CATALOG CRAWL: SWEET, Part 5 (1995-2009)

During the era covered in this Catalog Crawl, Sweet becomes an enterprise divided into mini-empires, all with a different hand at the wheel. Scott and former lead vocalist Connolly run their own rival lineups on the stage and (intermittently) in the studio, with Connolly sadly passing away in 1997 due to a variety of health issues. Scott would essentially become the keeper of the flame at this point but Steve Priest would rise up at the end of the 2000’s for a brief run with his own, unique lineup of the band for American touring purposes.

The trio of albums covered below represent the best and most memorable output from this era via three different types of release: a rarities set full of unreleased demos and studio tracks from the band’s glory days, an all-new album of material from the Scott version of the group and a rousing live album from Priest’s version of the group. If you’re a fan, they’re all worth delving into.

PLATINUM RARE (1995): Repertoire Records reissued Sweet’s 1976-1982 albums in the early ’90s plus some compilations. The most interesting and unique of the comps was this Scott-assembled collection of demos, alternate versions and a few outtakes from Sweet’s Polydor era. The best alternate versions are a take of “Strong Love” that ditches the horn section to show off the song’s twisty guitar riffs and a 1977 live rehearsal of “You’re Not Wrong For Loving Me,” which boasts a new arrangement driven by some tasty Spanish-style acoustic guitars. The top outtakes are “Where Do We Go From Here,” a solid AOR effort that mixes keyboard ballad verses with an arena-rocking chorus, and “Galaxy,” a stab at a synth-rock t.v. theme presented in two versions. Overall, this is mainly for the hardcore devotees but production values are good throughout for something that is mainly demos and rough mixes and the result shows off Scott’s abilities as a songwriter and producer. Interesting oddity: “Yesterday’s Hero,” which later had its lyrics rewritten to become the Babys’ “Back On My Feet Again.”

Members: Andy Scott (guitars/keyboards/vocals), Brian Connolly (lead vocals), Steve Priest (bass/vocals), Mick Tucker (drums/vocals), Frank Torpey (guitar)

SWEETLIFE (2002): as of this writing, this is Sweet’s last album of original material. The first four tunes are AOR with an adult contemporary vibe: “Do It All Over Again” feels like an uptempo AOR single beamed in from 1986, right down to its synth programming, and the other songs are stately power ballads, with “Leap Of Faith” making interesting lyrical and musical references to the style of a hymn. Old-school Sweet fans will be happy when things get livelier on “You’re Crazy,” which starts with power ballad verses but brings in heavy riffs for the rocked-up choruses.  From there, you get some stomping pure-blooded rockers with “Never Say Forever” and “Everybody Wants To Be Someone,” both boasting vintage Sweet harmonies at chorus-time, and “Airheads” is a delightful throwback to “The Six-Teens” in both narrative and musical style. The end result is a solid update of Sweet for its era, with slick self-production, strong lead vocals by Brown and authoritative guitar work from Scott throughout (he also sings a few leads, most effectively on “Leap Of Faith”).

Members: Andy Scott (guitars/vocals), Jeff Brown (bass/lead vocals), Steve Grant (keyboards/vocals), Bruce Bisland (drums)

LIVE IN AMERICA (2009): Priest did his own Sweet revival via an American tour, captured to nice effect on this concert album recorded at a California club. Unlike Live At The Marquee, this doesn’t remodel the classic sound for modern tastes. Instead, it’s a straightforward “hits plus a few deep catalog surprises” show, performed with accuracy and energy by Priest and a skilled set of ringers.  Priest’s ensemble tackles several Chinn/Chapman hits: “Hellraiser” communicates its riff-fueled power nicely and tunes like “Wig Wam Bam” and “Little Willy” toughen up without sacrificing their hooks. On the deep catalog tip, a faithful rendition of “Windy City” retains its distinctly ’70s vibe, synthy bridge and all, and forgotten single “Turn It Down” reveals itself to be a fine stomper. Vocalist Retta displays good ‘classic hard rock’ pipes and keyboardist Stewart’s prominent use of Hammond B-3 organ sometimes gives the songs a Uriah Heep vibe, particularly on new track “Sweet Dreams,” a power ballad that could fit in on a latter-day Heep album. A nice surprise and well-recorded, to boot.

Members: Steve Priest (bass/vocals), Joe Retta (lead vocals/acoustic guitar), Stevie Stewart (keyboards/vocals), Stuart Smith (guitar/vocals), Richie Onori (drums)

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