Thursday, January 31, 2013

Classic Album: Cheap Trick - Heaven Tonight

Cheap Trick is most definitely one of the bands the forged an entirely new approach to no holds barred, take it for what it is rock and roll.  They came about in the transitional period of the late-70s, which in hindsight manages to work in their advantage.  As a band they never fit into the "rock god"/"guitar hero" type of thing, but they were too clean to really be punk and too edgy to really be pop.  Even though they were misfits in the music world, through their passion and authenticity towards what they did they turned that into their very identity.  Combining elements of each aforementioned genre with a classic British style and a knack for absurd, tongue-in-cheek humor, Cheap Trick epitomized, if not invented, the sub-grenre of power-pop.  1978's Heaven Tonight is where it all came together for this Rockford, Illinois group.  

Surrender hits with a definitive moment right away in the band's signature song, marrying pop songcraft with the attitude and sonic assault of punk rock to create a fist-in-the-air anthem that holds up just as well today.  From there the album takes you on a roller coaster tour of rock and roll.  There are party-ready rockers (On Top of the World, California Man), retro British Invasion style hooks (On the Radio, How Are You), proto pop-punk (Stiff Competition, Auf Wiedersehen) and the near R&B of High Roller and Takin' Me Back.  The effectiveness of the album as a whole is that each song stealthily incorporates elements of the others into a collection of genre-bending, powerful, timeless rock.  

Around the midway point of the album are two absolute high points, Auf Wiedersehen and Heaven Tonight.  The title track is a slice of dreamy psychedelia that lyrically (and musically) sees the band explore the dark side of drug use.  The taunting almost-whispered vocals weave a tale of pushing the limits for the sake of a high.  It is a brooding, ominous, and at times downright scary track that is undeniably hypnotic.  On the opposite side of their spectrum, Auf Wiedersehen is the closest they've ever come to a punk song; and for a pop band in 1978 it was pretty damn close.  The laughable, darkly clever lyrics are sung sneeringly with a growling cockney accent, and gain threatening momentum as the guitars grind and stutter their way through each verse.  The crooning, preachy chorus fits right in with a wink and a nod.

On the whole, this album is just a ridiculously enjoyable demonstration of the amalgomic nature of Cheap Trick.  The media friendly pop stars (Robin Zander and Tom Petersson)  combine with the geeked out music nerds (Rick Nielson and Bun E. Carlos) to create a brilliant encapsulation of rock music in general, and its turbulent nature at the time, ingeniously wrapped up into a nice tidy package.

True to the timeless nature of their music, Cheap Trick continues to go strong as somewhat of a cult favorite, backed by a fiercely loyal legion of fans.  They've continued to release studio albums throughout the 2000s and can always be counted on to support their local Rockford community and the Chicago area music scene.


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