Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Cheap Trick
In Color

Released 1977 on CBS
Reviewed by Le Samourai, 06/10/2001ce

Imagine having your debut album released on a major label early one year then doing over 100 concerts during that year and THEN later that same year having to make another album after your first one flopped. That’s exactly what happened to Chicago, Illinois’s finest Power Pop/Rock act Cheap Trick back in 1977. You already know from my previous review of their first album
what a crude, colorful, and rockin’ little donut it was. Now
given what I’ve just told you shouldn’t their second album be a overly rushed, tuneless, flat, dry wank of a disc considering how many great aritsts have befallen the deadly “Second Album” too much, too soon follow-up virus?

NOT AT ALL. What you have with In Color is a devastating example of songwriting and arranging with supple, firm hooks brimming with attitude. You may not like hearing about the “mechanics” of being a rock artist (hey, I usually turn away when people talk about “songwriting” and “arranging” too.) But van dammit that’s exactly what’s on display here and it’s just incredible. The album clocks out after 30 minutes or so and what you’re left with is proof positive that Cheap Trick were (and still are for many) one of the best American bands ever. Okay you basically know the Trick’s sound by now right? dark, twisted, Glam Rock, unique Beatles-esque touches, blah, blah, blah (yep, nearly the same formula Oasis would later become enormous with.) Well after they
let that sound loose with producer/engineer Jack Douglas on their debut they basically fine tuned it here with musician/producer/A & R guy Tom Werman (in fact he signed Cheap Trick to CBS.) You still get the same twisted humor and heavy chops of the first album only here with MUCH tighter arrangements and crystal clear mixing. You know what I’m talking about instantly when you look at the album cover. Sure, there’s lead singer Robin Zander &
bassist Tom Petersson looking studly on motorbikes on the suave, airbrushed front cover. But on the reverse, there’s drummer Bun E. Carlos and main songwriter and guitarist Rick Nielsen looking weird and intense on "kiddie" bicycles and if that’s not strange enough the picture is upside down and as it says clearly “And In
Black and White.” The pic of Carlos & Nielsen could almost have been a outtake from the first album cover sessions.

The album starts with a strange, Beatley public announcement called “Hello There.” Robin Zander simply sings “hello there, ladies and gentlemen are you ready to rock?” over another fairly intense Nielsen riff with Peterrson & Carlos backing. Simple enough. Next up is “Big Eyes” which believe it or not “borrows” the riff from Fleetwood Mac’s “Green Manalishi”!!! You’ll either be shocked in silence or too busy laughing and enjoying Zander trying to get cosy with some girl with great big...uh...eyes. Then comes the most “twisted” moment on In Color “Downed.” It’s basically another attempt at somebody trying to explain their sad plight ala “The Ballad Of T.V. Voilence” from their debut. Yeah it does sound like a funny musical suicide note but the riffs and harmonies here are so sweet are sooooooooooooo honeyed you can easily forgive ‘em. And even that might not prepare ya for one of the NICEST songs in existence “I Want You To Want Me.” Basically an audio piece of Happy Valentine’s
Day heart shaped candy this version is tres sweet but still
stunning (with swoony whistling to boot.) I kinda prefer both the “demo” version of “I Want You To...” from their Epic/Legacy CD re-issue of their debut and the “Live At Budokan” version of this song but you gotta give ‘em credit - whatever girls the Tricksters were trying to impress with this version from In Color I bet they would’ve been hard pressed to say “No” to any amorous advances.

After that the band just decides to rock out cleanly and meanly. From “You’re All Talk” all the way through to the closing “So Good To See You” the band basically builds one delicious Beatles-ish/Glam Rock type structure after another and proceeds to rock you thusly. Zander can certainly sing and no matter what riffs Nielsen burns out, he sings with sass and class. Cheap Trick have had many shabby imitators since and unfortunately I had a hard time liking them when most of the “Pop-Metal” acts like E’nuff Z’nuff, Extreme and others borrowed heavily from them. And I STILL can’t believe that one of the biggest bands
from the UK during the 1990’s (hint:NOT The Spice Girls) became HUGE with a cocky (or Cockney?) xerox of Cheap Trick's sound. But Nielsen’s songwriting and the band’s delivery of it outshines them all on In Color.

NOTE:PLEASE get the Epic/Legacy CD re-issue of In Color. Like their re-issue of Cheap Trick’s debut, the bonus tracks they tack on at the end are NOT frivolous but well worth yer money.

Reviews Index