Turning Tricks

"A lot of the stuff holds up," Nielsen says of the set. "The only thing I find wrong with some of our records over the years is the mix, how sonically some of the sounds don't work. Otherwise, all the stuff is there -- the tunes, the technique, the this and the that."

Problematic it may be, but Sex, America, Cheap Trick authoritatively establishes the brilliance of the group's unique, twisted brand of power-pop, a melange of Beatles-esque melodies, sly vocals, inventive hard-rock riffs, and a rhythm section that works around the riffs with precision and finesse. Nielsen's lyrics offer savagely funny takes on everything from mass murder ("The Ballad of T.V. Violence") and romantic obsession ("Big Eyes") to sex ("Hot Love"), drugs ("Downed," "Heaven Tonight"), and rock and roll ("Clock Strikes Ten").

At his best, Nielsen overturns rock cliches as he recasts them, nowhere better than on "Surrender," from Heaven Tonight, which offers a charmingly whacked-out portrait of suburban life in which a young kid's parents tell him horror stories of tainted Asian women and then make out on the couch while listening to his KISS albums. "Growing up in the Midwest, you hear all the parents talking about walking ten miles a day through ten feet of snow and all this shit," Nielsen explains. "So I came up with a story about parents telling their kids all this herky-jerky stuff -- sick things like 'Indonesian junk' [read: venereal disease], parents listening to KISS. It's sick, but sick in a good way. Or maybe good in a sick way."

Which, Nielsen adds, might be a good way to define Cheap Trick's career thus far -- from the highs of the late Seventies to the lows that always lurk around the corner; from the good albums that got buried to the bad ones that went gold. "If I could go to everybody's house, door to door like an Amway salesman, and say 'Take a listen to this,' I bet we could sell millions of records," Nielsen figures. "After we make them, though, it's in someone else's hands. And if they don't know what to do with it, or if radio isn't playing good stuff that week, it gets lost. That is what's good about having a boxed set there to document this stuff. We can say 'I told you so. You didn't get this one at the time, but it's still there. It's still good.' I just hope people react to it.

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