[Jefito’s note: Elo, kiddies, and welcome to the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cheap Trick! This week’s entry is an unexpected, pleasant surprise for me — a couple of weeks ago, I got an e-mail from Darren over at the excellent He’s A Whore, and it got me to thinking: What if Darren — a guy whose wit and insight I’ve long admired at The Velvet Rope — were to write us up a Cheap Trick Guide? They’re a band I’ve wanted to cover for awhile now, but knew I didn’t have the requisite emotional context to do justice. So I asked Darren, expecting not to see the completed Guide for weeks or months, he accepted, and — voila! — here it is.

Enjoy, friends, and make sure you pay Darren a visit at He’s A Whore — he’s always covering something cool, and he takes good care of readers who donate! –j]


Cheap Trick 1977
purchase this album


Cheap Trick - Cheap Trick

“I’m 30 but I feel like sixteen…” sings Robin Zander on the song “Daddy Should Have Stayed In High School.” In truth, guitarist/songwriter Rick Nielsen was 30 years old at the time of this album’s release and was already a veteran of numerous bands, including Fuse, who released one album (also for Epic) in 1968. Thus, Cheap Trick was a new band unlike most new bands of the day. Despite the fact that the album’s liner notes, by then-unknown scribe Eric Von Lustbader, declared Cheap Trick to be “a band without a past,” they’d been around, they’d lived, and they sang about things that most new bands of the day were afraid to even think about: serial killers, suicide, and pedophilia for starters.

As a kid, I remember taking one look at the album cover of Cheap Trick’s first release and wondering if it was a comedy record. Most noticable was Nielsen in full Huntz Hall mode, with ill-fitting sweater and the rim of his baseball cap turned skyward. As if that weren’t enough, drummer Bun E. Carlos recalled a slightly pudgy, bespectacled accountant. Their odd appearance was craftily offset by the swoon-worthy good looks of singer Robin Zander and bassist Tom Petersson.

Nothing, of course, could have prepared this young mind for what came charging out of my stereo’s speakers when I dropped the needle on this chunk of vinyl. From the opening drum beat of “Elo Kiddies” (download), Cheap Trick had me hook, line and sinker. They attacked each song with raw aplomb, lacerating guitars jutting at the listener from all directions, Zander’s raw vocals, and the growl of Petersson’s bass seemingly bringing down the recording studio around them. The songs that rocked — the aforementioned “Elo Kiddies,” “Hot Love” (download), and “He’s A Whore” — rocked hard and built memorable hooks atop a dark, slightly sinister underbelly. A song like “Oh Candy,” which seemed beautiful and slightly plaintive on the surface, actually mourned the loss of a photographer friend of the band who’d committed suicide.

Even the lilting ballad “Mandocello,” with a hauntingly beautiful melody played by Nielsen (on a mandolin/cello hybrid he’d invented called, you guessed it, a mandocello) hit the mark with deceptive simplicity:

I can hear you laughing
You’re a million miles away or you’re here
I will never leave you
I’m a million miles away or I’m near
I’m the thoughts you’re thinking
But you’re a lifetime away from your home or you’re here
I, I can see you crying
You’re a million miles away or you’re here
Look at me like I look at you
Think of me like I think of you
Speak to me like I speak to you
Dream of me like I dream of you…

Not exactly Shakespeare, but, delivered by Zander, one feels the impact of every single word.

Cheap Trick was an album of hard-edges, hard-knock characters, and unabashed hard rock that was unlike any hard rock I had heard.

That almost thirty years have passed since its release doesn’t soften any of the edges. It simply heightens the experience. 1977 may have been a great year for music (with debut releases by Elvis Costello, the Sex Pistols, etc. getting most of the press) but, quite frankly, the sonic juggernaut that Cheap Trick delivered may have gone largely unnoticed by the masses, but those who heard it never forgot it.


