Friday, April 9, 2021

Cheap Trick Sounds Timeless in 2021: In Another World Album Review

It was a Christmas album that really turned me onto a band.

In 2019, my son discovered the Cheap Trick Christmas album (2017). At that point, I could name two songs by the band: She’s Tight (the first song of theirs I ever heard) and The Flame. That Christmas record hit me like a ton of tinsel-coated bricks. They covered some rarer classics and threw in some well-done originals that perfectly captured the spirit and vibe of the season. It has, in only two years, become one of my favorite Christmas albums.

My son and I are huge fans of legacy acts who continually release new material in the 21st Century. We especially appreciate those musicians who draw on their decades of experience but also craft songs that are appropriate for their age. With terrestrial radio locked into certain playlists and artists, the drive to create hit singles has all but vanished. That freedom enables legacy acts to do whatever they want. More often than not, they focus on their core musical values, the things that brought them to prominence in the first place.

Cut to 2021 and my son announced Cheap Trick was going to release a new album. Excited, we pre-ordered the album, which drops today. Not wanting to wait for the physical CD to arrive in the mailbox, I went to the official Cheap Trick YouTube channel and streamed the album.

Twice.

What came out of the speakers was music from a veteran band who appears not to have lost a step. If there is a ‘face’ to the band, it’s guitarist Rick Nielsen. His checkerboard guitars and skullcap is about the only thing I can visually point to as being Cheap Trick. But he is an excellent player. The solos he plays are all tasteful (a theme you’ll see in the song-by-song breakdown) and melodic. Sure, I bet he can spread with the best of them, but that’s not what Cheap Trick is. To my ears, they are a power pop band that borders on hard rock. And by that definition, they are arguably playing better in 2021 than they did when they started out.

But if we’re talking aspects of the band that are timeless, it has to be singer Robin Zander. I knew he was a great singer (see: The Flame) and the Christmas album just reiterated the point. There’s a Harry Nilsson song called "Remember (Christmas)" that is a stunner. Here on this album, I’m getting vibes from not only John Lennon but also Noddy Holder from Slade. The guy is sixty-eight yet still sounds clear, hitting every note. Amazing.

Those influences the band seems to wear on their sleeves, be it Zander’s voice or the song compositions themselves. It is not a paint-by-numbers thing. It’s a genuine acknowledgment of what prompted those guys to form a band in the mid 1970s and just keep going.

Lyrically, these guys certainly know how to write power pop songs. "Boys & Girls & Rock N Roll" and "The Summer Looks Good on You" would work in any decade. They played “Boys & Girls & Rock N Roll” last night on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert so you can see they still rock.

Yet this record is not written and sung by young men. These are veterans of rock music, all in their sixties and seventies. They know their age, and they deliver meaningful songs. A few made me misty and the shortest song, “I'll See You Again,” actually brought tears to my eyes. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Probably is, but they are, too.

I've already used the word 'tasteful' to describe these songs. This is a band who knows who they are and are perfectly fine staying in that lane. This is certainly a modern, 21st Century record, but it has its heritage in everything that came before. An excellent addition to the music of 2021. There have already been some favorite albums this year—Alice Cooper Detroit Stories, Foo Fighters Medicine at Midnight, Paul Stanley’s Soul Station Now and Then, and Charley Crockett Sings James Hand—but In Another World by Cheap Trick is a strong contender for my favorite album of the year.

Song Notes:


If you’re interested, here are my unedited notes as I listened to the album the first time.

The Summer Looks Good on You - It sounds like summer and you can easily imagine yourself driving with the windows down.

Quit Waking Me Up - Oh my! This is a great pop tune. Vocals good and clean with just a hint of edge. Brass tops it off. Fav song so far.

Another World - Ballad that brings a Beatles vibe. Lyrics have a melancholy feel, kind of a world weariness. Solid, melodic guitar solo.

Boys & Girls & Rock N Roll - A bit of a classic rock and roll vibe, but with a modern, slightly minor-chord feel. Part of the guitar riffs during the verses reminds me of a similar guitar riff from "Synchronicity II."

[So far: man, these guys still got it.]

The Party - Meat and potatoes rock song with driving beat and a female backup vocalist. She and Robin mesh well together.

Final Days - Heavy start that leads into a rather joyful chorus...yet the lyrics of the chorus have a longing to them. Bluesy in every other part, including harmonica solo.

So It Goes - Delicate start with guitar and vocals. Lennon/Beatles vibe as soon as more instruments kick in. Mournful quality. Looking back. Dang. Actually got misty on this one.

Light Up the Fire - [This is one released a couple of months ago. I heard it but don't remember it.] Pure power pop goodness. Again, eight songs into this record, all cuts are tasteful with decades of experience behind them.

