Rockford's best-known band is back with a new studio album and this time they've named it after the Forest City. I've read reviews where some people have compared this CD to Trick's Dream Police, citing it as a return to the band's roots. Well, I really don't hear Dream Police except on one track. That said, I would have to agree with it being a return to their earlier days. It's just that in this case it seems the roots the band are returning to run deeper than that. From my take this disc has quite a bit in common with such albums as their eponymous debut and In Color. Even so, they still stretch out quite a bit from that basis. The truth is that this is the strongest disc they've released in quite some time.
The Beatles were always a huge influence on Cheap Trick. In fact in one of his last interviews John Lennon said that if the Beatles had stayed together they'd probably sound a lot like Cheap Trick. Those Beatles influences are still present on this album, but they are joined by a lot of other sounds. There are moments that remind me of ELO (another Beatles-heavy outfit), Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. Throughout it all, though, the Tricksters maintain their own individual edge. There are only a couple songs here that I might consider "weak" and quite a few that are standouts.
The disc opener ("Welcome To The World") is not the most obvious choice for that position. While it isn't a bad track, it takes a little getting used to, and has a rather unusual feel to it. It's just not the kind of song that will grab the listener and pull them in. It just seems to have a bit higher learning curve than you would want in an opening salvo. Had I been setting the order of the songs, I think I would have led off with "Come On, Come On, Come On." Relegated to slot four, that track has a Cheap Trick does Led Zeppelin central riff and is extremely catchy. My guess is most people will be singing along to that one the first time they hear it. That's just what you want in an opening number. It's also one of the strongest pieces on the album.
"Perfect Stranger" is the second cut on the CD, and it has a rather classic Cheap Trick sound, but just seems a bit too generic in some ways. It also goes a bit overboard on the arrangement. It feels a lot like Electric Light Orchestra at times. This one is another that's not bad by any means, but just seems to fall a little short on the race to greatness. It's also another problem with the layout of the album. Had they opened with something stronger this coming in second place might not be an issue, but they really needed a more potent one two punch for the opening slots. The thing is, once you get past this point, the whole disc is an upward climb. "If It Takes a Lifetime" has a sound that seems to merge that ELO like texture with very vintage Trick in a very solid marriage. That, of course, is followed by the aforementioned "Come On, Come On, Come On." "Oh Claire" is one of the most Beatles-like numbers on the disc. This ballad-like cut feels a lot like something John Lennon would have written. It makes for a nice change of pace, and works really well.
By the time they hit "This Time You Got It" they are in a good position to experiment a little. The introduction to that cut has somewhat of a fun textured, rather R & B like feel to it. As they pump into the song proper, though, the mode is very much like the good time Trick and Roll found on their first album. They follow that one up with "Give It Away." The main riff on this one feels a lot like the old chestnut "Bits and Pieces," but this one is all Cheap Trick. It's another winner on a disc that has a lot of them. "One More" is an intriguing one. The verses on this one feel to me a lot like a cross between vintage Trick, the funky side of 1970's Rolling Stones and a bit of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The chorus is all CT, though. The chorus takes on more Beatles like elements later. "Every Night and Every Other Day" starts off with more of that funky sound, but after the brief introduction it launches into something that is pretty much trademark Trick. We basically get more of the same on "Dream The Night Away," but when it's this strong, who cares? The string arrangement on that track, though, lends a lot more of those Beatles elements.
Well, for my money, other than the possible exception of "Come On, Come On, Come On," they saved the best for last. The two closing pieces on the disc are the biggest winners on show here. While in many ways the first of these "All Those Years" starts in much the same way as a lot of the material here, a typical Trick jam, they change it up in wonderful ways later. As the chorus comes through in the late sections of the track they put together a great rocking sound that is so strong it's scary. It's hard to describe this texture, but suffice it to say that it reminds me a bit of some of the really dramatic material on the first few albums. Think of the songs, "Downed" and "Heaven Tonight," and then remove the darker textures of those cuts and you will be close. While I take my coffee leaded, they close out the disc with "Decaf" and it is the only number from the disc that seems to have that Dream Police feel at all to me. It's also one of the standout pieces on show here. It has a rather heavy texture at times that reminds me of such Dream Police numbers as "Gonna Raise Hell."
The long and short of it, this is a great album that might certainly be the one that breaks the Tricksters into the elite class of rock and roll again. They haven't put in a stronger performance in a very, very long time. I should add to that statement that I really did enjoy albums like Standing On The Edge and Woke Up With A Monster - this is just more powerful than those. I haven't mentioned it, but every member of the band puts in an admirable performance here. I'd have to say that Rick Nielsen, as always, truly amazes at points on this disc. I'm going to give this one "five beets" with reservations. The reason I say "with reservations" is that the material here is all very good. I just have a bit of a problem with the order of the songs in the beginning.