In Color (1977)
purchase this album


Cheap Trick - In Color

What a difference six months makes.

Delivered hot on the heels of their debut effort, In Color could not have been more different. While producer Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, John Lennon, Starz, etc.) had harnessed the raw power of the band’s live sound, new producer Tom Werman (yet to make a name for himself as a producer of hair metal records, most notably Motley Crue) was given the daunting task of making Cheap Trick ready for radio. Thus, In Color is as slick and safe as the first record was edgy and uncompromising. One listen to the jaunty barroom piano that guides the maiden voyage of “I Want You To Want Me” and anyone already familiar with the band knew this was not the same Cheap Trick. Not bad, mind you. Just very, very different.

Truth be told, In Color, despite its slickness, contains arguably the best collection of songs ever amassed for a Cheap Trick studio record: “Hello There,” “Downed” (download), “Southern Girls,” “Oh Caroline,” “Come On Come On,” and “Big Eyes” (download) are all here in pristine, flawlessly over-produced glory.

In keeping with the slick production, of course, the dark themes that populated the first record are toned down quite drastically on In Color. What you have here is a commercially-viable rock band on the cusp of stardom. Sure, the album peaked at #74 on the US charts, but, in Japan, it made Cheap Trick the biggest thing to hit there since the Beatles.


Heaven Tonight (1978)
purchase this album


Cheap Trick - Heaven Tonight

This is where things began to happen for the band. By now, In Color was a huge hit across Asia and Heaven Tonight was released stateside to high label expectations. Again, Tom Werman was tapped to produce the record. While slick production flourishes abound, you could hear a restless rock band fighting to rear its head. The opening riff to “Stiff Competition” (download), for example, is simply mind-blowing. The sheer menace and dark imagery of “Auf Wiedersehen” (download) makes it a tune that would not have seemed at all out-of-place on their debut effort, but would have been the aural equivalent of a fish out of water on In Color. On Heaven Tonight, an album that perfectly bridges the sound of their two prior releases, it not only fits perfectly, but raises the stakes considerably. Combined with the Zeppelinesque thunder of the title track, this is a heavy, heavy record.

And, sure, there’s also a little song called “Surrender” that was tailor-made for rock radio despite some truly inspired, yet demented lyrics:

Mother told me, yes, she told me i’d meet girls like you.
She also told me, “Stay away, you’ll never know what you’ll catch.”
Just the other day I heard of a soldier’s falling off
Some Indonesian junk that’s going round…

Not unlike most garden-variety radio hits of the day, “Surrender” celebrated youth. At the same time, it poked loving fun at parental warnings of STD’s wherein a man’s “soldier” falls off.

While Heaven Tonight got the band within a stone’s throw of the Top 40, it was the sudden and unexpected success of their next release that changed everything.


At Budokan (1978)
purchase this album


Cheap Trick - At Budokan - The Complete Concert

Initially a Japan-only release, this explosive live set turned the US on its ear after radio programmers began playing tracks from the promo-only eight-track From Tokyo To You LP. Epic responded almost begrudgingly by releasing the album stateside as the band continued work on a new studio album. With all but the finishing touches added, the band was then forced back out on the road as the live version of “I Want You To Want Me” (download) rocketed up the charts and burned up the airwaves throughout the summer of ‘79.

Cheap Trick went from being a band that only the most discerning rock fans knew about to full-fledged pop idols in a matter of weeks. They toured North America relentlessly, spending what few days off their schedule allowed in the recording studio before returning for the next string of shows. In the span of two years, they’d recorded three studio albums, a multi-platinum live album, and toured almost non-stop around the world. For most bands, At Budokan would have given them the juice to call their own shots, to slow down the frantic pace, and to finally enjoy the fruits of their labors. For Cheap Trick, though, success merely meant that this was no time to slow down.


