Employing a variety of producers and stylistic retreads, Cheap Trick has spent the Eighties in a vain attempt to regain commercial and creative momentum. The Tricksters can't have failed to notice that, coincidentally or not, their fortunes sagged right after the departure of bassist extraordinaire Tom Petersson. Although all four albums since 1980's All Shook Up contained worthy examples of the band's melodic rock, none connected decisively with fans or radio programmers, and the group has been stuck in the living-death world of endless touring.
Lap of Luxury reunites Petersson with the band, introduces Richie Zito as Cheap Trick's seventh outside producer and unveils an unprecedented creative shift: guitarist Rick Nielsen, formerly chief songwriter, contributed to only four tunes; Petersson and singer Robin Zander collaborated on two others; and the remainder, including a faithful cover of "Don't Be Cruel" and an aggressively dumb Holly Knight-Mike Chapman number, "Space," are outside creations.
The record gets off to a promising start but quickly runs aground. "Let Go" is first-rate, a tough-talking put-down with a honking horn bridge and a guitar hook that is reminiscent of the Beatles' "If I Needed Someone." The wretched song that follows, "No Mercy," could have come from the soundtrack of some jingoistic action flick. Emotional singing and an affecting Nielsen solo make "The Flame" memorable, if not quite equal to the band's best ballads. The entire album lurches unpredictably like that; fortunately, Zander's superhuman vocals pull it out of the fire, transcending the inferior material and occasionally misguided arrangements.
While not the stunning return to top form Petersson's return promised, Lap of Luxury proves that Cheap Trick can still rock with flair and power. The album's songwriting credits and halfhearted echoes of Journey, Survivor and the Eagles, however, signify a tragic loss of self-confidence. What the band needs more than a dream is the courage to be itself.