These guys play rock & roll like Vince Lombardi coached football: heavy emphasis on basics with a strain of demented violence to keep the opposition intimidated. The closest musical analogy is the Who, who have always sounded like the inmates of Bedlam on their best stuff. Cheap Trick not only sounds like their attendant forgot to lock their cages, they look like it, too. Half the fun of the album is staring at the pictures on the back and wondering if lead guitarist Rick Nielson really has fire ants in his underwear, and how Boris Karloff mated Henry Kissinger with Adolf Hitler to come up with drummer Bun E. Carlos.
Nielson, whom producer Jack Douglas has described as the best songwriter he’s ever worked with, plays one very mean Stratocaster. He has a good ear for a riff, a lack of qualms about beating it to death when the occasion demands, and the technical competence to mess around when tedium threatens. What vocalist Robin Zander lacks in range, he more than makes up in emotion: check out the singing on “Taxman, Mr. Thief,” and tell me anyone has been more pissed off since John Lennon was primaled. Tom Peterss on plays bass so inventively that the instrument is almost a second lead. On a spectrum from Charlie Watts mantra rhythm to Keith Moon chaos, Carlos stands slightly closer to Watts — someone has to keep the band from falling entirely into the Void.
Their lyrics run the gamut of lust, confusion and misogyny, growing out of rejection and antiauthoritarian sentiments about school — all with an element of wit that has distinguished the best bands since rock began. Standout songs, to my ears, are “Elo Kiddies,” “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace” and the aforementioned “Taxman.” Catch them before Nurse Ratched slices open their frontal lobes.