Thursday, 2 June 2016

Dream Police - Cheap Trick

Provenance: Already a big Cheap Trick fan when I got this for Christmas recently.

Review: So how was it that rock n' roll that was particularly catchy gain a whole new genre called 'power-pop'? And why, until recently, was it so maligned? Its recent rehabilitation runs counter to another baffling trend that has seen some hip young gunslingers namedrop Steely Dan as an influence. Steely Dan have never been shit (check out who's hosting that performance, by the way), and it's not like power-pop all of a sudden became listenable again. Ho hum.

There were, of course, some very catchy, very good artists who preceded Cheap Trick in wrapping their pop confections around a rock formula. They were overtly influenced by bands such as The Beatles, Badfinger, The Move and Electric Light Orchestra, all of which can be heard on Dream Police. Likewise, echoes of this album would go on to appear on releases by luminaries such as The Cars, Jellyfish and Material Issue. To me it all feels like a continuum of style, but what do I know? Besides, we all rely on shorthand to condense our field of reference to some degree.

Time to quit griping about the arbitrariness of the assignation of genre. Let's talk about Dream Police. I'm sure that one of these days I'll come across an album in my collection I don't care for but today is not that day. Dream Police is every bit as colourful, punchy and entertaining as a fat man in a Hawaiian shirt connecting with every haymaker he throws.

If we are to accept the existence of a power-pop template, then some of the tracks of this album fit like a pair of crushed-silk loon pants. Both the title track and 'Voices' are awash with keyboards and strings, thrusting towards widescreen climaxes in the choruses; the former a bouncy trip through insomnia-induced paranoia, the latter a gorgeous slow-burn ballad about insomnia-induced paranoia. Cheap Trick never play with a straight bat.

Elsewhere, things get a little more raucous - 'Way Of The World' is essentially a series of hooks that rush by one after the other, whilst 'The House Is Rockin'' is a bubblegum dust-up, one of Cheap Trick's most underrated tunes that seems to be over in a fraction of its billed five minutes. In typical CT fashion, infectious pop masks lyrics about domestic strife (and this is by no means the darkest subject they've sprinkled a bit of sugar over).

But that's Cheap Trick all over - crashing the seemingly irreconcilable together and making it feel entirely natural. Like the best bands, that concept extended further than just the music, and so you have a band with two pretty boys in vocalist Robin Zander and bassist Tom Petersson and a couple of unconventional looking fellows in drummer Bun E. Carlos and guitarist Rick Nielsen. The cadaverous Nielsen fully embraced his unusual appearance, doubling down by dressing in baseball cap, cardigan and bow tie whilst wielding comedy multi-necked guitars.

Cheap Trick would also break the unwritten rule "don't bore us, get to the chorus" with the inclusion of both 'Need Your Love' which extends beyond seven minutes and 'Gonna Raise Hell', which tops out at over nine. Neither features the lush orchestration or major-key thrum of most power-pop - 'Need Your Love' stands out as a nervy, ominous crawl, Zander's voice floating above the music that produces an effect that is more eery than angelic. It's an extraordinary performance on an album where Zander swoops, soars, caresses and stings - one he replicated flawlessly when I caught them in November 2010.

Gimmickry aside, Nielsen's a fine musician. His guitar solos are less a careful construct than a technicolour explosion of energy, stacking twisty half-bends and ticcy double-stops on top of each other. On the faster tracks Nielsen's guitar does nothing quite so dull as chugging away on power chords, choosing to dart in and out of Zander's vocals and Petersson's bright, melodic bass lines. Part of the fun is that Nielsen often sounds on the brink of spiralling out of control. Of course, he never does.

Dream Police ("police...police...") is a masterful album, bursting with spark and creativity. It's a consummate articulation of the power-pop genre without ever truly fitting the mould. Contrary? Sure, but so's a baseball cap matched with a bow tie.

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