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Digging through bins: Cheap Trick, Weezer deliver power-pop perfection

Surrender, already. Why fight it?

There is no finer power-pop band than Cheap Trick. “Bang, Zoom, Crazy...Hello,” (Big Machine Records) was released on April Fool’s Day, drives this point home with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer attacking soggy drywall. It’s a crusher.

By marrying indelible Beatles-informed melodies to the grit of garage rock, the grime of early punk and the grandeur of British hard rockers the Move and the Who, the Rockford, Ill., band hit on a formula in the early ’70s, and with very few exceptions, has been steadfastly perfecting that formula ever since. (Those exceptions came in the ’80s, when the band’s then record label bosses demanded pop hits, and forced it to work with outside writers – an absurd notion for a band with such strong in-house songwriting skills.)

Touring all but constantly, the Tricksters preached to their own mind choir, satisfying a devout cult-sized audience, routinely blowing the headliners they were paired with off the stage, and perhaps wondering why the massive commercial status afforded them with the late ’70s success of “At Budokan” has been so elusive ever since.

Beginning with the 1997 release of its second self-titled album, Cheap Trick has been on a later-career roll, delivering a handful of great albums and at least one masterpiece – 2009’s “The Latest.” None of these albums sold particularly well, and the music industry being what it is, “Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello” probably won’t either. Regardless, it’s a great time for longtime devotees of the band, for Cheap Trick will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on Friday, will take to the road with Heart and Joan Jett this summer (Darien Lake PAC, July 27th) and can now add another must-have platter to its canon of recordings.

“Bang…” is an ebullient, vibrant collection of classic Cheap Trick tropes with occasional new plot twists and more hooks than a tackle shop. It’s the group’s first studio recording with drummer Dax Nielsen, son of founder/guitarist Rick Nielsen, who took over for original skinsman Bun E. Carlos for touring duties a decade back, and whose Ringo/Keith Moon/Kenny Jones/Bun E.-inspired playing lends a heaviness to the collection and melds with bassist Tom Petersson’s still awe-inspiring 4-, 8- and 12-string bass work.

The songwriting is as strong as ever – the earworms abound in the briskly paced album, from the harmony-heavy “No Direction Home,” to the strutting glam rocker “Blood red Lips,” to the gloriously Beatle-esque “The Sun Never Sets” – and the Dorian Gray of rock singers, Robin Zander, simply defies logic with his virtuosic singing, coming across like a combination of “White Album”-era Lennon and McCartney, moving with grace and skill from a throaty murmur to a full-bodied scream whenever he feels like it.

Guitarist Nielsen sounds positively unhinged, a gleeful madman running rampant across the extended rave-up in the middle of “Do You Believe Me?” and spitting out diabolical solo asides throughout the strident rockers “Heart On the Line” and “Roll Me.” Listening to “Bang…” at the proper volume – loud! – the listener is hard-pressed to believe that these guys (with the exception of the younger Dax Nielsen) are in their ’60s. Cheap Trick has lost nothing in terms of power, and endurance has granted them a certain hard rock gravitas.

Buy this. Turn it on, and turn it up.


Speaking of power-pop, Weezer is back with a fourth self-titled album and a continuation of their color scheme theme. “The White Album” (Crush/Atlantic) follows its blue, green and red counterparts, and therefore, dares the listener to compare it to past efforts, particularly “The Blue Album,” which most Weezer snobs consider to be the band’s best work. (“Pinkerton” is generally held to be a close second.)

I’m not going to touch any of this, because doing so is a losing proposition. In my estimation, most Weezer albums are at the very least good, and comparing them to the band’s 1994 debut had stopped making sense by the turn of the millennium. You can’t go home again, even if you happened to be named Rivers Cuomo.

So instead of trying to turn back the clock, Cuomo and his bandmates – including Buffalo-born drummer and co-founder Patrick Wilson – seem to be perfectly comfortable chilling in the present tense.

“The White Album” is not the sound of a band uncomfortable with itself, nor one too particularly concerned with what the naysayers have been insisting – that Weezer will never be as good as it was in the ’90s – for more than a decade. It rushes by with a distinct lack of self-consciousness, and as result, the true star of every Weezer show – Cuomo’s melodies, which are pure power-pop magic – claims from the beginning, center stage and stays there.

Here in this California-themed collection are some of Cuomo’s finest songs, each one a razor-sharp take on the Beach Boys-meets-pop-metal paradigm that is his great contribution to the ongoing rock music dialog.

The aching undertone that underscores the snark in Cuomo’s best songs is all over “Do You Wanna Get High?” and “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori,” and the more experimental leanings that made “Pinkerton” a bit of an anomaly in Weezer’s oeuvre show up again in “King Of the World.” There are, in truth, no dogs here. “The White Album” gives us 35 minutes of power-pop bliss.

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