Next Position Please

A better title for this one would have been Next Producer Please, because from the signature harmonies of "I Can't Take It" to the predictable chorus of "Heaven's Falling," it's clear that this album belongs as much to producer Todd Rundgren as to the members of Cheap Trick. Not that it's Rundgren's fault — why should he take the blame for this band's chameleonic tendency to absorb color from its surroundings?

At least Rundgren shares the band's sense of how songs should be treated. Even though everything down to the ballads is played full force, the focus is always on the melody, with the rhythm arrangement set in careful support. Throughout the album, every shred of melody is given the hard sell, so that when everything clicks — as it does on "I Don't Love Here Anymore" and the remake of the Motors' "Dancing the Night Away" — Next Position Please approximates the snap of the band's overlooked classic, Heaven Tonight. But things really don't click all that often, and a large part of the problem seems to be that Cheap Trick don't really remember what they're supposed to sound like. "Invaders of the Heart" starts off by pounding out the chords to "My Generation," but because Cheap Trick have blatantly imitated the Who (and everybody else) so many times, it took three listens to realize that this was supposed to be a joke. Despite their immense talent and tenacious commercial instincts, Cheap Trick sound like they're coming apart at the seams.