Passing Through - Moderate tempo but with sound like "So It Goes." I'm surprised how Robin's voice makes me think of Lennon. Dreamy guitar work. Guitar solo actually felt restrained.

Here's Looking at You - Back to faster tempo. Robin's vocals instantly made me think of Slade. It's got one of those choruses where the drums play quarter notes to help drive the tune.

I've already used the word 'tasteful' to describe these songs so far. This is a band who knows who they are and are perfectly fine staying in that lane. This is certainly a modern, 21st Century record, but it has its heritage in everything that came before.

Another World (reprise)- Lyrics seem to point to Covid pandemic and all the crap 2020 delivered. But positive, encouraging chorus all but points to it as a religious song. They're basically singing about heaven. Beatles-y bridge.

I'll See You Again - Ballad and, considering the last tune is a Lennon cover, it's the last new Cheap Trick song on the album. Again, lyrically is age appropriate, older men looking back on their lives. Seems to be missing a loved one, maybe even one who is dying. "Close your eyes and I'll see you again." It's short. Actual tears in my eyes.

Gimme Some Truth [Lennon] - Can easily see why they picked this for an album in 2021. Will have to research when Lennon wrote this tune. Solo song or Beatles? Mention of "Tricky Dicky" indicates post-Nixon. The mini-screaming of Lennon's lyrics easily apply to 2021.

Summary:

Wow. This is a good album by veteran musicians who bring all their musical intelligence and history to the fore. Makes me want to binge all Cheap Trick albums.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Of Course There Are Mobsters in New Jersey in Bury the Lead by David Rosenfelt

If it's New Jersey, of course mobsters are involved.

In this, the third book featuring lawyer Andy Carpenter and his intrepid pooch, Tara, our hero is taking it easy since his last case. By taking it easy, we're talking not working. While he might be itching to get back in the courtroom, Andy's barely lifting a finger.

Until his friend, Vince Sanders, comes calling. He's the owner of the local newspaper, and his star reporter might need some legal help. Young Daniel Cumming is being used by a serial killer who kills women and then severs their hands from their bodies. Daniel writes stories about the killer, including direct messages. Vince just wants Andy handy to absolve the newspaper from anything untoward should anything go awry.

And something does go off kilter. Big time. The latest victim is found in a park in the same condition as all the others. The difference is Daniel. He's also in the park, unconscious and wounded. He claims he tried to stop the killer, but the police ain't buying it. Now, Andy has a real client with real stakes. Daniel is put on trial as a serial killer, and Andy must defend the cub reporter.

Step one: learn about Daniel and his background. But with each new revelation comes new wrinkles in the case and new layers about Daniel's past. 

And, of course, the mob gets involved.

Famously, when he was crafting the template that would become the Perry Mason TV show, author Erle Stanley Gardner stated that no one cared about Perry's personal life so there was hardly anything mentioned. David Rosenfelt has a different opinion and it's one most of us appreciate. We get a lot of Andy's personal life in these books, and it's one of the things that makes them so interesting. Andy isn't some cardboard character going through the motions. He comes across as a real flesh-and-blood guy. We get a lot of personal details in this third book, including his desire to marry his girlfriend, Laurie. She also serves as his private investigator. He wants to and she's noncommittal. Quite the flip from the usual way we think about relationships.

Speaking of unusual, Andy's an interesting guy. He's very smart when it comes to the law, but not always keen on other aspects of life. He's not what you'd call a man's man. Sure, he drinks beer, watches sports, and bets on them, but he doesn't own a gun and he's not that great in a fight. In fact, there are a few scenes where he's scared to death. I find that wonderfully refreshing in a character. It does make him more relatable as a regular guy who gets caught up in irregular events. I don't bet on sports and I typically only watch the NFL, but there are more than a few things about Andy to which I relate. Perhaps that's why I'm enjoying this series so much.

We also get more dog stuff. Author Rosenfelt and his wife rescue dogs, so it is natural for his character to do the same. In a continuation of events from past books, Andy is in partnership to create a kennel. He's a dog lover and with his substantial inheritance, he wants to give dogs good homes and places to live in the meantime. It's a great character trait and one clearly used to sell the series. Want proof? Check out the covers.

Five of the first six book covers are your standard-type mystery cover you see on a dozen other books. Book five, Play Dead, features a dog. Then, starting with book seven, New Tricks, there are dogs on every cover. It works. In fact, it helped sell me my first Andy Carpenter novel, Dachshund in the Snow back in December.

I'm listening to this series so I have to again give a shout out to Grover Gardner. He voices Andy's first person narration with a wry tone in his voice. I've listened to many other Gardner-narrated stories, but he has fast become "Andy Carpenter" to me.

If you want a good mystery series with honest and real characters and a lead who is not a superman, then the Andy Carpenter series is right up your alley. 

Other books in the series:

Open and Shut

First Degree