Dream Police (1979)
purchase this album


Cheap Trick - Dream Police

Delayed by the runaway success of At Budokan, the band’s new studio album, Dream Police, was an ambitious pop tour de force. With the careening title track as its centerpiece, Dream Police was an album that showed a band in transition. There is an obligatory stab at disco (”Gonna Raise Hell”) and an achingly beautiful Beatlesque gem (”Voices”) stuck between wall-to-wall rockers like “I’ll Be With You Tonight,” “I Know What I Want,” and “The House Is Rocking (With Domestic Problems).” And, yet, one can’t help but wonder what the album would have sounded like without the reverb-heavy production and schmaltzy orchestra arrangements.

Despite a gigantic promotional push from Epic, the seemingly slam-dunk hook of “Dream Police” (download) stalled at #26 on the singles chart and the album soon lost momentum after peaking at #6. The follow-up single, “Voices” (download) spent only a few weeks in the Top 40. Cheap Trick’s chart-topping joyride seemed to be running out of steam.

In hindsight, the album stands as a notable, albeit imperfect, addition to an already remarkable body of work. The title track itself ranks quite high as a delightfully original lyrical concept that was years in the making. The rest of the album, however, seems underdeveloped. Cheap Trick once made originality and delightful pop subversion look effortless. On this effort, and for the first time, the band seemed to be trying too hard to knock the ball out of the park.


All Shook Up (1980)
purchase this album


Cheap Trick - All Shook Up

Recorded in the West Indies with the legendary George Martin producing, All Shook Up was a heavily-anticipated effort. Critics had long drawn comparisons between CT and the fab four. Whereas most bands with Beatlesque tendencies merely recycled licks and melodies, Trick had a wider range of colors on their musical palette. Sure, Zander could approximate Lennon’s vocals at the drop of a hat, but he was no mere wanna-be.

All things considered, this should have been a match made it musical heaven. Unfortunately, Martin’s appearance on All Shook Up begins the band’s annoying penchant for achieving sub-par results with otherwise notable big-name producers.

Things got off to a great start with the orchestrated rocker “Stop This Game” (download), followed by the thunderous wall-of-drums and slashing guitars of “Just Got Back” (download). For a shining moment, Trick were firing on all cylinders.

Then the wheels fell off.

“Baby Loves To Rock,” while a decent bar-band rocker, was the first song to truly betray the band’s trademark swagger. When you think of how completely and utterly original this band had been over the course of their first three studio records, a song like this just doesn’t cut it. “Can’t Stop It But I’m Gonna Try” tries valiantly to get the album back on-track but is prophetically unable to stop the power slide that follows.

“World’s Greatest Lover”? Again, imagine how wrong this song would have sounded, even on the arguably sterile In Color? “High Priest Of Rhythmic Noise”? Uh, yeah.

For anyone still hoping to come to this album’s defense, one listen to the pointless drums-and-chant of “Who D’ King?” stops all such arguments dead in their tracks. Was Cheap Trick incapable of coming up with ten actual songs to fill an album?

Rumors that the sessions for All Shook Up were tense at best, scarred by in-fighting within the band, were all-but-confirmed when, on the eve of its release, bassist Tom Petersson quit the band. Where even a lesser, albeit arguably smarter band would have chosen to take a break, regroup, and carefully plot their next move, Cheap Trick continued with headstrong determination, as if the departure of a key original member was merely a bump in the road.

Petersson was quickly replaced by Pete Comita, a veteran of numerous local Chicago bands (Empire and D’Thumbs, to name but two), and hit the road for a yearlong world tour. All Shook Up, meanwhile, stalled at #24 on the Billboard Top 200.


One On One (1982)
purchase this album


Cheap Trick - One on One

1981 was the first year since 1977 that had not brought a new Cheap Trick album. Fans were quite hopeful, though, as the band had contributed two songs to the soundtrack for the motion picture Heavy Metal. While “I Must be Dreaming” rocked with some vigor, it was ultimately a tad unremarkable, but “Reach Out” (written by Comita and a former bandmate) was a welcome return to form.

