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Cheap Trick, ‘Bang, Zoom, Crazy … Hello': Album Review

Big Machine
Big Machine

In the seven years since Cheap Trick‘s last album, the usual things that sometimes happen to bands that have been around as long as they have happened. They lost their longtime drummer (who’s been replaced by guitarist Rick Nielsen‘s son), they switched record companies and they’re going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Not that any of this really affects their 17th album, Bang, Zoom, Crazy … Hello. Cheap Trick haven’t altered much since their 1977 self-titled debut. Not that they really could anyway. Guitars may get louder here and there, hand claps may power a song or two and they may give a passing nod to one of their influences occasionally, but the band’s basic foundation — ’60s rock ‘n’ roll filtered through the succeeding decades, mostly the ’70s — has remained the same. It’s pretty much part of their DNA by now.

Which makes Bang, Zoom, Crazy … Hello both a satisfyingly familiar and frustratingly rigid listen. They uncork three songs ripped from the Cheap Trick playbook right at the start: “Do You Believe Me?,” “No Direction” and “When I Wake Up Tomorrow.” But once that comfort zone is secured – and really, they haven’t sounded this strong in years — there’s not much reason for liftoff.

Everything sounds in place, and everything sounds polished. But the heart and drive that steered classic records like In Color and Heaven Tonight are missing. Plus, the album’s obligatory cover song (the ’60s hit “The In Crowd,” but it sounds more like Bryan Ferry’s white-soul cover here) gets buried in a stifling, far-from-loose arrangement this time, and the closing grunge-era rip “All Strung Out” is about 20 years too late.

So the best songs – the T. Rex-styled “Blood Red Lips” and the hooky “Sing My Blues Away,” which sounds like something from the group’s late-’80s commercial rebirth – are the ones that stray a bit from the formula.

Cheap Trick have always excelled when they surprised. Did anyone really expect Cheap Trick at Budokan to become one of the period’s most defining live albums? And say what you will about “The Flame,” their only No. 1, but it sure beats a lot of other things that were played on pop radio stations in 1988. There are no surprises on Bang, Zoom, Crazy … Hello, which is no surprise itself. At this stage of the game, Cheap Trick have earned it.

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Next: Top 10 Cheap Trick Songs

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