James Gunn’s soundtrack for Marvel’s Guardians of Galaxy got almost as much commentary as the film itself. The hooky selection of tunes probably had a lot of powerpop connoisseurs attributing the choices to some nameless musical supervisor. But a scan of Gunn’s movie resume suggests he doesn’t leave such decisions to just anybody. In fact, you get a feel for Gunn’s powerpop instincts with the choice of Tsar’s “Calling All Destroyers,” which he featured prominently in an earlier vehicle, his 2010 black comedy Super. While the movie got mixed reviews the soundtrack deserves a definite thumbs up, at least when it comes to hitting the powerpop marks. I’m not saying every song in the film fits the genre but with tracks from Tsar, Eric Carmen, Cheap Trick and The Nomads there’s clearly some kind of theme to the whole thing. I mean, just check out how Gunn uses “Calling All Destroyers” to open the movie with its animated title sequence. Talk about setting the scene – this is pure fun!
Another nod to the powerpop canon on the Super soundtrack is the inclusion of Eric Carmen. You don’t get much closer to the genre’s royalty than his early 1970s band The Raspberries, even if his solo career is largely defined by easy listening and power ballads. “It Hurts Too Much” is an exception, a welcome throwback to The Raspberries big hooks and Spector-ish production. Seeing Cheap Trick here also set off the powerpop alarms big time. “If You Want My Love” is from the band’s 1982 album One On One and it’s dripping with a late period Beatles vibe. Another track fitting the genre is the pop punky “I Do” from the mysterious Lo Def Dollz.
From there the soundtrack goes in a number of mostly complimentary directions. A surprising number of Swedish artists make the cut. Moneybrother offer up some pop reggae on “God Knows My Name ‘11” and “Born Under a Bad Sign” in a style reminiscent of The Specials. The Ark offer a more 1980s pop dance number with “Let Your Body Decide.” Last on the Nordic front is The Nomads doing punk honour to The Standells “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White.” Then Gunn adds in back-to-back country and hip hop selections with cuts from Terra Naomi and Acevalone, just to throw in some grit. Tyler Bates provides seven of the seventeen tracks on the soundtrack, mostly incidental music, except for the striking “Two Perfect Moments” which is a song proper.
The music on the Super soundtrack really works with the movie, effectively framing Rainn Wilson and his girl sidekick’s wonderfully demented performances as heroes/anti-heroes. The critics may have been divided but I thought the movie rocked, blowing up the superhero genre and defying easy identification with its themes or characters. Of course, the inspired soundtrack just made it that much better. To my eyes and ears, Super really is super.
Cheap Trick are one of those legendary bands I’m supposed to really like. But, as often as not, their material seems either too screaming-guitar-solo rawk or histrionic power ballad for my tastes. When they do turn on the Beatlesque hooks and harmonies, however, the band are unstoppable. The essential winning formula appears on early hits like “I Want You To Want Me,” “Surrender,” “Dream Police” and pretty much all of their best-selling 1979 album Dream Police. But from there Cheap Trick seemed to lose their artistic footing, struggling over the course of their next 15 albums to match differing production styles with their reliably good songwriting. Despite sometimes uneven results, I think every Cheap Trick album has a least a few worthy poprock singles lurking inside. Today we melody test the 19 album catalogue of Cheap Trick to find those melodic gems.
I’m not going to dwell on the early ‘we’re gonna be stars’ period of the band. Rock writers have already penned countless columns noting their musical split personality, sometimes arena-noisy rawk gods, other times commercially slick Beatlesque hitmakers. The noisy rock roots defined their 1977 self-titled debut, with a few exceptions like “Oh Candy.” Less than year later In Color repeated the same formula, but with a few slick AM radio-ready exceptions, like the original version of “I Want You To Want Me” and “Southern Girls.” 1978’s Heaven Tonight saw the influence of new wave come to fore with the band’s first truly amazing single, “Surrender.” 1979’s Dream Police cemented their reputation as one of new wave’s most creative rock-oriented acts with the innovative title track and the more Beatlesque “Voices.” The band’s trajectory seemed to be following a classic rock and roll script, with every album improving on the last both creatively and commercially.
But something jarred loose on the way into the 1980s. The confidence of Dream Police seemed to give way to a fourteen year era of uncertainty about just who the band were and what they needed to do to succeed commercially and artistically. It wasn’t for lack of high profile collaborators. The next eight albums would see the band working with the likes of George Martin, Roy Thomas Baker, Todd Rundgren, Jack Douglas, Ritchie Zito and Ted Templeman. But the hits and previous rave critical reviews all but dried up. 1980’s All Shook Up failed to produce many standout tracks, other than “Stop This Game.” 1982’s One on One dialed up the rock vibe but the killer cut is undoubtedly the Beatlesy “If You Want My Love You Got It.” 1983’s Next Position Please was a much more melodic album overall, though critics complained that producer Todd Rundgren had the band sounding a lot like Utopia, particularly on “I Can’t Take It.” There are worse problems a band could have. Then the band reunited with Jack Douglas (producer of their debut album) for 1985’s Standing on the Edge and the results were brilliant. The songs and performances were back to Dream Police levels of confidence with highlights like “This Time Around” and the killer “Tonight It’s You,” a track that ranks with any of their best singles.
