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Main Category: Arena Rock
Also applicable: Pop Rock, Hard Rock
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years, The Interim Years,

The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties



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FIRST RECORDINGS 1968-1971 ***

Year Of Release: 1971

It's funny that so many Seventies' glam bands and artists actually grew out of something more tasteful and artistically interesting. T. Rex, for instance, developed out of Marc Bolan's unique Tolkien-inspired fantasy world; Alice Cooper were a dadaist Zappa-cultivated unit; Slade played retro British Invasion-style R'n'B. And Sweet? Why, Sweet were the British equivalent of the Monkees, of course!

And I don't mean the schlocky side of the Monkees here. No, in the beginning, when they were still called Sweetshop and weren't yet associated with Chapman and Chinn (instead relying on a whole bunch of outside songwriters and only occasionally churning out something timid and self-penned), Sweet were a cool little singles band with undeniable pop instincts. This here collection is a satisfactory and near-complete compilation of everything they did in the pre-glory period, and in certain ways it's far more enjoyable than everything they did afterwards (only in certain ways, mind you). There is certainly nothing innovative here at all, and there's a large enough percent of bubblegum to secure their status as a "teenybopper band" from the earliest period; but hey, approach a teenybopper band from a teenybopper's position, and you'll find loads of catchy cute little ditties on here. As far as I understand, not all of this stuff was released as singles, so there are probably a few previously unavailable recordings as well.

What's not to like, really? The melodies are funny. The instrumentation is pretty diverse - these guys take their Monkees' legacy seriously, and rely on different guitar tones, all kinds of tasty keyboards and harmonicas. The playing is competent: both Mick Stewart (who plays on three out of four singles here) and his replacement, Andy Scott, are talented players, without any amazing dexterity, of course, but they sure can keep a good groove going. And Brian Connolly's voice is wonderfully suited for these songs as well.

And the songs themselves? Not all of them stick out, of course. But at least half of them demonstrate the band's ability to hook the listener as good as anything, full of hilarious gimmicks and clever production ideas. Heh heh. Even when a song is dumb, they trick us into liking it. For instance, the lyrically sickening 'Lollypop Man' ('you go to the girls' school and I go to the boys' school/Both separated by a lollypop man') begins with a few ominous wah-wah chords, as if the band are going to launch into a Hendrixey rocker, and then suddenly changes to this infectious bubblegum melody. 'All You'll Ever Get From Me' is as high as bubblegum really gets - can we say "the cream of the bubblegum"? These 'brr-brr-brrs' are so dang hilarious, I swear I could die of laughter. I mean, come on, why condemn bubblegum music if it's capable of producing such comic masterpieces? 'Get On The Line' is pretty good as well, borrowing a couple guitar licks off Traffic's 'You Can All Join In' (where these licks were actually played on a saxophone) and being as catchy as anything.

But not everything on here is pure bubblegum: "The Sweetshop" also displays a passion for R'n'B as well as for certain folkish styles ('Mr McGallagher' is quite interesting in that respect). 'Time' and 'The Juicer' are inoffensive, well-played rockers that never really go anywhere and mostly remind me of the Hollies' early attempts at rockin' out, but apart from the fact that this stuff was horrendously dated in 1969, there's nothing wrong with them. Good riffs, real energy, and even a truly moody atmosphere in 'Juicer'. But most interesting are the two final tracks that present a fine compromise between the Sweet's later generic hard rock and the early innocent poppy style. These are real psychedelic rockers, with excellent lead guitarwork and fine organ/guitar interplay. 'The Spider' is, of course, no 'Boris' (although its ominous atmosphere is somewhat close), but still good; and 'My Little Girl From Kentucky' rolls along, well, like a prime roller coaster, until the blistering solo is cut away. Not bad at all.

Three stars, easily - the childish nature of most of these songs doesn't offend me at all, and I'm more than ready to acknowledge a certain melodic charm on here; and note that it was even before Sweet teamed up with their professional songwriter duo.



Year Of Release: 1972

Okay, this one's pretty awful. Note that I don't usually review hit packages, but truth is, Sweet were essentially a singles-only band before 1974, and all their LPs of the early period (including probably the most well-known title, Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be) are pretty much interchangeable. This one collects some of their most popular single releases together with a couple LP-only tracks and suchlike; I'm not the kind of crazyass fanatic who'd want to delve deep into the mysteries of Sweet discography.

