Cheap Trick’s new studio album, The Latest, released last week on the band’s own record label, (Cheap Trick Unlimited), should dispel any notion that that the group is planning to ride off into the sunset as a creative, vibrant, and relevant force in rock and roll anytime soon. Delivering a solid collection of inspired, well-crafted songs, The Latest ranks as one of the best compact discs I’ve heard this year, and one of the most balanced and cohesive performances of their lengthy career. If you thought this iconic 1970s “power pop” band would never rise to the occasion and produce another gem, then guess again. This is a really fine record by the band that Rick Nielsen once referred to jokingly as the “two good looking guys” (Robin Zander and Tom Petersson) and the “two ugly guys” (Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos).
In fact, the musicianship and songwriting found on The Latest shows that the individual members of Cheap Trick (Robin Zander, lead vocals, guitar and keyboards; Rick Nielsen, lead guitar, keyboards, and vocals; Tom Petersson, bass, keyboards, and vocals; and Bun E. Carlos, drums, percussion, and vocals), continue to mature and grow as musicians. Robin Zander’s voice is still very strong and powerful. In my opinion, Zander is one of rock and roll’s great singers of all time. The thing that makes Zander so good is his great versatility and range. At 56 years old, Zander can still belt out a rock song without sounding harsh. On the other hand, his high tenor can also provide a soft and sweet falsetto when necessary. As a singer, he seems to instinctively develop just the right phrasing for a ballad, even if he had nothing to do with writing it (“The Flame”). Interestingly, Zander’s role as a songwriter within the band has grown substantially with each album released since the late 1980s.
Rick Nielsen’s guitar playing on the album is fluid and consistent with the style he has developed and honed during his tenure with the group. For the most part, his guitar riffs have a slightly over driven tone. He leads the band with his powerful rhythm playing. He adds insightful and playful lead guitar lines on the cover of Slade’s “When the Lights Are Out”. It is an enjoyable, toe tapping number that harkens back to the 1970s glam rock made famous by David Bowie. Cheap Trick songs in the past have often been dismissed by some as being fun without much substance. However, one could also make the argument that sometimes a song should be judged on how it makes you feel when you hear it, rather than whether it makes the greatest lyrical statement of all time. After all, rock and roll, in its purest form, is often at its best when the subject matter isn’t overly serious.