It’s hard to tell if Cheap Trick still want you to want them, since a lot of In Another World, the band’s 20th full-length, fails to launch. Sure, there are the big choruses, bigger guitar riffs, and smart-alecky Nielsenisms that their die-hard cult craves, but at the same time, songs like “The Summer Looks Good on You” and “Light Up the Fire” sound like Cheap Trick by Numbers.
At their most prosaic, they sound like they’re unimaginatively paying tribute to their formative influences. This is nothing new for the band, whose Beatles worship is a big part of why their power pop hit so hard in the Seventies, but these days, more often than not, it feels like they’re relying on muscle memory. The group sounds positively comfortable with adorning their Who-like arena-rock riffs with Beatlesy vocal harmonies on “Summer” and obliquely cribbing a line like “If mountains fall into the sea, I thought there’d still be you and me” from Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” for their own Zeppeliny ballad, “So It Goes.” “The Party” is their paean to Hendrix, while “I’ll See You Again” worships at the altar of Beach Boys harmonies, right down to Brian Wilson-esque falsettos.
But there are some reminders of Cheap Trick’s early greatness. “Passing Through” has a vaguely Middle Eastern feel (and distant John Lennon–style backups to boot) but its easygoing riff and some impressionistic Rick Nielsen guitar noise elevates it above Sgt. Pepper worship. And the upbeat “Here’s Looking at You,” which Linda Perry cowrote, sounds more like an extension of their “Dream Police” days with its gargantuan “No way out of here alive/Won’t give up without a fight” chorus and its sparkling keyboards than any particular homage. And, as always, Nielsen knows that he can always spin his multi-necked wheel-of-fortune guitar around to find a solo that could save an otherwise ordinary song (“Boys & Girls & Rock & Roll,” their cover of John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth,” which ironically also features the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones on guitar). But with 19 other Cheap Trick albums of varying quality to choose from, nothing on In Another Planet sounds truly out of this world.