ROCKFORD – Cheap Trick (Big3)
After nearly 30 years, catching a glimpse of Cheap Trick’s no-frills typewriter font logo and attendant black-and-white checkerboard in the new release bin is still more than enough to bring me to a dead stop, eyes glazing over ROCKFORD COVERand a thin layer of drool forming at the corner of my mouth.

Never mind that the band have been desperately trying to reconnect with their muse ever since 1982’s “One On One” (which includes two of the absolute plums of their catalog in “She’s Tight” and “If You Want My Love”), an often painful and baffling odyssey which has seen them go from tapped out to tuned in (the presciently-titled “Lap Of Luxury” and U.S. No. 1 single “The Flame”) and then back down to a steady flight pattern just beneath the radar with a series of albums which may not have cured cancer, but which contained their share of knock-kneed, bent space-age pop with a big beat, courtesy of the omnipresent Bun E. Carlos.

While it remains to be seen if “Rockford” will once again canonize Cheap Trick at the cash register, it’s certainly no sacrifice to the Gods of the Delete Bin, perhaps their strongest and most consistent handiwork since the days they soiled the frilly panties of countless Japanese schoolgirls. If it makes you warm and fuzzy inside, think of it as a comeback although they’ve never really been away.

What you get in spades here, besides the aforementioned razzle dazzle of Carlos, are the components which have made the franchise what it is today; the soaring and stratospherically-layered vocals of Robin Zander (well into his 50s and still one of the greatest front men ever), Rick Nielsen’s wise-cracking, jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none guitars, and the undervalued subsonic whoof! of Tom “Four Strings or Eight?” Petersson, in whose chest beats the heart of a lead guitarist on the verge of bursting a blood road.

And just for the record, the songwriting chops haven’t deserted them by any stretch of the imagination.

Boiled down to its essence, “Rockford” is one gargantuan hook, King Kong from high atop the Empire State Building, Godzilla entering Tokyo Harbor, and Andre the Giant coming off the top rope, one glorious, larger-than-life roller coaster ride straight into the sun. Call me (over)enthusiastic - by now it should be obvious Cheap Trick is preaching to the choir over here in Detroit - but it’s hard to pick highlights from an album flush with them.

Launch code enabler “Welcome To The World” is a not too distant cousin to “In Color’s” opener “Hello There,” bursting wide open in a Technicolor shitstorm of Nielsen and Petersson string bending and general fretboard atrocities before surrendering (no pun intended) to the chugging “Perfect Stranger” and narcotic sonic blizzard which buries “If It Takes A Lifetime.”

“Come On Come On Come On” is Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie” dropped on the floor, shattered, and pieced back together much too quickly and in a different order, held together with Laffy Taffy and grape Kool Aid.

Psychedelic lollipops are passed ‘round to all of the kids with “This Time You Got It,” the sugar rush kicking in just in time for the stuttering, bullet train overdrive of “Give It Away,” which would have fit nicely on “Heaven Tonight,” and “Every Night And Every Day,” “Dream The Night Away,” and “Decaf” are propelled by melodies a milkman could whistle.

In a world where nothing matters, Cheap Trick almost do. Crack my casket lid, toss it in, and bury me. - Clark Paull

DREAM POLICEDREAM POLICE - Cheap Trick (Epic/Legacy)
ALL SHOOK UP - Cheap Trick (Epic/Legacy)
Revisionist history can be a great thing. In the case of Cheap Trick, it’s rescued them from their reputation as arena-rock dinosaurs peddling radio fodder to stay afloat (remember “The Flame”?) in the 1980s to power pop elder statesmen in the 1990s and beyond. But as good as their first three studio albums were, no historical rewrite can convincingly pass off the fourth, 1979’s "Dream Police", as a great record.

ALL SHOOK UPIf you’ve read about this expanded reissue elsewhere, chances are you’ve seen the party line that it’s a pop masterpiece, a stroke of genius innovation, or as the CD tray blurb reads: “... dramatic, raucous, sophisticated, complex, challenging, and schizophrenic, all wrapped up in one glorious sonic package.” Please. While it’s certainly not a bad record, it’s none of the above. Rather, while the catchy hard rock from the first three albums is still inherent, the songs are generally longer, not as strong, and glossed by a ’70s arena-rock production sheen.

"Dream Police" does have its moments, such as the power pop of “Way of the World” and “Writing on the Wall,” as well as the near-psychedelic cocaine rock of the seven-and-a-half-minute “Need Your Love” and the harder rock of “The House is Rockin’ (With Domestic Problems)” (listen closely for a guitar quote from the Yardbirds’ “Think About It” at the end) -- which sounds even better in the live version among the bonus tracks. But really, none of the highlights are anything extraordinary, and the remainder is even less impressive. The title track and “Gonna Raise Hell” (which has a very dated disco-styled beat) are just overrated AOR, and no amount of exposure could make radio-friendly fluff like “Voices” (a hit -- not that it means anything) and “I’ll Be With You Tonight” sound good. Worth picking up after you’ve bought the first three Trick records -- barely.

While its not quite as bad as the scathing reviews in Trouser Press and Creem would indicate, "All Shook Up" (1980) nevertheless continued the band’s artistic decline. This widely varied collection of experiments fails in most instances, such as the horribly trite “Baby Loves to Rock,” the noxious android vocals (talk about dated) on “High Priest of Rhythmic Noise,” the lousy (and admitted -- check the liners) Rod Stewart ripoff of “I Love You Honey But I Hate Your Friends,” and the rather goofy attempt at world music on “Who D’King.” That said, one can’t help but admire Robin Zander’s heartfelt vocals on a John Lennon-esque ballad called “World’s Greatest Lover” or the rocking melody of “Just Got Back” -- which rank with just about any Cheap Trick songs.

And on this reissue, the album’s cause is helped by a bonus portion including “Everything Works If You Let It” (excellent power pop) and 1980’s Found All the Parts EP in its entirety. From the latter, the cover of “Daytripper” is as fierce as it was in concert (I witnessed it in 1982, matter of fact), while the ’60s-pop-styled “Such a Good Girl” broadens Trick’s stylistic spectrum. It’s not enough to save All Shook Up, but the album isn’t as risky a purchase as it used to be. - Doug Sheppard

- Dream Police
1/2 - All Shook Up