Love them or hate them, the one thing you cannot deny is that 40+ years later Cheap Trick still sound like Cheap Trick. Their first new release since 2009’s The Latest may boast the modern production flavor (though thankfully no autotune that I could detect) popular among current superstars, but underneath the compressed sheen are the same high-energy power pop tunes their fans have enjoyed since before Americans knew what Budokan was.
The first bars of album opener “Heart on the Line” immediately harken back to the guitar thunder of “Auf Wiedershen,” and Robin’s vocals still effortlessly shift between soaring, snarling, and sweetness. The pure ear candy of “No Direction Home” will get itself stuck in your head for hours, and “Blood Red Lips” is a nice toe-tapping jam that reeks (in a good way) of 70’s glam.
Missing from this release is the powerhouse pounding of estranged drummer Bun E. Carlos, but Rick Nielsen’s son Dax does a decent enough job holding down the backbeat in his absence. The album flags a little at about midway – their cover of Dobie Gray’s “The In Crowd” plods along uninterestingly and throwaway ballad “Sing My Blues Away” is pretty meh – but ends on an up note with a one-two punch of the Beatles-infused “The Sun Never Sets” and chugging, smirking closer “All Strung Out.”
Whereas a lot of “classic rock” acts are content to milk the county fair circuit playing nothing but the hits of yesteryear, Cheap Trick are clearly not content to rest on their laurels and can have proven once again that they can still crank them out.