One would think that by naming their newest studio recording (their 17th) The Latest, the guys of Cheap Trick are embracing the modern world, if a bit ironically.
And that's partly the case. They're playing about five songs off the new CD -- which preserves Cheap Trick's penchant for taking the Beatles into stentorian overdrive -- on their current tour with Def Leppard and Poison.
But there's also a bit of nostalgia at work. For one, Cheap Trick is issuing The Latest not just on vinyl but 8-track, because, as guitarist Rick Nielsen reasons, "Nobody else is."
"I really miss all the artwork and having stuff you can read," he says during a recent phone interview. "I guess an 8-track was kind of reminiscent of that idea, where you didn't have to have a magnifying glass to read anything. Plus I think Bunny [drummer Bun E. Carlos] still has a car with an 8-track player, and he wanted to hear it that way."
Even the new track "Sick Man of Europe" hearkens back to something of old -- it's the name of an early Cheap Trick incarnation, before singer Robin Zander joined the fold.
"It must've been flashbacks from some bad something or other," Nielsen says of the resurrected title. "Every time we said that, people would say, 'What?' Then we'd try to explain it but never had a great answer. We thought it was a bad idea then -- let's do it again! It's tried and true."
All told, however, Nielsen doesn't think Cheap Trick have had too many bad ideas over the course of their 35-year career.
"We're still playing," he says. "We're still putting out new stuff and having fun. I think we're doing it right."
Indeed, they've performed more concerts (over 5,000) than any other band (B.B. King leads solo artists). And they've done it with the same lineup. Only bassist Tom Petersson took a hiatus for six years in the '80s.
"We never broke up to get back together," Nielsen says. "Maybe we should've; [we'd] be more popular."
Cheap Trick have never needed to pull any stunts in Japan. They reached deified, Fab Four status there as far back as the '70s, exemplified on the famous Cheap Trick at Budokan live album. Nielsen notes he mispronounced "Budokan" for so long that now the Japanese enunciate it the same way.
"I changed a whole culture," he says. "And we tried to help the economy. We were the only ones bringing paltry sums to the United States [from Japan] as opposed to just departing."
It's not easy surviving multiple music eras, not to mention a mercurial business model (like so many artists today, Cheap Trick now release music on their own imprint). Nielsen says they've survived this long for three reasons: They have a strong body of work, they're a tight knit group that plays well together and they're willing to play anywhere they're wanted.
"We try to keep ourselves relevant," he says. "I'm doing an interview with you, so there you go."
Cheap Trick may not be the most venerated act, but they've made their mark on musical descendants. During a recent dinner in New York, the band Jet approached their table and gushed about how much they loved them.
"They were falling all over us," Nielsen says. "We couldn't get rid of them. But they were really nice, and they came up to us. Musicians don't like to do that. They like to think they invented the guitar."
One of them said they have a song on their new album that he hopes Cheap Trick haven't heard because they'll probably want to sue them.
"I think he was just trying to sell us a record," Nielsen says.