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Grade: B-

From the first glance at the cover, it’s clear this album is sort of answer to the bare-bones simplicity of the 1997 eponymous LP. It’s colorful, psychedelic even, and full of nods to Japan and the band’s devoted Japanese fan base. According to the band, the album even takes its name from a term of affection they heard frequently from Japanese fans – “you’re my special one.” The album also seems to be a deliberate antidote to the 1997 album insofar as it offered arrangements that were at once more complex and layered than the previous record, but that were notably more relaxed; casual, even. While Special One received, at best, a mixed reaction from critics upon its release, seven years on it has aged incredibly well, even if remains a bit uneven and some of the songs never seem to develop past the point of great ideas never brought to fruition.

“Scent of a Woman,” despite its well-intentioned sentiment that women are, in truth the stronger sex, sounds more like Standing on the Edge-era pseudo-metal. I recall buying the album the day of its release, hearing “Scent of a Woman,” and thinking,” good gravy, what have they done?” It doesn’t help, either, that it nicks its corny title from a weak Al Pacino flick. Now, it’s far from an embarrassment and the chorus is actually pretty infectious; but it is the album’s lowest point and it’s never good to start and album off on a weak note. Fortunately, the album quickly, and nicely, recovers from this initial blunder and settles into a collection of mostly mid-tempo numbers that find the band in perhaps its most reflective mood. There is also a concerted effort to return to a more organic sound, leaning heavily on acoustic guitars and uncluttered arrangements. The melodies are subtle and many of them take some time to sink in, which probably accounts form much of the initial negative press.

The title track has an obvious Asian feel built around a plaintive melody, a soaring midsection, with lyrics that are more evocative than narrative. This fits nicely with the album’s overall relaxed feel. Aside from “Scent of a Woman,” nothing on Special One feels forced; rather, if anything, sometimes the album is a tad too casual and a few songs don’t exceed the sum of their parts. But when they do, they are as good as anything in the band’s vast and varied body of work.

“Words” is a lovely, folky ballad with a tense undercurrent and a classic, powerful bridge, while “Pop Drone” is has a loose, Stonesy feel and features a great, chugging rhythm guitar (presumably) by Robin, a great psychedelic chorus, and a terrific “muddy” guitar solo by Rick. “Too Much” is likewise an affecting ballad about heartbreak not unlike Americana acts such as Wilco, and recalls the sound of Robin Zander’s solo album. It also features some of Rick's most understated and tasteful guitar work, and although the melody takes several listens to work its way into your brain; when it does, it refuses to leave, like squatters who’ve taken over your basement. “If I Could” is yet another pretty song that borrows from several stylistic influences, most notably folk and R&B that they don’t often display.

For fans of the band’s darker side, not to despair; two tracks in particular deliver the sort of “Auf Wiedersehen”-heaviness that has all-too often been neglected by the press in its zeal to label them “power pop” kings or the “American Beatles.” “Sorry Boy” is simply a great song, built around a simple riff and Nielsen’s slashing metallic bursts, while Tom Petersson and Bun E. Carlos establish an unassailable groove. “Best Friend” is a slow-building, bluesy grinder that gives Robin Zander a chance to blow the roof of the joint – which, naturally, he does.

The album closes with two “experimental” numbers which are, in fact, two “versions” of the same song. “Low Life in High Heels” and its “remixed” version, “Hummer,” demonstrate clearly that the band was keeping up with current musical trends, but they don’t sound like a nostalgia act trying to ape fashion. Rather, they show how smart musicians keep up with changes in rock and roll and don’t shy away from incorporating contemporary elements into their music. Regrettably, the results don’t really add up to very much, but the “two” songs are nothing if not interesting.

Finally, just as the 1997 eponymous album featured the perfect “Say Goodbye,” Special One features “My Obsession,” a song Petersson brought to the band unfinished and that ends up one of the finest moments of their career. The verse and chorus are immediate and catchy, while Bun E. Carlos drives the song insistently without ever overpowering it. It’s one of his finest moments. Tom’s bass work is sublime and, like Bun’s work, propels without ever intruding. Like much of the album, the song finds the band consummately relaxed and never forcing the song; rather, they simply let the melody take the song where it naturally wants to go. It’s the type of song Material Issue would have been proud to have written.

Special One is a solid, if not terribly “special” record. That’s not a slam. Short of trying to replicate the contained chaos and punkishness of the 1997 record, Special One falls just painfully short of its goals. And perhaps those goals weren’t all that lofty, which is fine – nothing wrong with that; some of rock’s great albums were borne of bands just kinds of kicking things around without trying to make a grand statement or re-establish credibility. Not that Cheap Trick needed to de either. If anything, Special One continues to age so well simply because it doesn’t try to do too much. Not a damn thing wrong with that or this record.
Great review again, sir. icon_thumleft.gif

You put just the right words on my feelings bout SO in this line: "sometimes the album is a tad too casual and a few songs don’t exceed the sum of their parts."

The only thing I would add is that IMHO the songs are most of the time clearly too long, saping the record's dynamic.
Thanks, Zed, and that's a great point about the songs' length. I think most of the songs clock in between 4:00 and 5:00, which is not "long" by, say, Rush standards, but some judicious editing may have really helped with the album's pacing, whichi s sort of problematic - sort of like a pitcher who takes way too long to wind up and throw the ball
Excellent reading.. thanks for sharing!!

"Thick man of Europe"

Thank you for another really well done review. Very enjoyable and much appreciated!

I´ve been listening to SO the last couple of days in the car. It´s been a while since I last was listening to this album.
Since I became a daddy around the time when it came out and I was busy with moving to our new house to live the life of a family (which is GREAT btw!) I remember not being able to discover this then new CT album like I was with all the others. So it somehow remained the neglected one for me.

Anyway I think I am kind of re-discovering it at the moment. And I agreee with you MFSITWWWMRZ and Zed- some "songs don’t exceed the sum of their parts" and some are very (too) long. Still I like the album a lot- and a lot more than I thought I would- Big Grin
"If I could" is a new favorite of mine now- great unusual groove- great bass. The bass tone/sound is fantastic on the whole album...
I like the production of SO in general a lot better than on CT´97. Just my humble opinion.
This album takes a while to grow on you. I remember the first time listening to the album the on;y songs I liked were SOAM, and If I Could. I like the album a lot more now.

The song Pop Drone when I hear the song I like it, but I hardly ever play it, IDK I just don't wanna play it, I kinda like the album better without myself for some reason.

This album is definitely a night album. I like playing this at night.
Excellent review. Completely agree with everything- except one specific thing. In my opinion, Scent of a Woman is one of the top 3-4 tracks, by far, on this CD. It's a solid melody, great singing, and the music builds from a quietly strumming guitar to a Bun E. Carlos flourish- that was the only song that got any airplay, and it was played several times back in the day- put it this way, it's the reason I bought the CD after a few years of having not played CT.
I remember getting "Special One" and listening to it right away. My first couple of listens, I liked it quite a bit. But the more I listened to it the less I liked it. Some of the songs just sound too tired. It's usually an album I pass on to listen to. BUT "My Obsession" is one of my absolute favorite Cheap Trick songs!!! I can never get enough of that song.