin Zander, along with bassist Tom Petersson, the Trick’s adonis contingent, declared the drummer “a member of the band, but he’s not touring and he’s not recording”. Okaaay. Instead, guitarist, tunesmith and Carlos’s erstwhile partner in nerdery Rick Nielsen’s son Daxx is behind the kit. Apart from that (wot, no Ringo?), you get pop-metal’s Fab Four in full effect.
Certainly it would be hard to name another band of Cheap Trick’s vintage with this much vitality. No Direction is consummate melodic metal. When I Wake Up Tomorrow features a classic Trick-style descending chord sequence. Do You Believe Me? is the sort of blues grind Black Keys would kill for. Diverse? Blood Red Lips is a glitterbeat delight that nods to their glam roots (they got their name at a Slade gig).
The final three tracks are impossibly sprightly. Long Time No See You is a fine addition to the Trick canon of greetings songs (see also: So Good To See You), with an endlessly rising melody line, like the musical equivalent of an Escher puzzle. The ELO-ish Sun Never Sets achieves a blissful monotony, while All Strung Out has the staccato strut of early Roxy Music.
Nielsen – who in 2004 became publisher of Mad magazine rival Cracked – is as pop savvy as ever, with a postmodernist’s eye for mischief. Zander’s in fine – i.e. rasping – voice, Petersson’s basslines bubble and bounce, and Daxx is a more than capable Carlos. Dock a point for the plodding cover of The In Crowd and what have you got? Cheap Trick’s best since Dream Police. Oops!
FINAL VERDICT: 9⁄10