Friday, March 14, 2008

The Sweet - Desolation Boulevard and Give Us a Wink

The Sweet came to prominence in the early 70’s with legendary Chin-Chapman productions of somewhat silly (but still great!) pop tunes such as “Little Willy” and “Wig Wam Bam”. Some of the earlier tunes are questionable (what the hell was anyone thinking with drek like “Poppa Joe” and “CoCo”?) but once they hit their stride, they were an unstoppable pop-rock machine!

But as they grew more confident as songwriters, they felt that they were much more. While they continued to pump out Chin-Chapman tunes, they also created their own form of heavy-metal pop with the likes of “Fox On the Run” (a very misogynist anti-groupie paean). Their playing was stellar – guitarist Andy Scott should rank right up their with hard rock greats like Ritchie Blackmore and I can only assume that he doesn’t due to the pop mantel that the Sweet carries – and, of course, the singing was beyond phenomenal. Once they got past their initial silliness, they were far from light-weight! Loud guitars dominated the material from “Little Willy” on. They were simply carrying on the tradition of the Who, with even flashier playing and, admittedly, wilder outfits as they crashed the Glam Rock scene.

“Fox on the Run” & “Action” – the first 2 self-penned hits – propelled their self-produced records, Desolation Boulevard and Give Us a Wink, to stardom! These two albums are absolutely their best (American) releases. Very different track listings were put out elsewhere, but the American releases are super-strong!

Starting with their gargantuan smash, “Ballroom Blitz”, Desolation Boulevard assures you that this is no wimpy pop band! Yes, they were glammy, fey and even somewhat kitchy (especially in the memorable introduction), but once the guitars blast in, this monster doesn’t stop! The fact that they have several more rockers that are just as memorable is a testament to the level of songwriting these guys – and Chin-Chapman – were capable of!

Their ode to the teen years, “The Six Teens” has some uncommonly political lyrics alongside of strong guitar lines and a catchy, group chorus. “No You Don’t” is incredibly heavy and practically slams the power chords over your head! “A.C.D.C.” is rockingly upbeat and has funny lyrics about a girlfriend having a girlfriend and was aptly covered by Joan Jett on a recent album.

In a precursor to the Ramones, “I Wanna Be Committed” includes the Sweet's patented vocal harmonies yet still sounds somewhat psycho - or, at least schizophrenic as they move from irresistible sing-alongs to whacked out sections. The band seems to be seeing just how much they can get away with in calling a song “Sweet F.A.”! If that wasn’t enough, they sing “if she don’t spread I’ll bust her head” while synthesizers swirl and wildly distorted guitars abound. Andy adds a particularly crazed and fantastic, whammy-bar-driven solo at the end, as well.

Of course, the star of the album is their huge hit, “Fox on the Run” which, while astonishingly misogynist, is still a phenomenal pop tune and was certainly a breath of fresh air screaming out of AM radios in the ‘70’s!

Practically uncontrolled high-energy is exhibited in “Set Me Free” with the drivin’ guitars moving this along at super-speed! Another superb guitar solo is thrown in for good measure, too! They bring things back to a manageable speed on “Into the Night” – though no less hard rockin’ with more extremely heavy guitar tones, though Scott can still create super-sweet melodies, as well.

The album closes with “Solid Gold Brass” with particularly pretty vocals countered by still more guitars! A solid tune completing a freakin’ great glam-pop-hard-rock record!
The follow up to DS was Give Us a Wink, with a cover that would “wink” at you as you pulled out the dust sleeve. I guess that this gimmick showed that the record company knew that this would be another huge seller.

And the band delivers with the hard-drivin’ “Action”! All of their tricks are here – insane harmonies, great melody, tons of guitars and even some synthesizer for sweetener. Another pop-rock masterpiece that was a godsend for 70’s radio!

“Yesterday’s Rain” (not sure what the title refers to) is semi-misogynist and actually threatens to withhold sex from the woman in question (at least until he is “up to his balls inside her”)! Still, a relentless beat and truly clever 6-string licks (and some interesting production tricks) make for a fine song, though hardly teen-pop fare.

Vocal tricks and super-high harmonies dominate “White Mice”, but Andy is highlighted yet again and continues to show off his expertise in wild solos and memorable riffs. While I think that most people think of the harmonies when they think of the Sweet, I think of these insanely terrific solos!

Starting with a head-bopping beat that never lets up, “The Healer” seems to be one of their more serious songs. The groove truly is irresistible – steady but never boring. Returning to their pop tune mold in “The Lies in Your Eyes”, there is no reason why this shouldn’t have been a hit right up there with “Action”. Truly clever – even for them – melodies and harmonies while still r’n’r. Then it’s back to the power for the more metallic “Cockroach”, which sounds like it could’ve been off of a Deep Purple record!

This record ends with the uncharacteristically acoustic and romantic ballad “Lady Starlight”, showing another side to the band.

The Sweet is certainly one of the many highlights of the 70’s glam scene and anyone who digs loud, rockin’ guitars and incredibly perfect harmonies should own these 2 classic albums!