And then the wheels came off the comeback bus. 1986’s The Doctor stalled the band’s revival. Critics slammed the album’s cheesy drum and keyboard sound but the real problem was the songwriting, with only “Kiss Me Red” catching my attention. Under pressure from their record company to turn out some hits, 1988’s Lap of Luxury bears all the marks of a corporate ‘album by committee’. The band were forced to work with outside songwriters and the production style was essentially a slick FM kind of bombast rock. The gambit worked: the record ended up second in total sales for the group behind Dream Police and a power ballad single, “The Flame,” did go to number one. But the best songs in my view are still the ones written by the band, e.g. “Let’s Go,” “Never Had a Lot To Lose,” and my fave “All We Need is a Dream.” Producer Ritchie Vito returned for 1990s Busted but the formula failed to work a second time. Instead, the standout track here is the throwback sixties-influenced “Had to Make You Mine.” Working with Van Halen producer Ted Templeman brought back the rawk on 1994’s Woke Up With a Monster but a few melodic surprises make an appearance, like “You’re All I Wanna Do” and “Never Run Out of Love For You.”
By mid-1990s Cheap Trick were without a major label deal for the first time in their career. This allowed the band to retake control of their musical direction, once again writing and producing most of their albums and releasing them on smaller, more independent labels. The results have generally been applauded by fans and critics alike. 1997’s Cheap Trick marked a creative reset, with stripped back poppy rock and roll numbers like “Hard to Tell” and the sixties-ish “Carnival Game.” Seven years later 2003’s Special One was less rawk than previous efforts but still strong songwriting-wise – case in point, “My Obsession.” 2006’s Rockford was another solid effort, with the single-worthy “All Those Years Ago” and the fab Bill Lloyd co-write “Dream the Night Away.” In 2009 the band delivered another melody-heavy package with The Latest. This one is particularly Beatles stamped – check out “Times of Our Lives.” Another seven years would pass before Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello in 2016 but the record has many highlights like “No Direction Home” and “When I Wake Up Tomorrow” (with its slight Bond theme undercurrent). One year later the band would return to their rawk default with We’re All Alright! but more melodic tunes appeared as well with “Floating Down” and “She’s Alright.” And then earlier this year album #19 arrived with In Another World, a collection that almost seems to showcase the band’s stylistic range across their whole career, including quite a few hooky numbers. My faves include “The Summer Looks Good on You,” “Another World,” and the more mellow “I’ll See You Again.”
I can’t say I love all of Cheap Trick’s albums but with every release there’s always been something to like. This melody test just proves that no matter how lost the band gets you can always find a good hook somewhere on any album. And some more than others! Who knows what surprises album #20 will bring. Don’t miss out – keep up with Cheap Trick news at their website and Facebook locations.
When rock critics got wind of a new supergroup forming in early 2009 that would combine talent from the Smashing Pumpkins, Fountains of Wayne, Cheap Trick and Hanson they were giddy with anticipation. But when Tinted Windows’ self-titled debut dropped in April, the gloves suddenly came off. Pitchfork called the record “hopelessly dated and irrelevant,” declaring “the whole of Tinted Windows is so much less than the sum of its considerable parts…” The review ended thus: “If there are dollar bins in the future, that’s where you’ll find this failed debut.” Ouch. Others were just as scathing. PopMatters complained that “Tinted Windows, tragically, is everything that a pop-rock disc shouldn’t be: bland, boring, and completely forgettable.” The reviewer thought the record was a “terrible, hookless affair,” perhaps “the worst album to be released in 2009 thus far.” There were more balanced reviews but they too were often hemmed in with backhanded compliments. The A.V. Club described the album as “wonderfully shallow,” Spin thought it “safe and bouncy enough for Jo Bros fans and Stacy’s mom alike,” while Rolling Stone preferred FOW more clever lyrics but allowed that “these likable tunes usually hit their modest marks.” Not exactly ringing endorsements.
I heard about these reviews at the time but only landed a copy of the record a few months ago. Imagine my surprise to discover that Tinted Windows is an amazing debut album. Forget all the rock critic super-group nonsense. Tinted Windows are a straight-up, guitar-driven poprock group, delivering a new century take on that stripped down late 70s/early 1980s melodic rock and roll sound, with all the usual nods to the Cars, the Knack, Big Star and the Cheap Trick. Adam Schlesinger writes most the songs and you can definitely hear the Fountains of Wayne influence on tracks like “Dead Serious” with its super hooky chorus or “Can’t Get a Read on You.” But as he noted in interviews, he deliberately toned down the signature FOW wordplay for a more direct lyrical style. You can really hear this on the debut single, “Kind of Girl,” with its solid thumping poprock groove. Other members of the group contribute a few songs: James Iha gets a nice slow Cheap Trick grind going with “Back with You” while lead singer Taylor Hanson’s “Nothing to Me” has some nice Beatlesque guitar changes. But the album’s hit single should have been “Without Love,” which opens with a killer hook that just won’t let up – hands down, best song on record. The Hanson/Schlesinger composition “Take Me Back” is another strong contender for a single with some very catchy hooks in the chorus.
Without LoveTake Me Back
In separate interviews as recent as 2014 both Hanson and Iha claimed that Tinted Windows would be back with another record one day. Perhaps this time music critics will judge what the band actually delivers instead of what they thought the band should be. In the meantime, buy Tinted Windows wherever it can be found.