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.
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.
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.
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.