In any case, if you ever wanted to make a point that the band members were actually more talented than their from now on unchangeable corporate songwriting backup - Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn - this is the perfect place to start. Whereas the band's earliest recordings, captured on the previous album, at least featured some interesting grooves and funny melodic lines, the singles here are prime bubblegum crap without any possible redeeming qualities. And you hear that from me - the person who not only tolerates ABBA and the Monkees, but even prefers to think of them as talented bands, pretty much underrated among the 'elitist' listeners. But stuff like 'Co-Co', 'Papa Joe' and 'Funny Funny' is more comparable to the earliest output of ABBA: primitive, two-chord based sweet sugary ditties, less musically solid than your average nursery rhymes and certainly a trillion times as lyrically offensive as any of said rhymes. Borrowing heavily on Latin rhythms and bouncy little percussion instruments and keyboards and ass-wiggling, they really don't differ that much from an average commercial ditty; heck, I'd say that they're worse than a well-thought out, skilfully performed commercial ditty. The fact that even one of these pieces of fetid tripe made it into the British Top 10 at the time (and most of them did) is totally shocking, especially if you realise this was also the time of a super-popularity among progressive acts of the day. My, but the Brits were polarized back in 1970-1971... Ahem. The 'lesser known' songs aren't any better - abysmal, completely tasteless crap like 'Tom Tom Turnaround' could hardly make any impact even on the dumbest ten-year old girl in existence, and attempts at making something more 'laid back', like 'You're Not Wrong For Loving Me', mostly sound like a poorly carried out Bee Gees parody.

That said, let me just tell you what this album earns its feeble "extra half-star" for. It earns its feeble extra half-star for including a few harder-rocking songs, which are far closer to Sweet's later career and writing and performing which eventually pushed them in the "right" direction. 'Done Me Wrong All Right' and 'Little Willy' are more or less acceptable rockers, with no particular distinctive features but which sound like Led Zeppelin in comparison to all the surrounding bubbly dreck. And I can't deny that their self-penned telephone-praising tune, 'Alexander Graham Bell', or the Indian lifestyle-praising single, 'Wig-Wam Bang', are moderately catchy and have some - how should I call it? - satisfying melodic moments. Just dump those lyrics in the trash bin: they would be laughed over by a three-year old. But dang, is that wigwam ditty catchy...

On the other hand, listening to this album really opens one's eyes on the morals and mores of the epoch, doesn't it? And now I finally understand where all those incredibly lameass "sexy" and "heavy-rocking" songs on ABBA's first two albums come from. Don't tell me Benny and Bjorn weren't listening to quite a lot of Sweet in their early days. How couldn't they? They were all over the British charts with this shit!



Year Of Release: 1974

This and the next album, Desolation Boulevard, usually mark the Sweet's peak - both in the commercial and artistic sense; if there ever was some value in straightforward, routine glam-rock, most of it will probably be met on these two records. Not that they're great, mind you. But they're all right. By 1974, Sweet had decidedly thrown away all the kitschy 'soft bubblegum' and demanded that Chinn and Chapman load them up with something more powerful, which they did. Not only that, the band members actually wrote some of the best material themselves (arguably, the lyrics are better when written by Scott or Connolly, for instance, since Chinn and Chapman probably thought that the crappier lyrics they fed to the public, the hungrier the public would become - typical 'professional' attitude. Then again, whoever listens to Sweet for the lyrics for Chrissake?).

So the majority of these songs are powerful, fast, all kinds of kkkozzzzmik-effect laden rockers with lightning-speed rhythm guitar, blazing solos, and rip-roaring vocals. From a certain point of view, they all stink, and not too much of this stuff is memorable. And furthermore, you can just see this style being specially prepared for 'stage treatment' - all the hysterical guitar wails, all the dry leaden riffage, all the innumerable gimmicks like phasing, echoes, etc., this was perfectly suited for Sweet's glammy scenic image, together with dry ice, starry costumes and make-up. Well - this is glam, consarnit. You were expecting maybe Maria Callas?

