Saturday, October 14, 2006

Vinyl Tap: Cheap Trick - Heaven Tonight

I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #23:

If Cheap Trick’s assaultively exuberant Rockford from earlier this year is rightly considered a return to feisty form with its successful recapturing of the group’s late ‘70s gritty and giddy heyday, it’s worth a wayback-machine revisit to the power-pop pinnacle of that era, 1978’s classic Heaven Tonight.

So surrender, surrender – your post Dream Police heavy-handed-osity and insipid power ballad bombast have no powers here.

Actually, the triple-treat opening songs on Heaven Tonight, a trifecta of infectiousness replete with nooks and crannies of seemingly effortless hooks and handily executed songwriting craft leave you no choice but to acquiesce. “Surrender,” “On Top Of The World,” and “California Man” coalesce into swooning Beatle-esque duck-and-cover calls-and-response between lead singer Robin Zander, the backing vocals, and the solid guitar onslaughts and embellishments from the Huntz Hall of rock ‘n’ roll, Rick Nielsen.

Cheap Trick displays not only a deft canniness in covering “California Man” by the under-appreciated '60s U.K. band the Move – the immovable anti-Invasion group having resisted the force to tour America – they are playful enough to tuck in a couple sluggish riffs from the heavy metal-ish sludge-pit Brit hit “Brontosaurus” before moving on a couple songs later to the hard-edged blitzkrieg pop of “Auf Wiedersehen.”

Things verge on the menacing in the turgid and churning title song with its cautionary admonition that “you can never come down.” But close on the heels of this unsettling word to the unwise is the sassy smack of jagged effrontery of “Stiff Competition” in which – even though it’s a world where “I screw you, you screw me, they screw us” – we “have so much fun, so much fun / When we’re together.” Further along the pendulum swing is the almost toe-tappingly jaunty musical question “How Are You?”

To which tuning into the tuneful “On The Radio” may provide an answer. This marvelous bite of ear-candy – which fades out in ragged Small Faces-style glory with the not-so-dulcet tones of the Real Don Steele urging you to “go with it, go for it, go nuts, go completely wild!” – is not only a salute to “All of the rock ‘n roll DJs” who “play the songs that make you and me feel so good.” It also offers a little solace with each palliative pop pulsation that soothes with just the asking: “Hey, mister on the radio / Please play my favorite song / The one where she didn’t go away.”

An entreaty that could be as easily made to Cheap Trick, with similarly obliging and heartening consequences for a sublime slice of pop-rock heaven tonight.

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