Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Chicago II

The Chicago Transit Authority recorded this double-barreled follow-up to their eponymously titled 1969 debut effort. The contents of Chicago II (1970) underscore the solid foundation of complex jazz changes with heavy electric rock & roll that the band so brazenly forged on the first set. The septet also continued its ability to blend the seemingly divergent musical styles into some of the best and most effective pop music of the era. One thing that had changed was the band's name, which was shortened to simply Chicago to avoid any potential litigious situations from the city of Chicago's transportation department -- which claimed the name as proprietary property. Musically, James Pankow (trombone) was about to further cross-pollinate the band's sound with the multifaceted six-song "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon." The classically inspired suite also garnered the band two of its most beloved hits -- the upbeat pop opener "Make Me Smile" as well as the achingly poignant "Color My World" -- both of which remained at the center of the group's live sets. Chicago had certainly not abandoned its active pursuit of blending high-octane electric rockers such as "25 or 6 to 4" to the progressive jazz inflections heard in the breezy syncopation of "The Road." Adding further depth of field is the darker "Poem for the People" as well as the politically charged five-song set titled "It Better End Soon." These selections feature the band driving home its formidable musicality and uncanny ability to coalesce styles telepathically and at a moment's notice. The contributions of Terry Kath (guitar/vocals) stand out as he unleashes some of his most pungent and sinuous leads, which contrast with the tight brass and woodwind trio of Lee Loughnane (trumpet/vocals), Walter Parazaider (woodwinds/vocals), and the aforementioned Pankow. Peter Cetera (bass/vocals) also marks his songwriting debut -- on the final cut of both the suite and the album -- with "Where Do We Go from Here." It bookends both with at the very least the anticipation and projection of a positive and optimistic future.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cheap Trick

Titled Cheap Trick like the group's debut album, presumably because the record represents a new beginning, Cheap Trick is indeed their most powerful, direct and melodic album in years, and certainly their heaviest since their late-'70s heyday. Stripping away all of the glossy, big-budget excesses of their late-'80s and early-'90s major-label releases, Cheap Trick keep their sound to the basics -- loud guitars, crunching chords, and sweet melodies. Certainly the unvarnished sound helps the record sound immediate, but the real key to the success of Cheap Trick is the reinvigorated songwriting. All of the songs are written by the band themselves, with only a couple of cuts featuring outside songwriters, and the result is a tight, melodic set of hard rockers and ballads. Not everything on the album is first-rate -- the forced opener "Anytime" is almost a fatal misstep -- and a couple of songs are simply pleasant, but there are more terrific moments -- "Hard to Tell," "You Let a Lotta People Down," "Say Good Bye," "It All Comes Back to You" -- than there have been on any Cheap Trick record in years. It's a fine, distinguished comeback, and one that suggests that the group could continue making records just as good for several more years.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Summerfest Milwaukee, WI 7/8/1994

Cheap Trick performs a show at Milwaukee's Summerfest during their Woke With a Monster Tour performing their hits live "Surrender", "I Want You to Want Me" and "The Flame" along with materiel from their new album.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lap of Luxury

Cheap Trick's comeback album is by no means a return to the creativity and vitality of their glory days. But even though Lap of Luxury is largely formulaic, the band's strongest collection of material in some time fills that late-'80s pop-metal formula quite well. Combining grandly romantic power ballads ("Ghost Town") with catchy hard rockers ("Never Had a Lot to Lose"), Lap of Luxury consistently delivers strong hooks and well-crafted songs, proving that Cheap Trick were still capable of outdoing many of the bands they helped inspire. The album produced two Top Five singles in a cover of Elvis Preasley's "Don't Be Cruel" and the band's first number one hit, "The Flame."

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Found All the Parts

Originally released on 10-inch vinyl back in 1980.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Dream Police

At Budokan unexpectedly made Cheap Trick stars, largely because "I Want You to Want Me" had a tougher sound than its original studio incarnation. Perversely -- and most things Cheap Trick have done are somehow perverse -- the band decided not to continue with the direct, stripped-down sound of At Budokan, which would have been a return to their debut. Instead, the group went for their biggest, most elaborate production to date, taking the synthesized flourishes of Heaven Tonight to extremes. While it kept the group in the charts, it lessened the impact of the music. Underneath the gloss, there are a number of songs that rank among Cheap Trick's finest, particularly the paranoid title track, the epic rocker "Gonna Raise Hell," the tough "I Know What I Want," the simple pop of "Voices," and the closer, "Need Your Love." Still, Dream Police feels like a letdown in comparison to its predecessors, even though it would later feel like one of the group's last high-water marks.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

At Budokan

While their records were entertaining and full of skillful pop, it wasn't until At Budokan that Cheap Trick's vision truly gelled. Many of these songs, like "I Want You to Want Me" and "Big Eyes," were pleasant in their original form, but seemed more like sketches compared to the roaring versions on this album. With their ear-shatteringly loud guitars and sweet melodies, Cheap Trick unwittingly paved the way for much of the hard rock of the next decade, as well as a surprising amount of alternative rock of the 1990s, and it was At Budokan that captured the band in all of its power.