On a positive note, a couple of these songs are positively catchy. Their cover of Joe Dee's 'Peppermint Twist', for instance, a generic piece of boogie-woogie that was just the kind of music that's ideally fit for a glammy treatment. Jaw-droppingly stupid and hilarious, it's so darn infectious that it's a plus in my book. Chinn and Chapman, meanwhile, come with one of their few decent numbers, the Slade-style rocker 'AC/DC' (no, no, not that AC/DC and not even close - besides, the band was absolutely unknown outside Australia at the time) that quite wisely utilises the stop-start technique. Oh, and the lyrics? They're Lesbian.

However, it's not that Sweet Fanny Adams is so unabashedly hilarious. Many of the songs have a darker overtone to them, and one that sometimes threatens to put the guys over the head - the title track, for instance, seems to be dedicated to orgies or at least to wreaking havoc in the street. It's not as interesting as Andy Scott's hypermetallic 'Into The Night', though, that starts out as overcheesed Black Sabbath and proceeds to incorporate a gummier refrain. That one's a true glam anthem, you know, of the 'super black hero' type where the frontman is supposed to establish some hideous grin on the face and play the King of Darkness while the girls are supposed to be wetting their panties. What the heck, it actually works better without the video image. Of course, hellish roar and ominous church bells are included (did you think they'd miss on that?), but the song's riff and Connolly's very authentic delivery are the main point.

I could name the other tracks, of course, but what the hell? Why should I care? No, really, why should I care? They all sound the same. Besides, I already gave this album three stars, maybe that's far more than it actually deserved, but I'm such a nice guy that I just can't resist a bit of clever gimmicky production and a bit of ultra-fast breathtaking riffage even if it directly contradicts my former creed that I hate glam rock but mind you that creed was written a long time ago and I should have known better before writing such careless global statements because of course glam sucks when compared to the Fab Four or Dylan or even Peter Gabriel but it ain't necessarily bad if you actually care about the music you're putting forward and not just relying on volume and power chords.

Oh, and the best track on here is actually the bonus track - an upbeat, excellent live (or 'mock live', I don't know) rendition of their catchy single 'Teenage Rampage'. My back hurts. This reviewing business is tougher than I expected. Hope I can handle some more of it, though, because you wouldn't know, but the Sweet actually released eight full-fledged LPs after that, and they're all here in my collection. Stay tuned.



Year Of Release: 1974

Hmm, wasn't I a bit too subjective in that last review? Isn't it a sign of being washed-up when instead of discussing the proper subject (music, that is) the reviewer suddenly turns on to sloppy, insecure subjects like his own wretched musical creed and health problems? Or maybe it's just a case of gulping down one too many Sweet albums?

Anyway, let's try an objective approach and see what happens. Desolation Boulevard is usually the Sweet record recommended to buy if you only buy one, but please note that all the praises of this album usually refer to the American edition of the album, which is notably stronger in quality than the British one, because, according to the classic principle of original product butchering, the American Desolation Boulevard is actually an amalgamation of the best tracks off the British Sweet Fanny Adams and Desolation Boulevard plus a few contemporary hit singles, including particularly one of Sweet's best known songs, 'Ballroom Blitz' (this one will be discussed later). But I am dealing with the original British issue, and that's a different case; it only earns two and a half stars (with difficulty), while the American version could have earned three, maybe even three and a half, except that I don't rate compilations which the American version is certainly one of. You can buy it anyway, because it's probably all the Sweet you'll ever need.

This British album was supposed to be a conceptual one, about teenage disillusionment and despair, but, like with 90% of concept albums, the "concept" never advances far beyond the introduction track. In this case, it's 'The Six Teens', Chinn and Chapman's nostalgic ode to, well, Sixties' teens; all too odd that it would be sung by a Seventies' glam band, but you know how it goes. Not a particularly bad song (and the two dudes certainly wrote worse lyrics than those), but nothing memorable, either. Oh, and the album closes with the most predictable cover for such a concept - 'My Generation', which is, of course, just as bad as the Who's original is genial. Connolly can't even stutter with Daltrey's sincerity, and I'm not even mentioning the instrumental power.

