Cheap Trick fans are a long-suffering bunch. You Guns & Roses fanboys who’ve been waiting for Chinese Democracy all these years — you think you’ve got it rough? Cheap Trick hasn’t made a truly solid album since…well, you can check our pal Darren’s Idiot’s Guide to the band for the details, but it’s been a long time. And every new release since 1993’s Woke Up With a Monster has come with an unbearable wave of anticipation, buzz, and empty promises — “It’s the comeback you’ve been waiting for!” “It’s their best since ______!”
You get the idea. I’m not a hardcore Trick fan, but even I felt screwed after listening to Monster and 1997’s Cheap Trick. Each record has shown bright flashes of promise…only to find a way of messing it all up. (In an extra bitter twist, each record found a new way of screwing it up, too — be it songwriting or production, Cheap Trick hasn’t been able to fix one problem without creating another.)
All of which makes Rockford a really neat surprise. Their last release, the heavily hyped Special One, was widely regarded as a total stinker; Rockford sneaks in under the radar with virtually no hype at all, and winds up being — no joke — their best album since, well, _________.
The Reader’s Digest version of this review, as I said to Darren, is: It reminds me of Busted, but in a good way. I know, for many of you, there was little to nothing good about that album, but I think Rockford has a similar feel, only with better songs. It’s a return to the power-pop template that the band helped create, in other words — hard rock with a sweet candy shell. And where recent Trick outings have found the band fumbling around with lame balladry, the softer side of Rockford is still appropriately ballsy.
Seriously. This thing rocks and rolls in all the right places. You may have been burned once too often by the Trick, or you may never have cared about them one way or the other; either way, Rockford is an overdue — and even occasionally exhilirating — return to form from a group of wily old vets who seemed like they maybe didn’t have it in ‘em anymore. Have they already done everything they do here, and probably better? Certainly. But we do not ask bands like Cheap Trick to reinvent the wheel; we ask them to tap our toes and shake our asses. Here, for the first time in many a moon, they don’t disappoint.