Upon getting my hands on the new album, it was a bit of a surprise to see a new face on the cover. What happened to Comita? And who was this “John Brant” fellow?

It seems that Comita’s desire to contribute more material may have led to his unceremonious dismissal by bandleader and main songwriter, Nielsen. As this was much the same gripe that had led to Petersson’s departure, one must draw the conclusion that Cheap Trick was Nielsen’s baby.

One On One begins quite triumphantly with the no-holds-barred “I Want You” (uh, to want me, or what?) (download), then succumbs to kitsch with the clumsy stab at trendiness, “She’s Tight,” complete with pulsating synths and cheeky lyrics. I mean, come on, “She’s nice, she’s tight?!” What gives?

If producer Roy Thomas Baker (Queen, The Cars, uh, T’Pau) had done for this album what he’d done for, say, the first Cars record, he’d have captured the essence of the band instead of forcing his production techniques upon them. Apparently, he drove quite capable drummer Carlos crazy by endlessly ordering him to retrack drum parts. Oddly enough, the drum sound on this record is more of a pyrotechnic display than an example of Carlos’ abilities. While the song itself is a bit of a clunker, “Four Letter Word” is ultimately sabotaged by exploding snare cracks.

Sure, there are some great songs — most notably the wonderfully elegant and unabashedly Beatlesque “If You Want My Love” (download) — but there are also songs that leave one scratching their head (most notably the linguistically-challenged “I Want Be Man”).

Ultimately, One On One is a record that belied the band’s earlier greatness and revealed Cheap Trick to be a band very much in search of themselves.


Next Position Please (1983)
purchase this album


Cheap Trick - Next Position Please

With producer Todd Rungren (Utopia, XTC, Psychedelic Furs) at the helm, NPP sounds like it was a lot of fun to make. The band plays it fast and loose for much of the fourteen songs collected here, but the actual production of the record has always left me cold. Bun E’s drums sound like damp cardboard boxes, Nielsen’s guitars are reduced to a dull wimper, and Brant’s bass is mixed so low on most tracks that I’m left wondering if he actually took part in the sessions or not.

NPP sounds like a batch of demos recorded before the actual star producer comes in, helps the band flesh out the good songs, and pushes them to chuck the so-so songs to the curb. Rundgren does neither. Heck, he even pushes the band to take a stab at one of his own tracks, the ultimately forgettable “Heaven’s Falling” (download).

As if to signal a slight changing of the guard, the album’s most commercial track, “I Can’t Take It” (download), wasn’t written by Nielsen, but rather Robin Zander. Nielsen did manage to contribute one standout song; the haunting, understated sadness of “Y.O.Y.O.Y.”

Thus, as further evidence that the band didn’t quite have enough material worthy of release as a single, Epic Records sent the band back into the studio to record more material after the album was supposedly finished. With Rundgren no longer available, they employed Roy Thomas Baker’s engineer Ian Taylor to cover the Motors’ “Dancin’ The Night Away,” which, even in its original form never sounded like an obvious choice for a single. In Cheap Trick’s hands, the song was not without merit. Others have bashed their version of the song over the years, but I thought they succeeded in making it their own. Still, it never struck me as a song that was ever going to dominate the airwaves.

Of course, in their infinite wisdom, Epic never actually released the song as a single. “I Can’t Take It” was the album’s sole single, quite deservedly so, but failed to chart. In an age of new wave acts and the ushering in of the MTV generation, Cheap Trick looked and sounded decidedly out of place, and Next Position Please peaked at a paltry #61.


Standing On The Edge (1985)
purchase this album

After three albums derailed by producers who either misunderstood the band, or were hell-bent on forcing their vision upon the band, Standing On The Edge saw the band re-team with Jack Douglas, who had produced their amazing debut effort. To Trick fans, this album could potentially the literal “second coming” of their beloved band.

