Thursday, May 10, 2007

Cheap Trick Is Better Than Radiohead

Yesterday, I found myself listening to the newest Cheap Trick album, "Rockford." This morning on the train, I had Radiohead's "Amnesiac" going directly into my brain via the iPod. Cheap Trick, which has been in a permanent state of Washed Up since Dream Police, is a more enjoyable listen, I'm sorry. I know it's blasphemy.

I don't discount Radiohead. As I listened to "Amnesiac" riding backwards through South Minneapolis at 50 miles an hour, I wondered why something borne out of such obvious musical and artistic talent could strike me as so... not artsy, not pretentious... I'd have to say simply, boring. I like "The Bends." I like "OK Computer" quite a bit. I can even appreciate "Kid A." But this...

It made me think about why people like me gravitate toward bands like Wilco, while others worship Radiohead, and see the Wilcos (forget about the Cheap Tricks) as poor Midwestern substitutes.

It's about voice.

It's not purely about lyrics for me. It's not even really about storytelling, although both play a role. It has something to do with grounding. But it's really about voice. I find no interest in most Top 40/American Idol-style singing, because I see affectation... kids imitating other singers. They have amazing voices--voices I would kill to have myself--but they're acting. Thom Yorke of Radiohead is the other extreme. He uses his voice as a color in the palette, another sound to rivet into the overall sonic architecture. It rarely has any personality, and it seldom reveals anything. In fact, on the first few tunes of "Amnesiac," it's so treated by studio effects that it blends almost seamlessly into the other synthesized noises. That's not a criticism; I think it was a conscious decision.

Which brings me to Robin Zander.

The guy is what... 55? And he's always been of the most underappreciated voices in rock 'n' roll. What's truly impressive on "Rockford" is his range. He can still scream and wail with the best of them. He has a unique way of sliding from one note to the next... a faux pas for the classically trained (think about Surrender: "I've known her all these yeeeeears!"). And on one song, "O Claire" (is it any wonder people don't take Cheap Trick seriously?), he shows impressive range--a Bono-esque shift from falsetto to full voice over the same melody, pulling out that wicked slide in the chorus, and actually singing with genuine feeling about losing somebody.

I get more out of that performance, and everything I've heard on the new Wilco album, "Sky Blue Sky," than I get from "Amnesiac." I don't discount Radiohead as art. But it's the difference between examining an interesting chair in the Chambers Hotel and walking toward a fire on a Lake Michigan beach.

1 comment:

Christy said...

Radiohead is boring. Wilco tickets go on sale in NYC tomorrow.