After Bun E. Carlos left Cheap Trick in 2010, the drummer began work on a covers record that he had wanted to put together for several years. Despite the rumors of chronic back problems resulting in shorter Cheap Trick sets, Carlos still love to play, still loves rock ‘n’ roll and pop music. That’s the thesis of his solo debut Greetings From Bunezuela, a curated collection of songs: old favorites, tunes from his contemporaries, and obscure nuggets from Carlos’ massive record collection.
Greetings From Bunezela is a decidedly Midwestern take on a record like Santana’s 1999 commercial success, Supernatural. Carlos enlisted members of his band, Candy Golde — including Wilco bassist John Stirratt and Chicago rock luminary Nicholas Tremulis — alongside a cadre of musicians that Carlos either admired or worked with over his 40 plus years in the industry.
The album kicks off with Carlos teaming up with sometimes tour mate/Cheap Trick fetishist Robert Pollard for “Do Something Real” from Pollard’s 1999 collaboration with Doug Gillard, Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department. Superchunk’s Jason Narducy contributes bass and Tremulis handles guitar, bringing the rock to Pollard’s lo-fi structure. Even non-drummers will pay close attention to the percussion on this record, even while the playing is all typical, tasteful Carlos, always working to serve the song.
There are no big drum solos and Carlos doesn’t take a vocal turn anywhere on the album, instead focusing on crafting tight, professional tunes. Pollard, Narducy, and Tremulis appear on a cover of The Bee Gee’s “Idea”, which while not one of the album’s stronger tracks is an interesting collaboration between devout record collectors showing off their deep knowledge and love of pop music.
Stirratt’s cover of The Who’s “Armenia City in the Sky” here recalls The New Pornographers, and Alex Dezen of The Damnwells’ garage vocals are a perfect match for Carlos and co.’s take on the Blackstones’ criminally forgotten nugget “I Love You No More”, which features stellar, jangly guitar from Daniel McMahon and Rick Pemberton. Alejandro Escovedo’s soulful take on The Rolling Stone’s “Tell Me” might even be a better fit for the song than Mick Jagger. Tremulis plays guitar and sings backup and harmony vocals, but also acts as musical director for a good chunk of the tracks, revealing himself as the album’s MVP when he steps up to lead vocals on “Les Cactus”. His performance gives the tune more bite than the crooner style of Jacque Dutronic’s original.
However, Carlos’ collaboration with the Hanson brothers on Paul Revere & The Raiders’ “Him Or Me” just misses the mark. The cover is quite faithful, and everyone plays well, but Zak and Taylor Hanson’s vocals lack the urgency of Mark Lindsey’s original. It’s unfortunate, as Carlos’s previous collaboration with Taylor Hanson (the 2009 record from supergroup Tinted Windows) proved the younger pop star was capable of making affairs of the heart sound like life-or-death situations.
Cheap Trick aficionados will be particularly interested in the collaboration between Carlos and the band’s original lead singer, Randy “Xeno” Hogan. Xeno takes lead on two tracks on the album; covers of Iris Dement’s “Let the Mystery Be” and “Count On Me” by Norwegian new wave act Fra Lippo Lippi. Both tracks find the frontman’s voice in fine form, featuring a bluesier register than the vocalist that replaced him, Robin Zander. “Let The Mystery Be” is transformed from a country tune into jangly power pop and the lush “Count On Me” pairs piano, mandolin, and violin with sweet harmonies.
Unfortunately, Xeno is the only member of Cheap Trick’s past or present on the record. While the band put aside differences to perform at this year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony, there seems still be some bad blood between Carlos and his former compatriots. A Rick Nielsen guitar track, Tom Petersson’s 12-string bass, or an appearance from Robin Zander (the “man of a thousand voices”) would be welcome additions. An “I Want You To Want Me Style” drum beat opens up Dave Pirner’s take on Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry”, while McMahon and Pemberton’s guitars clearly channel Nielsen’s licks, perhaps Carlos’ recognition of his former bandmates or even a sly way of throwing a little shade. The recgonizable Bun E. Carlos swing permeates Bunezuela, an element sorely missing from the band’s recently released Bang Zoom Crazy … Hello.
With its collection of tight, familiar pop tunes and Midwestern work ethic, Bunezuela could soundtrack a lazy backyard barbecue or make a fitting late-Father’s Day gift. The record should work equally for those that loved the older songs being covered, Cheap Trick’s heyday, or the younger musicians contributing.
Essential Tracks: “Armenia City in the Sky”, “I Love You No More”, and “Tell Me”