Speaking of covers, this whole album is seriously derivative. 'Lady Starlight' is a neat little ballad with cute falsettos, but the title alone certainly brings 'Lady Stardust' to mind, and it's written by Andy Scott as a near-perfect Bowie rip-off; of course, by 1974 Bowie was already past the Ziggy orbit, but apparently he forgot to wake up Sweet to tell 'em that the train had reached the final stop, and there they were, careering towards the enginehouse. That said, I don't mind 'Lady Starlight' at all; like all glam ballads, it doesn't take itself too seriously and ends up being moderately charming. The big mistake, then, is with the instrumental 'Man With The Golden Arm' (I don't know the history of the song - is it related to a Bond movie or not? Is it a parody on Alice Cooper's 'Man With The Golden Gun'? Who can tell?), where they overindulge in a lengthy and pointless drum solo. Mike Tucker can play drums, of course, but so can every other drummer in the world, and why should we tolerate a Mike Tucker drum solo when I, for one, can hardly stomach a John Bonham drum solo? Please.

The rest of the songs are all right. 'Solid Gold Brass' and 'Turn It Down' are spooky, overdriven mid-tempo rockers that remind a little of classic Aerosmith; both are overlong, but endurable. 'Medusa' is Andy Scott trying to produce something more 'serious', maybe even taking a lesson from some prog-rock band? Of course, something tells me that he preferred to take his lessons from Uriah Heep rather than, say, Van Der Graaf Generator, but at least they sound nowhere near as self-important as Uriah Heep. I actually like the song's upbeat acoustic punch and the catchy chorus. Finally, this is the place where you'll find the band's first self penned hit single, 'Fox On The Run'; by the way, Chinn and Chapman only wrote two of the songs on the album, which certainly shows the Sweet trying to mature to the state of a fully independent band. 'Fox On The Run' is catchy and cool, with good riffs, good vocal harmonies, good everything.

Funny how all these glam rock records sound so innocent and inoffensive when you manage to concentrate on the music and forget about the image, eh? The unlucky thing is that as soon as you deconcentrate, you'll forget all about this music in an instant.



Year Of Release: 1975

A deeply strange record. Even as glam was quickly fading away, the Sweet suddenly decided that they were really notorious, really epochal artists deserving of a double album like the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, some kind of 'Sweet encyclopaedia' or 'Sweet anthology'. The big problem was, unlike both of these bands, Sweet found it a problem to write many songs, and Msrs. Chinn and Chapman were not too hot about the project, either. So this is the final result: Strung Up (in some countries it actually did sport the title Sweet Anthology) is indeed a double album, with one half of it a live album, with performances drawn from a Rainbow Theatre concert in late 1973, and the other half studio. The studio half collects a) a couple new songs, written (or unshelved?) specially for the occasion; b) some remixes and alternate versions of songs from Desolation Boulevard; c) a couple contemporary singles that didn't make it onto the previous records. In other words - a complete mess, a hodge-podge that makes the regular Sweet discography even more confusing than it actually is.

In any case, though, the record is probably your best 'sweet buy' if you're more interested in the band as a typical representative of the glam epoch than in its strained 'artistic' tendencies featured on the regular contemporary studio recordings. Frankly speaking, you're probably hardly interested in any of these aspects, but don't say I didn't warn you, at least. As for me, I find the album quite decent - a guilty pleasure, for sure, but a pleasure that's hard to resist considering the songs' imminent confrontation with my internal organs' reactions. The reactions are different, of course, but so are the songs.

The live half is, objectively speaking, a worthless bunch of self-indulgent crap, but it also rules in some ways at least. Abandoning all the 'polish' of the studio recordings, Andy Scott selects a guitar tone that's heavier than standard Led Zeppelin (not to mention Kiss), and proceeds to bash the chitlins out of his guitar in a really incompetent and show-offey way; the eight-minute version of 'Done Me Wrong Alright' is a typical demonstration of how much noise can be wrecked with one guitar and a drum kit (the other band members all seem to have passed out cold already). The track's a disaster, because no guilty pleasure can be derived from eight minutes of instrument-mocking; however, shorter workouts, such as employed on 'Burning/Someone Else Will', are so goofy and hilarious it's impossible to get seriously offended at this kind of crap. Good glammy crap. In fact, the live album is strictly divisible: the first half is all palatable (great stomping version of 'Hell Raiser'!), while the second half consists of 'Done Me Wrong', the unbearably saccharine piece of acoustic pap ('You're Not Wrong For Lovin' Me'), and - for some reason - the James Bond instrumental (yeah, 'Man With The Golden Arm'). Together with the drum solo. Bummer.

