Monday, October 9, 2017

Cheap Trick review series: One On One

Review by Mike Kimmel

I'm frequently amazed at how quick some folks are to pan a song or an album or a band because what they've done just doesn't quite fit with what that person wants or expects. It amazes me even further (and removes a good deal of what little credibility some major music mag reviewers might have once had) when it's obvious that the previously mentioned dork hasn't even listened to the song/album/band.

This is a Cheap Trick review, but the first example that jumps into my head was when KISS members released their simultaneous solo albums years ago. Paul Stanley had a song on his solo that was titled "Love in Chains", which the reviewer claimed, was "…another typical KISS bondage tribute…" or something to that effect.

Oh yes he did, and oh no it wasn't.

After browsing my Cheap Trick archives in search of the next release to discuss, I found my attention directed to the release immediately previous to 1983's Next Position Please – 1982's One On One. This was the first album to feature Jon Brant on bass to replace the recently departed Tom Petersson. After briefly reinstating bassist (who was actually a guitarist, but who's counting) Pete Comita, who had been a band member years previous, he was canned… AGAIN… in favor of the somewhat well-known Chicago area bassist Brant.

I never got to see Cheap Trick in concert with Brant. But I DID get to an in-store record signing for One on One, and Brant was there with Nielsen, Zander, and Bun E. Carlos. For the record, Nielsen and Carlos were somewhat aloof, shall we say, while Zander and Brant were very friendly and accessible; Zander actually took time to pose for a few pictures away from the rest of the band.

Now Brant is recording with Cheap Trick, and One On One is released. Zander is often accused of screaming his way through some of the songs on the release. On the opening track "I Want You", yes he does – quite a bit.

So?

Talented vocalists can pull off a variety of different sounds just as guitarist and bassists, etc., can. Robin Zander is arguably one of the best singers in rock and roll, and though he's lost some of his hair to age, he hasn't lost a whole lot of that range. He can do an amazing range of things with his voice, and occasionally screaming is one of them.

Spoiler alert! He does the same thing on track five ("Looking Out For Number One") and track nine ("Love's Got a Hold On Me"). He maybe doesn't do it to quite the same degree as in "I Want You", but maybe what the song needed was different?

By the way… Do you know how many other musical endeavors have been titled "I Want You"? I did a very brief search and came up with 155 songs with that title. Well, 148 with that title in English, one in German, one in French, one in Spanish, one in what appears to be Czech, and three in an Asian font.

That's not counting six albums with that title (one each by Booker T., Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett), three films, and 11 tunes in which the title starts with "I Want You". Maybe they wanted THEIR version to stand out from the crowd!

Not that I'm defensive or anything.

Second track is the title track and features an oft-cited lyric used to bash the Tricksters: "Reputation is a fragile thing". Having been together for 40+ years as the same band (one glaring omission set aside for another time), releasing 18 studio albums, two EPs, six live releases, appearing on 17 compilations and 21 movie soundtracks, releasing 57 charting singles and seven videos/DVDs, I'd say their reputation is fairly safe.

One of those singles was "If You Want My Love". Featuring a break that could be a first cousin to that of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", it peaked at #11 on the US Rock chart and number two on the Australian charts. It's one of the slower ballads the band has done, and like the majority of them, it charted. It didn't hit as high as "The Flame", which reached number one on the US charts. But #11 ain't bad either.

"Oo La La La" follows, and it's a kinda short little semi-nonsensical rocker that can hang with the best that the band has done and, as with many of them, I have no idea what this one is about but it's fun to listen to.

"Lookin' Out For Number One" is another one where Zander screams the lyrics on occasion, so if you find that off-putting consider yourself warned. "I got hot but never got burned" is one of the interesting lyrics in the fifth track, which is describing another relationship malcontent. The next verse expounds further: "When I'm hot she says she's not. Don't get too close, she's over the top. Think by now, well, I would have learned. She's all talk. I really got burned."

"She's Tight" follows at track number six and is not only one of my favorite songs from this release – it's one of my favorite Cheap Trick tunes. "You floated in. We floated up. Through the window and down the hall. I had a smoke and went upstairs. Turned the door and I opened the key. She spoke… 'I'm on my own. Home all alone.' So I got off the phone!" Yep. Still love it!

The shortest song on the album follows at number seven. "Time is Runnin'" clocks in at only 2:20 and features… Wait. Really? No lead part for anyone? I do like the verse that says "Here comes the night. Gone are the days, yeah, when we could just sit here and talk for hours. Didn't have much to say".

For those keeping track, the eighth cut – "Saturday at Midnight" - is only the second weirdest track on the album ("I Want Be Man" takes that trophy home all by its lonesome.). "Saturday at midnight. See you at the red light (bad scene, man). Don't wanna be alone." It's a little odd, but that only reinforces the fact that you're listening to a Cheap Trick album, right?

Another Zander screaming fit! Hold on to your earlobes! "Love's Got a Hold On Me" is another rocker in the best Trick style, and it's another tune that gets going, gets the job done, and then it's on to the next track. Only 2:36 in duration, the band packs a good deal of rock as they roll through track number nine.

I mentioned that "Saturday at Midnight" wasn't the strangest tune on the One On One release from Cheap Trick. No, they saved that distinction for the tenth track of the 11 on the album, and that diagnosis goes to "I Want Be Man". 

After the opening where the odd, modulated drums frame the muffler, staccato guitar and the chorus of "I want be man. I want be man. I want be man. I want be man", you have a description of (what I think is) sometime in the future when there are robot servants, illustrated by lyrics like "I don't like living inside this metal plastic shell".

Things are changing based on the desires of the masters. "Hey I don't like livin' in this fleshy human shell. As much as I abuse it, it's really gone to hell."

Then there's an exchange of thoughts between human master and robot servant. It's kind of a lengthy lyric quote here, and I apologize but it's entirely necessary and pretty much fun. Besides, I really don't have any trepidation when quoting lyrics in a review. While it's true that good music can make bad lyrics tolerable, it's also true that interesting lyrics can move a marginal song onto your favorites list.

The "marginal" thing doesn't apply here. "I Want Be Man" is a fun song, and as I've said before… I've come to be entertained and not convinced!

"I'd rather be a robot so I don't have to think. 'Cause then I could be programmed where I don't have to dream. I'd rather be a man, instead of a machine. Flesh and blood life and death. It's a mystery. Nothing to be programmed. Nothing is for sure. And least there's a reason… A reason for my life. I want be man. You want be me."

The album winds down with "Four Letter Word". Another relationship quandary in which someone screwed up big time and now has to come groveling back. Part of the reasoning involved is "It's alright; it takes two to make it love. Cause love can be just a four letter word. A four letter word". 

I've seen some folks list this release as their favorite Cheap Trick studio album. And though I can't count myself among them, it's a respectable effort and is 100% Cheap Trick. Many of those choose One On One specifically over Next Position Please. Again, I can't count myself in that group.

Of the six Cheap Trick releases in the 1980s, One On One would likely be listed as either my second or third choice as favorite from that decade. Next Position Please would have to be the first favorite, followed by either One On One or All Shook Up – and that order would probably swap positions for #2 or 3 depending on my mood at the time.



-Mike Kimmel

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