New hall of famers Cheap Trick return to classic sound

AP News
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Posted: Apr 15, 2016 10:46 AM
New hall of famers Cheap Trick return to classic sound

NEW YORK (AP) — Of the acts inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this month, only Cheap Trick is hawking new product, seeking relevance in a contemporary music world light years from their late 1970s peak.

Having Scott Borchetta in their corner gives them a fighting chance.

Borchetta's Nashville-based Big Machine label, home to Taylor Swift, is one of music's biggest success stories and is diversifying beyond country music. He's also a Cheap Trick fan who helped the band focus on what it does best for the new disc, "Bang Zoom Crazy ... Hello."

The quartet from Rockford, Illinois, known for "Surrender," ''Dream Police" and "I Want You to Want Me," now emphasizes the power in its power pop sound.

"Anybody who was a fan of their first three records and hears this album, they're going to love it," Borchetta said. "I guarantee it. It's the perfect bookend to where they started."

Borchetta knew the band's bass player, Tom Petersson, who lives in Nashville. Petersson, guitarist Rick Nielsen and singer Robin Zander met with Borchetta four years ago and had him look at their business. What he found was a mess — an act mired in legal problems with little direction or sense of what to do.

Cheap Trick has never been complicated. A bug-eyed, baseball cap-wearing Nielsen stalks the stage with a guitar from his vast collection, tossing handfuls of picks into the audience. Zander is a classic rock howler, retaining his melodic sense despite amplifiers turned to 11. Former drummer Bun E. Carlos looked like your dad in a rumpled suit, perpetually puffing on a cigarette.

"We've always been keyed on songs and performing live," Nielsen said. "We never tried to make an album of 25-minute songs. The concept is not much different from what it was earlier."

A live album with the best of their early material recorded before a screaming audience in Budokan, Japan, was a breakthrough but partly a long-term albatross, causing some to disdain Cheap Trick as a lightweight teen band. A succession of producers tried to sweeten them — pop minus the power, Petersson said.

While "The Flame" was a huge hit in the 1980s, can any Cheap Trick fan hear it now without a grimace?

"Nobody needs an adult contemporary Cheap Trick record," Borchetta said.

Still, a rock band with members in their 60s is a hard sell for the Spotify generation. Borchetta is concentrating on making long-time Cheap Trick fans aware that there is new music available, and it sounds familiar. He's been encouraged by the response at classic rock stations. As manager along with being a label head, Borchetta profits from building the band's live business.

Cheap Trick was happy to have someone believe in them, and not asking them to make a country record.

"We'll sign anything. We just want to play," said Nielsen, revealing what might not be the best philosophy for the shark-infested music business.

Carlos is now on the sidelines, although still considered a band member for legal purposes. Nielsen's son Daxx plays the drums and any potential awkwardness — would it cause friction if the guitarist's son wasn't measuring up? — seemed to be dispatched quickly. Daxx defers to his three elders in interviews, and sat out for Carlos during the rock hall induction ceremony.

"He knows our songs better than we do," Zander said.

The hall of fame induction is a welcome vindication, too. Zander said someone he's known for 20 years recently surprised him by asking for an autograph.

"Like in baseball, when I sign my name now it's going to say 'HOF,'" he said, smiling.

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Follow David Bauder at twitter.com/dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder