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Skills remain intact, but most songs don't measure up

Cheap Trick -- Rockford.jpg

In the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, teen ticket scalper Mike Damone (masterfully played by Robert Romanus) sings a medley of now-classic Cheap Trick songs to a female fan who’s on the fence about purchasing seats to the band’s upcoming concert.

Had the movie been made today, Damone probably would have included only one or two of the 12 tunes found on Cheap Trick’s Rockford (Cheap Trick Unlimited/Big3 Records), an overall mediocre effort.

Roughly 30 years into its career, Cheap Trick suffers from the same blessing and curse that fellow American rock mainstay Aerosmith does — collective chops remain intact, but song quality rarely comes close to that of the band’s glory days. “If It Takes a Lifetime,” “Give It Away,” “One More” and “Every Night and Every Day” epitomize Rockford in that their titles are as ordinary as the songs themselves.

A few tracks on Cheap Trick’s latest can be traced in some way to the band’s salad days, and knowing the collective tongue-in-cheek nature of Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson and Bun E. Carlos, chances are this was done on purpose. Whether intentional or coincidental, all it does in most cases is create the urge to stop the new songs and play the tunes they resemble instead.

Rockford starts with “Welcome to the World,” a short rocker in the same ballpark thematically and structurally as “Hello There,” which opened In Color. The other déjà vu moments come not from the lyrics or music, but from the titles: “Dream the Night Away,” “Come On Come On Come On” and “O Claire” automatically conjure thoughts of, respectively, “Dancing the Night Away” (found on Next Position Please), “Come On, Come On” (another great In Color track) and “Oh Claire” (the short-but-sweet Heaven Tonight closer). Only “Dream,” with its Byrds-like guitar intro and George Harrison-ish melody in the verses, is better than its ancestor.

Rockford has two other standout moments: “This Time You Got It,” highlighted by Carlos’ sturdy drum beat and Nielsen’s snarling guitar; and “Decaf,” with a sinister-sounding Zander exploring the lower end of his vocal range and Petersson alternating between a driving and rubbery sound on his bass.

Three hits in 12 at-bats — that’s a .250 average, which in baseball is merely OK, and the same goes for Rockford.

— By Chris M. Junior