Monday, September 21, 2020

Cheap Trick's 'Dream Police' Turns 41!

On this day 41 years ago, kids all over the country flocked to record stores to pick up the new Cheap Trick studio album, Dream Police, in hopes of hearing more of the hooky, guitar-driven pop that had turned "I Want You To Want Me" into a global game-changer for a band that, up to that point, had been relegated to club and/or opening act status; two roles the band relished.

It was their role as rock & roll spoilers that made such gigs especially incendiary because, in most cases, kids who saw the band open for the likes of Kiss and Kansas never knew what hit them while older fans who'd already heard the band and went specifically to see them in a club setting still wound up having their collective asses handed to them when the band's live power proved even more substantial than expected.

After all, Cheap Trick was the ultimate band for stumping those who judged bands based on album covers. Sure, the two poster-worthy rock stallions - singer Robin Zander and bass player Tom Petersson - looked the part, but Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos were total wild cards and could have anyone convinced what they were staring at might just be a comedy album.

Song titles like "Daddy Should Have Stayed In High School" or "He's A Whore", both from the band's debut effort, did little to dispel such assumptions, but those who ventured beyond such red flags were no doubt floored by what they finally heard.

Obviously, the ginormous success of "I Want You To Want Me" had resolved the band's identity problem and increased their name recognition ten-fold, but was the Budokan success just a mad fluke or did the band have plenty more hits in their arsenal?

Since it was finished before At Budokan had even been released in the States, and further delayed by the live album's completely unexpected success, Dream Police had been recorded, not in the wake of their first major commercial success, but in response to the admittedly lackluster reception the band's Heaven Tonight record had received in their homeland.,

Sure, the band were teen idols in Japan already, but watching three albums chock full of high-octane, radio-ready hooks fall flat in the U.S. must have been a head-scratcher for the band. They'd gone the dark, subversive route on their debut, done a complete musical one-eighty for In Color, and then settled for a sound that was somewhere in the middle and, still, nothing had clicked with radio programmers. 

As the band entered the studio with producer Tom Werman, the man behind their last two records, at least one of them had to be wondering what else could they do to get America's attention. Main songwriter Rick Nielsen's response was to create the premise for what could have been a Pink Floydian concept album a la The Wall, but wound up limiting the concept to a single song that, despite the success that it received, should have been a bigger hit than it was.

"Voices", the emotive power ballad that wore its Beatles influences on its sleeve, sounded destined for the top of the charts, but, again, was stopped shorter than anyone who actually heard the song expected.

In fact, anyone who heard the album at the time would have agreed that Dream Police was the sort of album that should have built upon the success of At Budokan. Instead, two sure-fire hit singles had petered out in the lower reaches of the Top 40 and the band began seeing attendance at headlining shows start to dip.

If this had been the response to All Shook Up, the band's next album, such developments arguably could have been expected, but Dream Police is arguably their most solid studio album, both production-wise and from a songwriting aspect.

This is pretty damn remarkable when you consider that, after the band's three previous rock-solid studio albums had gone commercially unnoticed, Rick Nielsen must have had little confidence that his label could do anything with these new ones, either, yet he somehow reaches back and finds another gear.

To this day, song-for-song, it remains his most ambitious work and one the label completely botched.

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