From The Vault: Cheap Trick
A look back at the band's "In Color" album
I’m traveling this week, so today we’re reaching into the vault and dusting off this review of Cheap Trick’s In Color record.
There’s nothing to do in Rockford, Illinois.
It’s close to many places but just far enough out to be in the middle of nowhere. And it is definitely NOT Chicago, no matter what the airport is called. Referring to itself as the “Chicago Rockford Airport” is like trying to make “fetch” happen and requires a special sort of marketing gymnastics.
At any rate, being 85 miles away from the big city leaves you with few options. And so it was in 1973 that the band Cheap trick was formed.
After releasing their self-titled debut in 1977, they followed it up later that year with In Color. With Tom Werman in the production booth, the record took a sharp turn toward power pop. The band didn’t like that more polished sound and actually re-recorded a still unreleased version of this in 1998 that was truer to their original ideas of what it should sound like.
But people liked the new sound. The album quickly became a hit in Japan, where “I want you to want me” and “Clock Strikes Ten” both charted as singles. Fully half of the songs on the record were later recorded as part of the band’s seminal Cheap Trick at Budokan live album. Rolling Stone later thought enough of it to place it in its Top 500 Albums of all time.
For me, Cheap Trick is broken into three separate — and out-of-order — eras:
“The Dream Police” and “Surrender.”
Late 80's/ “The Flame”: The soundtrack to so many fraught junior high mixers.
The early records (Heaven Tonight, Budokan, and now In Color)
Somewhere in there, I also became interested in drummer Bun E. Carlos’ ability to essentially smoke for a good 30 years straight, including while performing. I also tried it in my short stint as a drummer; it’s harder than it looks. Here’s to bad life decisions.
Luckily for us, we’ve both quit. Luckily for the universe, I stopped drumming. Here’s to good decisions.
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Back to In Color:
The album starts off like a shot with “Hello There” screaming out of your speakers. It starts the album off running, and the pace never really lets up.
Next up are “Big Eyes,” which sees vocalist Robin Zander almost growling the chorus, and “Downed,” whose opening notes remind me of The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary.” No, I don’t have any idea why, either.
Then we have “I Want You To Want Me.” But not the live Budokan one you still hear on AOR stations throughout the upper Midwest. This is the original version, and it was not at all what I was expecting. It’s fantastic.
“You’re All Talk” takes a turn for the angsty. It’s all snarl and menace, with Rick Nielsen’s guitar seeming to do even more of the heavy lifting than normal- at least to my ear.
“Clock Strikes Ten” is a bit of kicks rock that I can absolutely see kids cranking up to 11 while barreling around the alphabet backroads of Winnebago County on hot summer nights.
“Come On, Come On” has an awesome call & response sort of chorus that works well. Finding yourself tapping your feet while listening is a feature, not a bug.
The record ends with “So Good To See You,” a great track that drips with oozin’ ahs for a chorus. It’s the perfect melodic endnote to the record and my 2nd favorite track on the album after the opener.
I don’t live too far from Rockford. Northern Illinois is solidly blue-collar, and no fuss, no muss. People here dream big but are fiercely proud of their roots.
Even with a more polished sound than its predecessor, this record is a product of its environment. In Color delivers exactly the power pop you’d expect while still carrying you away on an adventure.
And while it wasn’t quite the same as the backroads at 70 mph, it did sound great in my car on the way home from work.
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Note: A earlier version of this first appeared here.