The studio LP is generally of a higher quality. Okay, so it does recycle 'Set Me Free', 'Fox On The Run', 'Solid Gold Brass' and 'The Six Teens' from the previous albums, albeit in alternate mixes. But hey! It has 'Ballroom Blitz' on it! You've probably heard that one, haven't you? It's arguably the only thing that still stays in the memory of the population from those golden sweet years, the band's biggest hit and 'visit card', like 'Cum On Feel The Noize' for Slade or 'Bang A Gong' for T. Rex. How in the hell could Chinn and Chapman come up with a song so involving, exciting and complex at the same time is way beyond me. They probably had to corner Marc Bolan and command him to write a song for them at gunpoint, which they later traded to the band. It's a true glam masterpiece and Sweet's main, if not only, reason for existence. 'Nuff said. I get a bit hicky at the drunk 'whoooah, yeeeah, it was like lightning, everybody was frightening' blabber of Connolly, but you get used to that after a while.

The other songs on here are nothing special - standard glammy rockers like 'Action', 'Burn On The Flame', and 'Miss Demeanour' do little to either raise Sweet's reputation or drop it. A special mention must be made for 'I Wanna Be Committed', a song that begins with 'robotic' vocals almost a la Kraftwerk and doesn't really fit in well with the overall glammy attitude of the album. While there are no heavyweight hooks on the song as there are on 'Ballroom Blitz', it's one of the more 'serious' compositions by the band, an ominous rocker only marred by the corny falsetto vocals on the chorus. Still, it goes to show once again that Sweet weren't entirely untalented - with more compositions like that, they could have easily managed the transgression into New Wave. No kidding.



Year Of Release: 1976

The big artistic breakthrough! Finally shaking themselves free of the putrid, rusty chains of corporate songwriting, dumping the formulaic and shamelessly commercial Chinn and Chapman and throwing the yoke of "second-hand writing" off their tired shoulders, the highly talented and energized Sweet members take the reins in their own hands and deliver an album consisting entirely of their own compositions, mixing edgy hard-rock with lengthy, almost progressive, numbers, immaculate playing and impeccable production values! The biggest gem in the Sweet catalog, the album is the most significant piece of evidence that within every superficially shallow and tame glam band resides a hidden genius...

...steady there, brother. Hold your horses. This album is hideous, and it actually makes me yearn for the early stupid days of Chinn and Chapman. At least, back then Sweet didn't have to take themselves seriously. On Give Us A Wink, they seem to have really developed a passion for AOR rather than hit single material, and in this particular sweetcase, this means that the boys don't feel any more necessity to load their songs with actual hooks and off-the-cuff idiotic humour that at least used to work as some kind of guilty pleasure. Instead, there are just seven numbers full of some kind of half-assed social commentary (it's not that the lyrics are bad or anything - they're just deadly dull) and lots of heavy riffage that sounds nowhere near as invigorating or memorable as it once used to be.

Moreover, the guys aren't really ashamed to rip off their betters. The very first song, 'The Lies In Your Eyes', begins with a synth loop and a power chord lifted directly off 'Baba O'Riley' (no, really), and although the song happily drifts off into another direction soon afterwards, there's still plenty of melodies taken from other sources in other songs. The blueprint for this record seems to have been Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti, as riffs from songs like 'Custard Pie' and 'The Wanton Song' keep cropping up everywhere. But I never even thought these songs were the main highlights on Physical Graffiti, so what's to be expected from a Sweet rip-off of Led Zeppelin? To make matters worse, Brian Connolly even imitates Robbie Plant on some tracks. Pathetic.

There's just nothing I could say in the album's defense. Not a single good song on here. Oh wait, there is one: 'Action' is rather nice. But it's recycled from the previous album! It was already included on Strung Up! Do you realize how miserable a record is if its best track is lifted straight from the previous one? The chorus of '4th Of July' might also pass, but the main melody of the song, as well as that of 'Yesterday's Rain', consists of about one chord endlessly replayed with as much distortion as possible. The worst offender of the lot, though, is the closing number, the seven-minute long 'Healer' that tries to establish some kind of funky repetitive groove, but fails miserably. If you're establishing a funky repetitive groove, what's with the comatose drumming and the lethargic guitar playing? Obviously, Andy Scott could only be energized when ripping out some crappy 'speedy' metallic solo to show his cool, but when it comes to clever syncopated funky riffage and soloing, he's just a zero musician. And seven minutes! Oh my Lord! Seven minutes! And why does the chorus go 'cure me, cure me, cure me, cure me, cure me, cure me, cure me, cure me, cure me, cure me, cure me, cure me...' (repeat ad infinitum)? Not to mention that all I personally hear is 'kill me, kill me, kill me, kill me, kill me...'. Eh. Time to get high and unconsciously bang my head against the floor. Sheez, it sure was a long time since I heard a song as outrageously dumb as that. I have to go put on some Kiss.

