Not everything ex-Beatles producer George Martin touches turns to Fab Four. Cheap Trick’s All Shook Up, produced by Martin, is actually closer in sound and fury to the ham-fisted heavy-metal grind of the band’s 1977 debut album than to the bubbly, Beatles-style revisionism of such later successes as “I Want You to Want Me” and Rick Nielsen’s “My Generation”-in-reverse, “Surrender.”
Much of All Shook Up really seems like Led Zeppelin gone psycho. A phalanx of Nielsen guitars, Bun E. Carlos’ thunderclap drumming and the booming bass of the now-departed Tom Petersson bounce violently off the walls of Nielsen’s three-minute studies in pain (“Can’t Stop It but I’m Gonna Try”), paranoia (“High Priest of Rhythmic Noise”) and sheer perversity (“I Love You Honey but I Hate Your Friends”).
Yet the group, together with Martin, also throws several clever pop curves: the dense, pseudo-ELO orchestration in the Whostyle “Stop This Game”; the gonzo, post-Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band psychedelia of “Go for the Throat (Use Your Own Imagination)”; and vocalist Robin Zander’s impassioned singing of a John Lennon-like ballad, “World’s Greatest Lover,” complete with Martin’s Imagine-style arrangement.
Not just another “new” Beatles, Cheap Trick are the latest in a long line of spiritual heirs to the Fab Four’s Anglo-pop tradition, traceable back through the Move, the Electric Light Orchestra and such hard-rock tangents as the Who and the Yardbirds. And they carry that weight with humor as well as enthusiasm. Even Carlos’ drum-choir exercise, “Who D’King,” which sounds more like Ginger Baker’s Air Force, closes the record in much the same way that Ringo Starr’s drum break signaled “The End” on Abbey Road.
Beatlemaniacs will either froth or fume over Utopia’s Deface the Music. Todd Rundgren, Kasim Sulton, Willie Wilcox and Roger Powell not only have the nerve to write thirteen songs in which they turn your favorite Beatles tunes and riffs inside out and upside down, but also to perform them so they sound uncannily like the real thing — a sort of Reheat the Beatles.
Most of Deface the Music is a game of spot-the-influence. For example, “I Just Want to Touch You” is a winning hybrid of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “She Loves You,” with the harmonica borrowed from “Love Me Do.” The band plays it pretty straight, however, in “Hoi Poloi” (a kind of “Penny Lane” revisited), the “Michelle”-like “All Smiles” and the big finale, “Everybody Else is Wrong” (which should have been called “I Am the Strawberry Walrus Forever”).
A literal rewrite of the Lennon-McCartney songbook may seem as pointless as a new Knack LP. But Utopia — and Rundgren, in particular — have always had a talent for this sort of snappy, crackling pop. Besides, the ingenious, engaging way they go about it here is a tribute to the spirit of fun that marked the originals. That kind of imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.