CHEAP TRICK - "Cheap Trick at Budokan," Epic, FE 35F95. FABULOUS POODLES - "Mirror Stars," Epic, JE 35666.
When Cheap Trick first threw itself into the rock'n roll maelstrom, the critical response was so overwhelmingly positive that the band became an immediate "must-see." Publications from coast to coast hailed them as the leader of a basic but sophisticated sound, and more than one story referred to the group as a "power Beatles." Each of Cheap Trick's studio albums got wide acceptance, and the band's audience spread. It still wasn't a hot seller - in fact, it still hadn't had a hit single, generally they key to superstardom.
However, any industry doubts were answered with explanation that Cheap Trick's stage show was "a killer." As in Springsteen's case the believers insisted, word would get out once enough people had seen Cheap Trick. Then it would be watch out Fleetwood Mac.
Well Cheap Trick has dragged itself back and forth across the country several times now and is selling quite nicely. So the latest release in a live album, "Cheap Trick at Budokan," that documents the Japanese tour last April. Quite frankly, after seeing Cheap Trick perform and listening to the album, it's difficult to justify all the acclaim. There's no question but the Cheap Trick can be a lot of fun. Chief songwriter and Huntz Hall lookalike Rick Nielsen is an interesting visual focus, and obviously his guitar is the power in the so-called "power Beatles"; Bun E Carlos looks more like your neighborhood pizza chef than a rock'n roll Drummer; and bassist Tom Petersson and vocalist Robin Zander are cute in a gee-whiz sort of way. On stage, the band is loose and smily and pounds out some energetic music.
But the fact is that Cheap Trick is not a particulary innovative musical unit, and its members' songwriting abilities sometime border on the puerile.
Judging from the crowd reaction during "Cheap Trick at Budokan," the band is the best thing to happend to Japan since Coca-Cola. Yet it's questionable whether the Far Eastern audiences know that they are cheering wildy for lyrics like "Come on, com on / I know you can do it / Come on, come on / There ain't nothing to it" and "You're such a losin' cause / Who says you write the laws / Why don't you get get lost / Who says you write the laws / Go on, get out of here."
It might be different if such doodings were camouflaged by interesting musical ideas, but they're not. Cheap Trick is straight-ahead, wham-bam oriented, and the result is sound and fury signifying nothing
About the only wit exhibited on "Cheap Trick at Budokan" is "Surrender," which was supposed to be the hit from their last studio album, "Haven Tonight." Here Nielsen's observations about parents are eccentric enough to be alluring, but again, the words are surrounded by what amounts to a musical din, even more coarse live than in the studio version.
On this album, "Surrender" is followed by the band's encore, "Clock Strikes Ten," a good half of which consists of the lines "Gonna get down / gonna get on down" and a routine drum solo. Not real meaty stuff.
Cheap Trick is not a bad band, just an average one - neither original in its material nor particularly inspiring in its presentation. Maybe if a star-hungry press and public had not knighted the quartet so early in their career, they could have quietly developed into a force. As it sounds now, they are capable of only the most elementary rock'n roll aimed directly at the lowest common denominator.
Ironically, there is a band that's currently doing all the things the Cheap Ricks is supposed to be doing: using basic but interesting rhythms and melodies, writing exceptional lyric and capitalizing on an unrefined delivery. That band is The Fabulous Poodles, four working-class British lads who show a lot of promise on their debut album, "Mirror Stars."
Unless the title cut becomes a big seller, which is unlikely, the Poodles will have to wait an album or two before they find their audience. However, Tony DeMeur's Kinslike vocals and perceptians and the backing of Richie C Robertson (bass and keyboards), Bobby Valentine (violin and mandolin) and Bryn B Burrows (drums) have potential for great things.
The teenage love and work frustrations discussed in "chicago Boxcar," "Oh Cheryl" and "Work Shy" are clearly and effectively expressed, and the identification factor is universal in "Mirror Stars": "Mirror, mirror on the wall / You never treat him like a fool / In his room he is the king / The wild applause is deafening."
With bands like The Fabulous Poodles making a strong case for literacy in popular music, rock'n roll may indeed be here to stay.