By Mark Guarino
Rockford may be the third largest city in Illinois but it is first in rock lore, having launched Cheap Trick, the pioneering Midwestern power pop band that has not diminished in its 33 years. Call it survival of the fittest. As many bands from the 1970’s plod forward in skewered incarnations, Cheap Trick is a fluid enterprise. Live, the band delivers the energy and assurance of bands half their years and thanks to a career revival in the late 1990’s, they are directing a renewed potency into recent albums that stand up to their earliest output. Take that, Journey.
Rockford is already big in Japan and so it makes sense that the band officially tips the hat to their hometown with “Rockford” (Cheap Trick Unlimited/Big3), in stores today. The album is a generous abundance of what sustained Cheap Trick since the beginning: a maelstrom of thick guitars, supercharged melodies, a bashing rhythm section and the white lightning vocals of Robin Zander. In every way, this is a what a band sounds like in its prime.
A band that can go from playing the casino circuit to opening for Aerosmith, Cheap Trick is the singular band that ropes rock excess down to earth and makes it seem like no big deal. Here, star-making producer and songwriter Linda Perry (Christina Aguilera, Pink) makes a cameo, co-writing and producing “Perfect Stranger,” a song meant for radio and rightfully so — despite the lifeless lyrics, it’s built for maximum impact.
From there, Chicago hero Steve Albini (PJ Harvey, The Pixies) and old school legend Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, John Lennon) trade duties, giving these songs a colossal strength that rarely waivers. Zander carries the majority with vocals that are flashy but are always rooted to an emotional core. Despite how much he’s known for his arsenal of guitars, professional pick-flicker Rick Nielsen never shreds these songs into platforms for soloing. He’s the power in this pop and why every song sounds wired is so many different directions.
“Rockford” endures for the same reasons Cheap Trick is often referred to as the Midwestern Beatles — and not because they once backed up John Lennon and worked with George Martin. The Beatles are the thread connecting these songs, from the melting harmonies of “O Claire,” the chugging power pop of “This Time You Got It” to the whimsy in “One More Day” and the epic near album-closer “All Those Years.” The influence is often transparent yet underneath the hard rock stomp of these songs are hooks that are built to last. Cheap Trick signs copies of “Rockford” 6 p.m. tonight at Best Buy, 900 E. Golf Rd., Schaumburg.