Oh, and disregard that first paragraph, please. That was my inner idiot Sweet fan speaking. I don't know which part of my body he actually resides in, but I could make it in three guesses, I think...



Year Of Release: 1977

Surprise surprise. Well, actually, there was simply no way down from Give Us A Wink, so I suppose the band just had to go up - at least, it would have been an utter horror if they disbanded right after that utter horror. And up it went, a little bit. Off The Record still contains an insane amount of cheese and intolerable melodyless stuff, BUT. The good news is that Sweet have undeniably soaked in some more influences, ranging from Black Sabbath to ABBA... yeah, in fact, this album could have best been described as 'what happens when a band of half-talented glam-rockers past their prime imitate the harmonious style of ABBA and spice it up with boatloads of metallic guitar a la Black Sabbath'.

Wait, don't leave me alone in this pile of shit. Because it's actually not such an insane idea as it might seem! First of all, the Sweet have rarely played heavy metal better on previous albums. Either Andy Scott was starting to take guitar lessons (yeah, so the time was ripe) or he just learned that showing off didn't pay big bucks any more, but his playing on here is more restricted and up to the point. Yeah, so he still drowns about a half of the songs in stupid power chords, but when he's not doing the power chord routine, he kicks out splendid metallic riffs - just listen to his work on 'Windy City' and tell me he didn't actually develop a feel for that thing by 1977. And when he's not kicking out splendid metallic riffs, he doesn't just solo in order to show how fast he can move his fingers - this is, in fact, the very first Sweet album where I liked the guitar all the way through.

Plus, that ABBA touch... yeah, it really exists, and it's good, because the boys try very hard to find some catchy melodies, and occasionally - occasionally - they succeed in that terrible task. The already mentioned 'Windy City' certainly doesn't deserve a seven and a half minutes running time, what with the sound effects laden mid-section and all, but its main melody is memorable and thoroughly impressive. The social critique kinda lyrics might be trite and inadequate (hearing social critique in 1977 from the Sweet wasn't exactly a common way of venting one's frustration), but on some level they work, and when taken out of context, the song might really pass for an engaging rebellious anthem. Although, of course, nobody should really take it out of context.

'Fever Of Love' is based upon the exact same bouncy Europop groove upon which ABBA used to base their most upbeat compositions, and the melody is also relatively catchy, although certainly unworthy of ABBA classics. And the rest of the songs follow either the 'classic' or the 'newly found' formula - with mixed results. 'Live For Today', for instance, is trademark early Sweet: fast, fun, trashy, unmemorable and a total gas if you turn the volume up loud. Same goes for 'She Gimme Lovin', where Andy has some dirty guitar fun for the only time. I can forgive him for that.

Other songs are for the most part in the ABBAesque vein ('Lost Angeles', 'Midnight To Daylight'), until we get to the end of the album where we meet a pretty, unspectacular ballad ('Laura Lee'), another gritty Sabbathy workout ('Hard Times', with excellent riffage from Andy in spots), and a funny attempt at a funk groove ('Funk It Up'). The latter might not seem much at all, but if you remember how much everybody loves Led Zeppelin's 'Trampled Underfoot', for instance, it's not really much worse. Perhaps not so inventive and adventurous, but whoever required a generic funk number to be inventive and adventurous?

On the whole, I'm really surprised about this one. It's a pity that I will probably be the last person in the world to hear this stuff, as Sweet fans are few (and I wouldn't wanna meet them anyway) and those who approach Sweet with caution will most likely only want to tread safer water. You know? 'Ballroom Blitz' and all that stuff. But trust me, you can give Off The Record a try if you see it cheap. It's no great shakes, but it's hardly worse than anything else these guys ever released. It's only worse, that is, if we consider that everything done in the glam-rock vein after 1973 or so sucks without a doubt. Personally, I don't think so - and you shouldn't, either. Hey, would you like it if they called you 'a bitter, restricted, narrow-minded snub'?

Then again, maybe you would.



