CATALOG CRAWL: SWEET, Part 1 (1971-1974)

Sweet (or The Sweet as they were known early on) are one of the standard bearers of the ’70s English glam rock wave on a few levels. The first is the barrage of hit singles they enjoyed during the ’70s: they began with Eurovision-style bubblegum but hit on a glam rock style circa “Little Willy” that became successful all over the world. Whether you’re talking about the tunes penned by their original pop chart svengalis Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman or the later hits crafted by the band members themselves, their body of glam rock singles represents one of the most entertaining fusions of pop hooks and hard rock riffs ever crafted. You could draw a direct line between these songs and the glam metal that dominated the pop music scene for most of the ’80s.

However, Sweet was also the rare singles act that could produce quality albums – and this is the arena where they earned a new group of fans amongst ’70s hard rock collectors. This first installment of a Catalog Crawl for Sweet looks at their first three albums. The first is a quickie assemblage of early single sides and additional sessions that rates as an interesting period piece – but the action really begins with the other two albums, where the band takes charge of the creative process and utilizes the ambitious, riff-driven material they were sneaking onto single b-sides to develop an LP-length aesthetic that got surprisingly heavy and progressive fast.

FUNNY HOW SWEET COCO CAN BE (1971): Like a lot of albums from early ’70s pop acts, this was a thrown-together combo of singles with a few quickly recorded extras. It’s an interesting snapshot of the band’s growing pains as they tiptoe towards their hard rock future. The singles are pristine early ’70s bubblegum record-making: “Co Co” refashions island music as exotica pop, complete with a nonsense words chorus, and “Funny Funny” is a perfect simulation of the Kasenetz/Katz bubblegum formula. Elsewhere, you get passable A.M. radio-styled covers of ’60s pop faves in “Reflections” and “Daydream” plus a few other Chinn Chapman songs, highlights being bouncy acoustic bopper “Sunny Sleeps Late” and the psych-tinged, naggingly catchy “Chop Chop.” The band also adds some of their own songs: “Honeysuckle Love” and “Jeanie” offer a lite-pop version of country rock but it’s former b-sides “Done Me Wrong All Right” and “Spotlight” that point toward the future, both boasting the electric riffs and sharp, soaring harmonies that would dominate their glam-era glories.

SWEET FANNY ADAMS (1974): Sweet shocked everybody who dismissed them as mere purveyors of ChinniChap glam-gum with this sharp, mostly self-penned set of hard rockers with ambitious arrangements. For example, the title track is a progressive metal powerhouse that sets a dark, sexually aggressive portrait of rock band life to a crafty barrage of snarling riffs, flash drumming and soaring analog synth frills.  Other gems include “Set Me Free,” which gives us speedy NWOBHM-style metal five years ahead of schedule, and “Into The Night,” a stylistic chameleon of arrangement twists and stacked harmonies anchored by an interesting part-jazz, part-marching band groove from Tucker. Even the two Chinn/Chapman contributions, the pulse-pounding rollercoaster “No You Don’t” and the lighthearted but energetic lust lament “A.C/D.C.,” stack up as toothy rockers on a par with the band’s fire-breathing efforts. Phil Wainman’s detailed yet punchy production tops it off in grand style. Listen out for “Rebel Rouser,” which shows the band effectively recreating the ChinniChap formula on their own, and the surprise funky instrumental tag appended to chugging rocker “Heartbreak Today.”

DESOLATION BOULEVARD (U.K. version/1974): Mike Chapman took the producer’s chair on this album, using a rawer hard rock approach in spots that results in a schizoid sound. Look at the differences in its two Chinn/Chapman-penned singles: operatic teen melodrama “The Six Teens” utilizes a big, layered production while “Turn It Down” favors a distorted, guitars-in-the-red sound that evokes punk two years early. Eclecticism reigns elsewhere on the album: “Medusa” is a tautly-arranged bit of proggy hard rock, “Lady Starlight” is a ballad that mixes thick power chords with airy vocal harmonies and “The Man With The Golden Arm” is a jazz soundtrack instrumental cover transformed into a heavy metal Tucker drum solo showcase that mixes arena rock moves with swing rhythms, a bit of classical music tympani and quotes from past Sweet hits. There’s even an early garage take on “Fox On The Run” and a swaggering deep cut gem in “Solid Gold Brass.” It doesn’t cohere the way Sweet Fanny Adams does but there’s fun and surprises in the way it constantly changes songwriting and production styles.

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