Lap of Luxury was, by most definitions, a comeback album for Cheap Trick, although it didn’t quite reach the blockbuster status that the band and their label were attempting to achieve. In many ways it is a very ordinary album for the late 1980s due the use of several “song doctors” who composed mainstream, radio-friendly material. Still, there is something which is at once desperate and exciting about this band’s sound and, in particular, the wailing croon of vocalist Rob Zander. Combined with the unambiguous guitar textures of Rick Nielsen, there is a definite edge to this band’s sound which shined through in spite of the attempts to smooth it out with mainstream compositions.
The group’s tenth studio album overall, Lap of Luxury was produced by Richie Zito and broke a streak of five straight commercial disappointments through the early and mid eighties, despite the fact that the band used top level producers on those albums including George Martin, Todd Rundgren, Roy Thomas Baker and Jack Douglas. Due to the band’s commercial decline, Epic Records demanded that they collaborate with professional songwriters in the same way that Aerosmith had done for their commercial comeback Permanent Vacation the previous year. This did result in the album reaching the Top 20 and spawning the group’s first and only number one single.
The album also marks the return of bassist Tom Petersson, who is often credited for having the first idea to build a twelve-string bass. Petersson had left the band in 1980 and returned in 1987 to join drummer Bun E. Carlos in the rhythm section and restore the original quartet from the 1970s. The group also brought back the practice of featuring Zander and Petersson on the front cover while putting Nielson and Carlos on the back, which they had done on three late seventies albums as an inside joke.
Lap of Luxury by Cheap Trick
|Released: April 12, 1988 (Epic)
Produced by: Richie Zito
|Side One||Side Two|
Never Had a Lot to Lose
|Don’t Be Cruel
Wrong Side of Love
All We Need Is a Dream
All Wound Up
|Robin Zander – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Rick Nielson – Guitars, Vocals
Tom Petersson – Bass, Vocals
Bun E. Carlos – Drums, Percussion
Prior to Lap of Luxury, Rick Nielsen was the group’s chief songwriter but he only co-wrote four tunes on this album. The record starts off with, “Let Go”, which contains a thumping rhythm, simple but strong riffs and anthem-shout lyrics – the type of material on which the band traditionally excels. The song was co-written by Todd Cerney who co-wrote songs with Eddie Money, Loverboy and Bad English. The song was released as a single and peaked at #35 on the Mainstream Rock chart. “No Mercy” contains exotic percussion with much use of rhythms and synths during the verse while again going for the big hit sound during the choruses.
A great acoustic riff provides the bedding for “The Flame”, a power ballad which drips with melancholy reflection. This excessively deep song compliments the band’s traditional light fare of songs such as “She’s Tight” on One on One with Zander’s dramatic sobs and Nielson’s guitar and keyboard soundscapes. The song was penned by British songwriters Bob Mitchell and Nick Graham and the band initially rejected it and had to be persuaded to record it by Zito. It went on to become the band’s first and only number one hit.
Holly Knight composed hundreds of songs for scores of artists throughout the eighties and nineties, but one of her most forgettable is Cheap Trick’s “Space”, the album’s most definitive filler. “Never Had a Lot to Lose” is an interesting end to side one mainly due to the old-time rock riff by Nielson and the song’s overall new wave vibe. This is a pure band original and shows that Cheap Trick really excels when sticking to their own material.
A rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” starts side two with a great arrangement that is not so much a remake as a modern day recreation of the classic song. Led by the precise drumming of Carlos, Cheap Trick’s version of this song reached #4 on the charts and became a radio staple. “Wrong Side of Love” is the closest the band comes to a boilerplate “hair band” sound with squeezed out, mechanical riffs and formulaic lyrical patterns. “All We Need Is a Dream” contains high register vocals reminiscent of the seventies band Sweet. Melodramatic but entertaining, the song contains vocal pauses which seem awkward at first but ultimately work with the overall vibe.
The album ends strong with a couple of quality tunes. “Ghost Town” is second ballad of the album, slightly acoustic with a touch of piano. It was co-written by Grammy award winner Diane Warren, who would go on to write some of the most famous soundtrack ballads of the 1990s. On the closer “All Wound Up”, the band returns to their early sound with sharp riffing by Neilson and some great bass by Petersson.
Busted was released in 1990 and was also produced by Richie Zito, as the band attempted to capitalize on the success of Lap of Luxury. This time, however, the band was allowed more creative control and professional songwriters were only used on a handful of songs. The first single “Can’t Stop Falling Into Love” reached No. 12 on the charts but failed to reach as high as the label expected. The second single, the Diane Warren penned “Wherever Would I Be,” suffered a worse fate reaching only No. 50. The following singles, “If You Need Me” and “Back N’ Blue” were not successful, although the later single reached No. 32 on the US Mainstream Rock charts.
Cheap Trick rode the momentum of Lap of Luxury and the success of their 1991 Greatest Hits release to sustain their popularity through the rest of the decade. The four members of the group remained together through various big name and independent label arrangements until 2010 when Bun E. Carlos departed the group, three and a half decades after the band first formed.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1988 albums.