So, how could things have gone so woefully wrong?

One listen reveals a band fighting to remain relevant and a producer too mired in a legal tug-of-war with goddamn Yoko Ono to pay proper attention to this record.

How can you tell Cheap Trick had lost the plot? Three words: “Wild Wild Women” (download).

While this song was buried deep on the band’s eighth studio album, it’s a sure sign that the band was gasping on fumes and grasping at straws. I’ve always gauged the quality of latter-day Trick output by wondering what a particular song would have sounded like if released as part of the band’s first three efforts. Truth be told, songs like “Women,” “Cover Girl” and “Rock All Night” would have made them nothing more than a 70’s also-ran (on-par with any band the rightfully-forgotten band Michael Des Barres ever fronted).

The album’s one saving grace is the pounding pseudo-ballad “Tonight It’s You” (download), which almost jettisoned the band back into the Top 40. Even so, this moderate radio hit couldn’t save them from being reduced to support act, opening shows for REO Speedwagon.

Roll with the changes, indeed.


The Doctor (1986)
purchase this album

There are those able to defend the quality of this album. I am not one of them.

Upon first listen to this record twenty years ago, my heart literally sank as I turned up the volume on the lead-off cut, “It’s Up To You” (download). While not a bad song, per se, I just remember the look of horror on the face of my college roommate, who had not heard, or cared about, a Cheap Trick record since Heaven Tonight.

As he trudged out of our dorm room in search of cheap, overly-processed cafeteria food, I listened to each song that followed and heard a once-great band become mired in an equally cheesy, overprocessed 80’s production. Of course, it didn’t help things that a majority of the songs gathered here seemed to exist only to please some bean-counting record executive. Epic’s meddling in the band’s affairs was growing by leaps and bounds, as proven by the inclusion of “Kiss Me Red” (download), a song written by pop-glop duo Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg (who’d most notably penned hits for the likes of Madonna and Cyndi Lauper).

Everything about this record, from the abstract art-deco album artwork right down to song titles like “Good Girls Go To Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere) and “Man-U-Lip-U-Lator,” seemed misguided at best.

Even more disturbing was the band’s acceptance of an invitation to be Ratt’s opening act through the fall/winter of ‘86. Oh, how far the great had fallen.


Lap Of Luxury (1988)
purchase this album


Cheap Trick - Lap of Luxury

There is something to be said for success. Not much of it kind, of course.

Granted, it was nice to see the band reunite with original bassist Tom Petersson after an eight-year estrangement and to watch radio programmers welcome Cheap Trick back with open arms. The band scored two Top 5 singles with “The Flame” and their somewhat novel remake of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” but at what price? After all, neither song was actually written by a member of the band.

In fact, the songwriting credits for this album read like a Who’s Who of 80’s schmaltz-peddlers: Diane Warren (”Ghost Town”), Mike Chapman & Holly Knight (”Space”), and, uh, House of Lords keyboardist Gregg Giuffria (”All We Need Is A Dream”). It’s stunning to realize that the once-hilariously prolific Rick Nielsen took part in co-writing only four of the album’s ten songs.

Granted, while such contributions as “Let Go” (download) and “Wrong Side Of Love” (download) weren’t chart hits, they were widely regarded as highlights by longtime fans of the band.

Unfortunately, while Cheap Trick went to #1 with “The Flame,” filmed three videos that garnered almost constant MTV rotation, and returned to headliner status throughout North America, they were now nothing more than a pawn for their record label’s hit-making whims.


Busted (1990)
purchase this album

With everyone expecting Lap Of Luxury, Volume 2, 1990’s Busted falls short of such expectations by making only the most half-hearted effort to recreate the chart magic of their 1988 comeback effort. Replete with a half-dozen songwriters-for-hire, including return engagements by Nick Graham (who’d co-written “The Flame”) and Diane Warren, it is obvious that Epic feels the band’s best bet is to continue coloring by numbers. Added to the mix this time is a ballad co-penned by Foreigner’s Mick Jones (”If You Need Me”) and a cover of The Move’s “Rock And Roll Tonight” (download) tacked onto the end of the record.