Year Of Release: 1978

The Sweet's comeback seems to end as quickly as it suddenly began. You gotta give the band some props, though, for at least trying to change the direction. No more heavy metal (AT ALL!), no more - well, okay, only a few - Zep-inspired lame, or not so lame, funk grooves. All of a sudden, Sweet express a strong wish to reinvent themselves as 'serious popsters' - something like a British version of Styx, I'd say. Acoustic guitars, sci-fi synthesizers, innocent, inoffensive vocal harmonies of a dubious character. Occasionally, they even verge on prog-rock (of an equally dubious character). Listening to this, you'll hardly recognize your favourite glam band of the year 1974. Where's the arrogance and the cock-rock attitude? Gone with the wind.

Of course, this was a wrong road to take. The only way Sweet could have improved their reputation would be to position themselves as masters of hook and lords of catchiness - like ABBA, for instance. If they'd managed to do that, you could have a nice opportunity to always retort in an unbeatable way - 'yeah, the Sweet aren't all that significant, but the songs are so dang good ...'. Well, the songs on here are dang bad, and moreover, lose any kind of idiosyncrasy. Yes, the band Sweet actually recorded this album; but the ideas aren't Sweet, the attitude isn't Sweet, and they ripped off just about anybody in the business.

What should we, for instance, make out of 'Air On 'A' Tape Loop', the lengthy album closer? Obviously, the guys took a long and hard listen to Kraftwerk and decided, 'hey, if these guys are so popular because they do that simplistic stuff, we can do the same, and we'll be popular too. But for some reason, these jerks never had any true rock background in their electronic tunes! We'll add a rhythm section, that'll make us the next Kraftwerk'. Well, here's ample proof that not everybody can make good Kraftwerk-like music. The sound effects here are stupid, the tune lacks any kind of aim or purpose, the synth riffs crop up very rarely and don't turn out to be memorable, and the chanting of 'alpha beta gamma delta alpha beta gamma delta' just gets on my nerves. Even if this was meant to be a parody on Krautrock essentials, it's a failed one. An unfunny one.

All the other songs alternate between disco pop a la ABBA and overblown folk-pop a la Styx, with a boring "funk-popster" thrown in for good measure ('Strong Love') and a hideously bland piano ballad a la bad Elton John ('Dream On' - far, far more tasteless than the Aerosmith song of that name, much as I dislike the power ballads of Aerosmith). What can I say? I suppose I can only say that few, or maybe even none, of the material ends up offending me. Everything is written by the band members themselves, and they really try - they do rip off the styles of their predecessors, but I don't recognize any directly stolen songs. Maybe a couple songs can actually qualify, though I'm not sure which ones. I'm a bit partial towards the chorus of 'Love Is Like Oxygen', and while it's certainly discoish, it's by far the only song on the entire record that has a solid guitar drive to it. But what's with the "artsy" mid-section? Too much Genesis soaked in? No, Andy, you're hardly the next Steve Hackett, and your skills at solo acoustic playing are sorely exaggerated.

Songs like 'Silverbird', 'Lady Of The Lake', and 'Fountain', on the other hand, really sound like vintage Styx, which is, pompous, superficially beautiful, but devoid of any essence within. Where's the memorability? Andy, come in and give us a groovy solo or - better still - a groovy riff! What's with all that endless acoustic strum? Where's the ass-kicking? Where's the fun?

Ah, how the glam-trash legacy still hangs over these guys... When Connolly goes wailing 'be my lady-y-y-y of the la-a-a-ake', while the others join him in angelic chorales, and a gentle harpsichord nicely swings around, you can't but remember that these are the same guys who made themselves big by playing 'Wig Wam Bang' and 'Little Willy' not too long ago. It's not that I imply that without this legacy, the songs would have been much better: they wouldn't. Lame second-hand attempts at playing "art rock" as late as 1978, by which time all of the ideas presented here had been exploited by at least a couple dozen different artists, and "art rock" was already more Talking Heads and Siouxsie & The Banshees than Yes or Genesis, well, these lame attempts just cannot be important.

Basically, there was a ton of new directions in 1978 that these guys could have followed if they'd wanted to. Why they chose to transform themselves into a parody on Styx (which themselves were a parody on the art-rock greats), I'll never know. I guess the "glam virus" is a dangerous thing, after all. "Glam virus" + "traditional rock'n'roll" = "glam-rock", which can be OK if it's fun. But "glam virus" + "art-rock" = "shit-art-pop" which I detest. As a genre, mind you - like I said, the individual songs are not all that offensive, but taken together, they stink.



