MUSIC REVIEW | Cheap Trick – Cheap Trick (1977)

Cheap Trick
Cheap Trick, purveyors of such 70s and 80s hits as Dream Police and others. I assume there are others, but when I checked out their Wikipedia page, Dream Police was the only one I recognised. But if they only have one memorable hit, why have I heard the name Cheap Trick My entire life? On a risky journey of discovery that could lead to countless unheard pieces of classic gold, or a minefield of shit bombs, I’ve decided to go back to their self titled debut and see if I can find out why I have heard the name Cheap Trick My entire life.

Well, no answers are forthcoming with the first track, ELO Kiddies. It’s a weird combination of ominous chants, lead vocals that sound like they’re straight out of the worst 70s rock musical you ever did hear, and some crunching dirty guitars. I could love it, I could hate it, I’m still too discombobulated to have even the slightest clue.

It doesn’t help that Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School does absolutely nothing to clarify things. The vocals of Robin Zander continue on their Rock of Ages style attempts at grandeur and importance, while the instruments are so bogged down in their sludgy sound, that I have no idea how good the musicianship on display is.

With Taxman, Mr Thief (and later Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace)¸ Cheap Trick ditch the theatrics for a more straight forward sound, and the album is immediately better for it. What came off as faux, local theatre angst in the preceding tracks, actually seems more like a legit edge here. The song is a tad softer, but the performances, musically and vocally, have a heavier weight to them. Giving the guitars a little more room to breathe doesn’t hurt either.

Cry, Cry roughly marks the half way mark on Cheap Trick, and I’m still no closer to pinning this band down. I’m not saying a band should be easily definable after listening to a grand total of five songs, but I do think an album should have a little more coherency and consistency than what I’m getting here. Each song could be from a completely different band. Even Zander’s vocals are too anonymous and generic to give Cheap Trick and sort of unifying sound.

But then comes and Oh, Candy. Technically, it might be the most generic offering from this album so far. But you know what, it’s generic done right. It’s tight, solid song writing for the masses, with a catchy melody and an unavoidable hook. But I’ll be buggered if that didn’t work for me. Sometimes, it’s possible to clearly see how the sausage is made, and still enjoy it anyway.

Now we’re talking! Hot Love is fast and machismo fuelled tat. But I defy anyone to hear that dirty guitar intro, punk rock tempo and hair band swagger, and not immediately get a little psyched. Again, I can see every moving part that makes this song work the way it does, and I don’t care. There’s no mystery here, or hard to define X factor. Just by the numbers rock that adds up to the right number at the end of two and half minutes. He’s a Whore delivers similar results a few tracks later.

It’s almost impressive how completely Cheap Trick suck away all air and momentum built from a song like He’s a Whore, with the bloated, aimless and just plain boring Mandocello. I’m struggling to think of a more pointless song in the history of music.

Things pick up and close strong with The Ballad of TV Violence (I’m Not the Only Boy). It’s little more than a late 70s take on 12 bar blues, but like Taxman, Mr Thief, it offers an edge that the majority of Cheap Trick is missing.

I’m not sure if an entire album has ever told me less about a band and what it is that they do. If someone told me Cheap Trick’s follow up was a jazz fusion concept album experimenting with tribal beats, monk throat singing and the sound of cat’s being milked, I’d believe it. Because that would make just as much sense as Cheap Trick.

Cheap Trick

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