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Review: 'In Another World' Another Great Album from Cheap Trick

by Kevin Schattenkirk
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Saturday Apr 10, 2021
Review: 'In Another World' Another Great Album from Cheap Trick

Since their 1997 self-titled 13th album, Cheap Trick has pretty much been on a roll. That album — which incidentally, was their second self-titled... their first being their 1977 debut — kicked off a third era for the band, as guitarist Rick Nielson once said, after briefly dabbling in 1980s corporate rock.

Cheap Trick's first five albums, released between 1977-1980, are touchstones of classic rock. It was the period between1982 and the mid-'90s that proved roughest for Rockford, Illinois' finest — with radio play and sales declining, a line-up change, and industry pressure to produce hits. Which the band did, in the form of "The Flame" from the heavily song-doctored 1988 "Lap of Luxury" album, and "Can't Stop Falling Into Love" from the 1990 follow-up "Busted." But then, despite producing a hit single, "Busted" failed to sell much and has — perhaps unfairly — been written off as the nadir of Trick's corporate rock era. (I personally think it's a better album and bears more of the band's musical trademarks than "Lap of Luxury," which was the bigger seller.)

Epic Records dropped the band, Warner Bros. picked them up, and Cheap Trick's 12th album, "Woke Up With a Monster," was released in 1994. Billed as a return to form, the album felt — and still feels — confusing: There's an edge, but the band can't seem to shake the corporate rock made foolish by allegedly more "authentic" Seattle bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. Those bands wrested airplay from Trick's butt rock peers (bye-bye Def Leppard and Bon Jovi... at least, temporarily) and 1970s "sell-outs" to corporate rock (Bad Company and Heart). Interestingly, those Seattle bands cited Cheap Trick — and hometown heroes Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, while we're on the subject — as their biggest influences. Kurt Cobain's knack for an infectious chorus certainly points back to many penned by Nielson and Robin Zander, Trick's charismatic lead singer.

The band's 1997 reboot kicked off 25 years of stellar music-making, except for its uncharacteristically — and surprisingly — dull "Special One" album in 2003. And Cheap Trick has never been dull. But "Special One" stands as an anomaly, thankfully. "In Another World" extends the succession of well-written, arranged, performed and produced records that flat-out rock.

Much like their Australian peers AC/DC, who released the excellent "Power Up" album at the end of 2020, Cheap Trick doesn't reinvent the wheel with every new album. Rather, they seem to trade in musical characteristics that have served them well without descending into stagnant self-mimicry: Guitar, bass, and drums rockers with solid verses, catchy Beatlesque choruses, and harmony vocals like that on album opener "The Summer Looks Good On You." Synth parts and horns add color on occasion, as with "Quit Waking Me Up," which struts like the Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life."

Other earworms include the title track, which appears twice — as a ballad in the album's first half, and then as a searing rocker toward the end. "Light Up the Fire" begins with a guitar riff that recalls Metallica's "Enter Sandman" before working into a classic Trick chorus straight out of the band's early work. Plied with another infectious sing-along chorus, the classic rock of "Here's Looking at You" also teases a synth part that appears to reference early career smash "Dream Police." There's also a relatively faithful, but no less biting, cover of John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth," which was released as a single in 2019 (the timing of which certainly carries implications that the band has yet to explain).

A handful of reflective ballads are thrown in for good measure but never slow the party down. "So It Goes" and "I'll See You Again" are gentle acoustic guitar-based ballads with McCartney-esque chord progressions and melodies, the latter skewing slightly more atmospheric. "Passing Through" integrates psychedelic textures into a full-band arrangement.

A couple of elements begin to stand out after a few listens: First, Nielson's guitar work is often highlighted by unforgettable riffs and guitar solos that effortlessly springboard from Zander's vocals. Second, Zander's voice doesn't seem to age at all. Like his former duet partner, Heart's Ann Wilson, he hasn't lost any range or power. He's fully invested in his performances here, and that, in itself, is infectious.

Cheap Trick fans who've enjoyed the band's work over the last 25 years should be more than pleased with "In Another World" — the band does what they do, and they do it quite well. The arrangements and production are crisp, the songwriting is solid, and the performances are inspired.

And as rock albums go, this one is definitely suited for warm weather... the summer looks good on Cheap Trick.

Cheap Trick's "In Another World is available now

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.

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