Cheap Trick’s comeback album is no masterpiece—it contains nothing anywhere near as compelling as “Surrender,” or even as catchy as “I Want You to Want Me”—but it is a surprisingly humble, listenable record. The group has let enough time pass for “The Flame” to die out and has started from scratch. (The only vestiges of the band’s former prominence are the front-cover appearance of Rick Nielsen’s still-ludicrous-after-all-these-years five-neck ax and the liner notes’ fetishistic track-by-track specifications of who plays what using which brand of instrument, even though the lineup hardly varies at all and the result is the absurd repetition of, “Bun E. Carlos—Ludwig drums, Zildjian cymbals,” 11 times.) Usually, old rock stars lose the ability to sound convincingly lovelorn, but on “Shelter,” “It All Comes Back to You,” and especially the Beatley gem “Say Goodbye,” the heartache in Robin Zander’s voice is unguarded and unforced. Zander’s performance is the most remarkable thing about this disc: Where in the old days his singing was strong but mannered, his Lennonist leanings have matured into a natural, personal style, and he has lost none of his ability to shout (especially on “Wrong All Along,” which sounds disconcertingly like a Bat Out of Hell outtake). “Shelter” is the cut most likely to induce embarrassed cringing—a midtempo outpouring of existential loneliness, it commences with “If I had a child, I would shelter it from harm,” delivered with no irony whatsoever. Yet despite the odds, Zander pulls it off, rendering the song affecting and graceful. If only the harder numbers had the hooks or emotional content of the slower stuff, this would be a great record.

—James Lochart

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