Year Of Release: 1979

Occasionally - not too often, thank God - I get letters from irate fans crying "WHY? WHY?" Why do I review albums by artists I clearly don't have the least bit of respect for? Why do I bother to waste my time writing detailed, often repetitive, often boring, occasionally humorous, sometimes pseudo-humorous, sometimes even plain dumb reviews of albums I wouldn't wish my worst enemy to get hold of? What's the point? What can I say? Let's state it like this: my reviewing crappy stuff I'll never listen to again certainly isn't the most enigmatic, meaningless activity on the planet. For instance, the fact of Sweet releasing this here album in 1979, as far as I see it, is a far, far more enigmatic and meaningless event. So, if a Sweet fan explains me the value and purpose of this record, I'll be happy to discuss my case. Until then, I'll just take some more pleasure in bashing some more Sweet.

Brian Connolly left. The sensitive guy, he's finally understood that the last thing the world needed at that moment was another album from the Sweet. But for some reason, the remaining three, led by Andy Scott, remained. And put out this, very pretentiously named, er, collection of songs. There's one good number on here - I'll really give you that. There's one decent mid-tempo rocker, called 'Play All Night'. It hearkens just a teeny bit back to the Sweet's glammy days, the guilty pleasures of 'Ballroom Blitz' and 'Fox On The Run'. I betcha anything it wouldn't be half as catchy, though, if that dumb 'blow a fuse' chorus weren't repeated for a gazillion times in a row... at such a rate, even Zappa's Orchestral Favorites can be catchy.

Hmm, but I guess 'Play All Night' actually is the 'cut' 'above the rest'. And the rest? Let me say this, as a small consolation - there is nothing here that falls under the "offensive" definition. There's a lot of ballads, but they don't overdo the sap factor. There are rockers and even 'serious' pieces, but they aren't ugly macho stuff or anything. I mean, yeah, if anything, Cut Above The Rest is an attempt, a painful, forced, struggling attempt to break out of the vicious circle and actually make some kind of artistic statement. It's not even, strictly speaking, a commercial album in the purest sense: there's no self-modulation a la Styx here, and, in fact, releasing a track like 'Mother Earth' with its extended classical piano solos would surely be deemed as absolute commercial suicide for Sweet. They have already occasionally bordered on prog several times, but 'Mother Earth' is clearly a 'progressive' track in all senses of the word. Too bad it (a) came out in 1979, when it was hardly the best of times to try their hand at progressive tunes, and (b) sounds more like Kansas than any good prog bands, that is, copies the prog formula in style and gloss, not substance. But still, Sweet doing a progressive epic? Imagine Robbie Williams doing a Tom Waits-style song today and hopefully through this analogy you'll feel the eccentricity and far-outness of this action in your bones.

And throughout the album I get this feeling - track after track, the guys want to do something serious and solid, but their lack of original ideas, lack of solid, catchy songwriting and lack of virtuoso playing (where has Andy gone with all of his guitar gimmicks? at least they used to entertain, you know) saddles back every such attempt. For instance, 'Discophony' isn't actually a disco song - it has a few 'disco quotations', but it's essentially about how they 'can't stand this disco music' (hey guys, where were you when you had all that disco crap on Level Headed?) and dedicates most of the tune to painful, sorrowful vocals and minor synth and guitar solos - kind of a lament for the discoifying of the world, but a dull, uninspired, very poorly constructed lament.

Then there are some more of these Elton John-style ballads like 'Big Apple Waltz', with the song's sentimentality almost pushing it over the top (still, it's probably the album's second best composition, even if the melody is totally derivative), a couple hookless acoustic throwaways like 'Eye Games' and just a couple dance-pop tunes like 'Call Me' to lull the unsuspecting public in. I still think that fans that bought this record for 'Call Me' usually were all but ready to carry the album back to the store by the time they'd reach 'Mother Earth', and fans that bought this record for 'Mother Earth'... were non-existent. Which returns me to my initial question - why the heck was this album made? Who really cares? Who really gives a damn? Why did I give it two and a half stars? Just because it isn't offensive? Never knew a band as negligible as Sweet could have raised as many questions.


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