The band scored one here-today, gone-later-today Top 20 single with “Can’t Stop Falling Into Love” (download), a song the band had originally written for Rod Stewart. Busted, however, peaked at #48 on the Top 200 Albums chart. It was the band’s final effort for the label.


Woke Up With A Monster (1994)
purchase this album


Cheap Trick - Woke Up with a Monster

How long do diehard fans hold out hope for a return to the glory days when Cheap Trick records were monumental events, each forthcoming release date anticipated with great excitement?

With four years having passed since they’d left the meddling execs at Sony headquarters, this fan naively believed a change of labels would give the band renewed confidence and a fresh slate on which to unleash their next sonic masterpiece.

While not the absolute return to greatness longtime fans were hoping for, there are brief flashes of brilliance displayed throughout this album. “Tell Me Everything” (download), for example, stands as a poignant, yet tormented story of love-gone-wrong and is easily one of the band’s best latter-day compositions. “You’re All I Wanna Do” and “I Didn’t Know I Had It” (download), while slightly cliched, are above-average album tracks revealing Trick’s continuing knack for strong melodies.

Then, of course, there is the laughably ham-fisted “Ride The Pony,” a song as out-of-place here as it would have been on any classic Trick record.

Whereas Busted at least managed to break into the Top 50, Woke Up With A Monster missed the Top 100 entirely. It was the largest commercial bomb of their career and the last album to be recorded for a major label.


Cheap Trick (1997)
purchase this album


Cheap Trick - Cheap Trick

By 1997, Cheap Trick had spent the better part of fifteen years feeling around in the dark. In the process, they undid almost everything they’d accomplished during the first few years of their career. Now, no longer signed to a major label, or able to fill large concert venues on their own, Cheap Trick was viewed by many as little more than a nostalgia act.

Realizing this, the band had recently taken steps to distance themselves from those who no longer had their best interests at heart, leading to a bitter split from longtime manager Ken Adamany. As a result, CT97 is the work of a once-respected band determined to make a new start.

The album opener “Anytime” is a maniacal, muscular rocker that proves Cheap Trick has not lost a step in the twenty years since their last self-titled record. “Hard To Tell” (download) and “Carnival Game” are confidently jaded slices of classic pop that bring a refreshing eneregy to the proceedings.

“You Let A Lotta People Down” is a cringe-worthy attack upon their former manager that works best as a form of therapy…perhaps. “Baby No More,” “Wrong All Along,” and “Eight Miles Low” hit the mark with stunning accuracy while continuing the venomous vibe that permeates the album.

That is not to say that the record is not without its tender moments: “Say Goodbye” (download) and “It All Comes Back To You” both reveal the band’s penchant for emotive mid-tempo pop gems.

Thus, CT97 stands as the album that brought Cheap Trick back from the rocking dead, renewing their focus and desire to win audiences anew.


Music for Hangovers (1999)
purchase this album


Cheap Trick - Music for Hangovers (Music from the DVD) [Live]

Always a stunning live band, recent raves from current hot acts Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam had raised Cheap Trick’s coolness factor considerably with the modern rock crowd. To capitalize upon this, the band performed three-night stands in cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, playing one of their first three classic albums in its entirety each night (followed by a second set of hits and latter-day favorites).

The oddly titled Music for Hangovers compiles tracks from all three performances at Chicago’s Metro and moves with raw, explosive power. Cheap Trick breaths new life into classic tracks (some of which had not been played onstage in decades).

