After a couple albums and EPs, Chicago’s Geronimo! finally hit a real studio to record Cheap Trick, and the results are tremendous. The trio – vocalist/guitarist Kelly Johnson, keys/vocalist Ben Grigg, and drummer Matt Schwerin – certainly did not dial that volume back from 11, but the results are crisper and grander, and just as punchy as any of their previous material. And while they may not have their sights set on a Budokan residency, the album title certainly evokes the results contained within – a humongous, monolithic sound ripe for shaking stadiums, but with enough hooks to land a boatload of marlin.
Although the title also seems to evoke the idea of being “easily duped,” perhaps in the sense that the common individual, in this day and age, is in the process of sacrificing a part of themselves for a bit of modern convenience, a process orchestrated by bigger, badder entities. Grandaddy used to do the faux songs about electric men (Jed the Humanoid in particular is a character that comes to mind) as a reflection of these tropes and a condemnation of humanity’s overreliance on machines, resulting in a loss of what made us human in the first place. Geronimo! do a similar thing with opener “Electronic Parrot,” a weird, spoken-word piece that has very little stylistic resemblance to the rest of the album. Here the band targets perhaps too easy a subject – our interconnectedness via the Internet and its pitfalls – but dresses its arrows in the concept of the titular bird, “squawking at the world wide sky,” indicting, hell, me for spouting off what everyone else has already said a thousand times. It’s funny and sad to hear it put this way, all our “stories” and “ideas” really just disguises for “ones and zeroes.” This collected community of online thinkers is really just a waste bin, our “squawking” at each other is just useless prattling to hear our own noise. It’s not surprising, then, that the words “abyss” and “void” are used in conjunction with these ideas.
It’s sad and funny at the same time, because guess what? I’m still going to squawk to hear myself squawk, because I like the sound of my own “voice” here, and if I’m going down with the ship then I may as well have fun doing it. And I wouldn’t begrudge Geronimo! that sentiment either – if I were them, I’d be scrambling for the repeat button on “1000 Realities,” the song that immediately follows “Electonic Parrot” and cements the band’s reputation as distinctly human, and hell-raising rockers. It serves as a rejection of the idea of the Electronic Parrot, a complete and utter disregard for the mass online consciousness. Its images are more concrete, more rooted, as it were, in reality. And, like similarly minded shredders Titus Andronicus, whose inimitable 2010 album The Monitor gave us “Titus Andronicus Forever” and its defiant refrain “The enemy is everywhere!” shouted en masse like a mission statement, Geronimo!, with “1000 Realities,” provides its own fist-in-the-air shout-along moment. In response to the lyric “Life is a stifling storm, and I stay static in this pouring rain,” we get the remarkably vivid “And I’m just a palm tree swaying, swaying in a hurricane” belted at the highest possible energy level. That palm tree is harnessing that hurricane, if I do say so myself.
Energy is definitely a hallmark of Cheap Trick, a hallmark you’d expect from a band who subtitled their last EP The Metal David Byrne. (I can only imagine…) “Mr. President” is a machine-gun discharge of a song, short (1:59), breakneck, and rapid fire. It’s the “first single” off the album, and it’s fitting – it’s the energy (there’s that word again!) and essence of Geronimo! distilled into song form. The lyrics are in first person, and I’ve cherrypicked for impact: “I am a death machine … That’s Mr. President to you.” “Mr. President” the song is essentially its own death machine, as any pit formed in its wake will only bring forth death and destruction. (Do they even do pits anymore at shows like Geronimo!’s? I’m so old.)
Even when the band stretches out its songs past the five- and six-minute marks, on “60 Ways to Tie a Tie” or “Euphoria,” they’re still well within their element. The tracks sprawl rather than coil, but there’s blistering sentiment and venom anyway, proving that Geronimo! can venture away from their balled-fist/gritted-teeth comfort zone and still succeed. And it also proves a sense of unstable humanness in the emotive outbursts. With Cheap Trick, and as always, Geronimo! pretty much cast aside any lingering attachment to anything resembling the “Electronic Parrot.” They do their own thing, man – let it ride.
RIYL: Dinosaur Jr., The Dismemberment Plan, Speedy Ortiz, Titus Andronicus