Released: September 1979
Chart Peak: #6
Weeks Charted: 25
Certified Gold: 2/6/80
In the beginning, Cheap Trick was lovable because they tried to pull off the toughest trick in the book: making rock that was both bonehead hard and intelligently witty. Rick Nielsen aspired to nothing less than the kind of working-class-hero reputation he'd found in role models like Pete Townshend and John Lennon. In the band's finest moments -- Heaven Tonight, In Color and, especially, the awesome in-concert version of "Surrender" that's the centerpiece of Cheap Trick at Budokan -- you can hear his absolute joy at discovering that such an approach worked. The live "Surrender" isn't rock & roll at the edge, but way past it. Cheap Trick sings and plays this nonsense story (which isn't really nonsense) with the same fervor that the Beatles brought to the live "Twist and Shout" on The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. And for a lot of the same reasons, which boil down to one: triumph.
For better or worse, "Surrender" also had the effect of raising the stakes: Cheap Trick must now deliver on the promise of their first three studio albums. While there's no question about Nielsen & Company's stature among American hard-rock bands -- these guys are among the brightest ever -- there are some doubts about what they can do with their potential. Dream Police is an unsatisfactory record mostly because it ducks such issues in favor of reworking familiar territory.
Still, Dream Police isn't as exciting as Heaven Tonight or In Color. The reason has something to do with the LP's production style. Previously, producer Tom Werman and the group created a sound that was both distinctive and about as discreet as a fist in the face. The new album, on the other hand, is almost obsessively concerned with details, so you find your attention shifted to parts rather than the whole. As record making, it's state-of-the-art, but as rock & roll, it escapes boredom only because of the band's relentless charge: the way guitarist Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos work off each other will never be boring.
But one of the problems with Cheap Trick has always been that they're more listenable than compelling. (Another reason why the live "Surrender" is so great is that it makes you care that Mommy's all right). You can't help admiring the sardonic humor and thrilling attack of these songs, yet it's a hell of a job working up much emotion about them. Maybe what I mean by the stakes for this LP is that it's time for these musicians to move beyond their perfect craftsmanship.
They're trying, I think. Dream Police seems intended as a sort of statement (at least it contains a lyric sheet, which none of the group's other studio records have) and is organized around a couple of themes, mostly fame and paranoia. The altered production approach also seems designed to encourage a more "artistically serious" view of Cheap Trick, and to distance them from the shallow waters of Aerosmith, Foreigner, Kiss and Bad Company.
The issue isn't whether or not Cheap Trick can become the great American rock band we lost when Lynyrd Skynyrd's plane went down, but whether Rick Nielsen has the guts to probe deeply enough to let loose what's there. Dream Police doesn't offer any answers, yet it does suggest some dire possibilities. I hope that the deterioration I think I'm hearing is something else -- maybe Neilsen really is struggling to come to terms with rock & roll demons -- because Cheap Trick is too fine a group to be buried in the circle of hell reserved for those who had potential and squandered it.
- Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone, 11-29-79.
This LP was actually finished several months ago but Epic decided to hold it when the group's double Live At Bodokan and the singles from it "I Want You To Want Me" and "Surrender" began soaring like rockets. With this new studio set the four-piece unit doesn't lose any momentum whatsoever. Using primanly a three guitar and drum approach the band weaves as enciting and energetic a power pop sound there is. Members Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, Tom Peterson and Bun E. Carlos all contribute words and music and that's one of the band's key strengths: four strong members. Lyrics and music both are clever and inventive. Best cuts: "Dream Police," "Way Of The World," "The House Is Rockin' (With Domestic Problems)," "Gonna Raise Hell," "Voices."
- Billboard, 1979.
What's always saved this band for me was the jokes, but this time they're not just in the grooves, and there's only so much you can do with funny hats on the cover. A good heavy band, sure -- be thankful for the fast tempos. But probably not a great heavy metal band. And you know what happens to a good heavy metal band long about the fifth album. B-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
With the big time upon them, Cheap Trick went for bigger production sounds. Fortunately, it worked most of the time. The paranoid title cut is an effective, highly orchestrated rocker. Other notable tracks are the appealingly melodic (albeit wimpy) "Voices" and the no-frills rock of "I Know What I Want," complete with a great chorus you can shout to. In spite of its strengths, Dream Police marks the beginning of the band's creative decline. * * * *
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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