One could argue that those who already own At Budokan need never buy another Cheap Trick live album, as there is no topping one of the greatest live albums of all time. That, of course, would be missing the point here. Music for Hangovers is a celebration of a great band’s best music, performed in front of an adoring hometown audience in an intimate venue that allows the band to concentrate solely on the music; your standing invitation to a private party thrown by and for Trick fans the world over. Listen to “Mandocello” (download) and “If You Want My Love” (download).


Silver (2001)
purchase this album


Cheap Trick - Silver

Silver, on the other hand, is a very public party that Cheap Trick threw for themselves in front of a large hometown audience at an outdoor concert venue in Rockford, IL.

The intent of this concert was to celebrate their 25th anniversary by performing tracks that span their entire career, from each of their albums (although, thankfully, nothing from The Doctor).

Whereas Music for Hangovers was essential for its energy and vigor, Silver is a laborious affair that withers over the course of 2 CD’s. Truth be told, most of the songs gathered here are longtime concert staples. Those that aren’t…aren’t for a very good reason. Does anyone really need a live version of the “That 70’s Show” theme? Or “Woke Up With A Monster” (download)?

NOTE: The DVD release of this concert includes tracks not included on the CD release, including an almost tear-inducing performance of “Time Will Let You Know” (download) (from Zander’s sorely under-appreciated 1994 solo album) wherein Zander shares lead vocal duties with his young daughter.


Special One (2003)
purchase this album


Cheap Trick - Special One

I’m not gonna lie to you. I, like many fans of the band whose interest was renewed by their self-titled ‘97 release, was expecting Special One to be the glorious culmination of six years of intense creativity. Sure, the band toured almost non-stop for a large part of those six years, but when hasn’t that been the case? I figured six years was enough time to come up with at least a dozen riveting pop tracks that would vault Cheap Trick right back into the spotlight, where they belong.

I figured wrong.

That is not to say that Special One is a bad album (although that point is certainly arguable). It’s just not done yet.

The ball gets rolling with the curiously-titled “Scent Of A Woman” (download), wherein the band seems to be eschewing the virtues of women while, at the same time, letting men the world over that they just don’t stack up next to, ahem, “the scent of a woman.” Musically speaking, this song is largely a complete redux of Woke Up With A Monster’s “Girlfriends” (or was it “My Gang”? Does it matter?) with a glorious middle-eight that actually manages to salvage the track.

“Too Much” is a lilting mid-tempo rocker; the sort of song they’ve come to be able to do in their sleep. It’s pleasant, Zander’s vocals give it an elegiac quality, but, ultimately, it’s a musical Kung Pao Chicken…tasty, inoffensive, but largely forgettable.

The title track is a song I still find myself still wrestling to understand. It begins with a lumbering groove and Japanese-flavored keyboards. After two-and-a-half minutes of aimless verses, the entire band finally roars to life and one expects a chorus that never comes. Then the song ends.

“Pop Drone” does little more than reward my lack of excitement upon reflection of the song’s title.

For impatient fairweather fans ready to yank the CD from the player, a Cheap Trick trifecta stumbles out of nowhere to save the day, displaying brilliant flashes of lucidity. “My Obsession” (download), “Words” and “Sorry Boy” unleash sublime melodies that run wonderfully rampant, guitars that embrace and envelope the listener, and Zander’s flawlessly emotive vocals rolling gloriously with each musical twist and turn.

Truth be told, “Best Friend” would not have sounded out of place on Heaven Tonight. With a verse that’s hookier than the chorus, though, it never quite achieves flight. It is at this point that the album grinds to a standstill. The remaining three songs are sorely underdeveloped, with no amount of studio bells-and-whistles able to turn them into anything more. “Low Life In High Heels” (produced by the band and Steve Albini!) and “Hummer” (produced by Dan The Automator) are interchangeable misfires that close out the album.

With proper pruning, Special One would have made a great specially-priced EP until the next fully-realized Cheap Trick album comes along. As it stands, one can’t help but feel that an opportunity six years in the making has been squandered…until the next fully-realized Cheap Trick album comes along.