The Essential Cheap Trick

Cheap Trick had no command of the "deep and meaningless," as Robert Plant once put it, and thus could not generate the mystery of Led Zeppelin. And they had a fitful command of the deep and meaningful, making only occasional attempts at sociological commentary that had a satiric edge closer to the Coasters than to the Who or Pink Floyd. What they did have was command of the shallow and meaningless: cliched love songs, the grand gestures of arena rock, decent hooks and explosions of Dionysian ecstasy that left audiences happy, with little residue for analysis. Frontman Robin Zander had a fine voice in the John Lennon/Liam Gallagher tradition of screaming in tune. Guitarist-songwriter Rick Nielsen could be counted on for monster chord progressions. Bassist Tom Petersson and drummer Bun E. Carlos stayed locked, however thick or thin the gruel. "Surrender" and "Dream Police" will live on. The band's live stuff, which always had the most juice, is underrepresented in this two-CD collection, but "Gonna Raise Hell" is dynamite. Their cover of "Ain't That a Shame" will teach the joys of headbanging swing to future generations. (Why didn't they include their MTV hit "Don't Be Cruel" here?) Final judgment: Hard rock with a careerist pop sensibility and a few moments of genuine inspiration. You wonder what they could have done if they hadn't tried to repeat the success of "I Want You to Want Me."