Monday, April 13, 2015

GOLDEN ROCK BOMBS (Pt. II) - Cheap Trick "The Doctor"

(Pt. II)
Cheap Trick
The Doctor
(Epic Records)

Even the biggest, most
iconic names in rock
can detonate a "bomb."
However, some of these
sleepers and sinkers are
actually the gemstones
of the artist's otherwise
platinum-selling catalog.

Simply put, Cheap Trick is America's greatest rock band — case closed. And I've personally been one of their most passionate and consistent cheerleaders since first discovering the crunchy, Illinois-based power-pop combo in the pages of CREEM back in 1977.

Produced by Tony Platt, Cheap Trick's ninth studio album, The Doctor, was released in November 1986. Like a "snitch" wearing cement slippers, it sank — in short order. Stalling at a disappointing #115 on the Billboard 200, The Doctor spawned zero chart singles and is considered almost universally to be the band's worst. It's not. That distinction best belong's to either their dismal 1997 Cheap Trick record or 2003's unpleasant, Special One.

Since it's release, I've been engaged in an ongoing dialog regarding The Doctor with my writing partner, music school instructor and fellow CT enthusiast, Bryan Dumas  a conversation in which we've analyzed nearly every aspect of the record from front-to-back. 30 years later, we continue to reach the same conclusion The Doctor, IS in fact, a darn snappy little record.

Cheap Trick has never seemed fearful of taking musical risks. And the band forged boldly into the 80s, experimenting stylistically with a multi-record run that included One on One (1982) and Next Position Please (1983). While some of The Doctor's 80s-style electro wizardry is a little excessive, and can become a wee bit grating at times that's far from a deal breaker. In fact, the production on The Doctor isn't really that much more over-the-top than on the band's celebrated previous record, 1985's Standing on the Edge. And be sure, The Doctor packs considerably more punch, and possesses loads more personality than the platinum-selling 1988 follow-up, Lap of Luxury.

Chief songwriter, Rick Nielsen's guitar work cuts to the bone throughout, while frontman, Robin Zander's vocals are as engaging as ever. Additionally, Bun E. Carlos' computer-enhanced drum chops are rock solid and Jon Brant triumphs — delivering 40 minutes worth of signature-sounding, multi-string bass chug.

But at the end of the day, it's all about the songs. And the ten selections included on The Doctor are, for the most part, all top notch golden nuggets. The Nielsen / Zander-penned opening track, "It's Up to You," is a turbo-charged winner. In fact, my buddy Bryan commented to me recently that in his view, if the "cheesy" keyboards were swapped out for groovy horns, and Zander's vocals were re-cut by Gwen Stefani, this one could have likely been a huge hit for No Doubt. Hmm, good call, dude! Other noteworthy highlights include the super-catchy "Rearview Mirror Romance," the infectious earworm "Kiss Me Red" and the hypnotic Heaven Tonight-worthy "Take Me to the Top."

However, the news here isn't all good  The Doctor does write a few bogus prescriptions   including Nielsen and Zander's provolone-flavored "Good Girls Go to Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere)" and the almost-great-except-for-that-gawdawful-chorus, title track.

But the headline for this, or any other review of the album should have been: Cheap Trick Creates Masterpiece with "It's Only Love." Yeah, I said it, and I'll stand by it — Nielsen and Zander's closing track, "It's Only Love" ranks as one of their best — ever.

In sum, I'm certainly not concluding that The Doctor is Cheap Trick's greatest achievement. That distinction best belong's to either their 1977 self-titled debut or the 1977 follow-up, In Color. However, if faced with that "desert island" scenario, The Doctor would most definitely be among the Cheap Trick records that I'd bring along.

-Christopher Long
(April 2015)


Check out the entire
Golden Rock Bombs series:

Peter Criss
Out of Control

Cheap Trick 
The Doctor

REO Speedwagon
Building the Bridge

Fleetwood Mac


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1 comment:

  1. Love this album! Except for the refrain from The Doctor - this album sets the standard for purposeful, well placed keyboard and post production musical layers...I will happily wend my way through the excess of this album! It's sooo interesting. Somehow this album ended up being a recent discovery for me, and it's a thrill to see established, talented rockers like these flex their whimsical muscle.