CATALOG CRAWL: SWEET, Part 6 (2013-2015)

Once a popular band transitions to legacy act, the chances to break fresh ground become fewer and further between. Recording new material is a challenge because you usually don’t have a major label to foot the bill for recording costs – and besides, there’s little to no radio support for “oldies acts” and the majority of the audience who will attend your concerts want to hear the hits instead of unfamiliar new tunes. This explains why a lot of legacy acts who maintain a recording profile end up doing re-recordings, endless hits packages with the occasional new track, etc.

That said, this state of affairs can work for a band willing to accept it. Sweet is a good example of a band that used its legacy status to put out interesting material during the first half of the 2010’s. The three albums in this Catalog Crawl are pretty simple in concept: a re-recordings set, a vault recording and a covers album. However, the new recordings benefit from accomplished production and inventiveness in the arrangements standpoint while the vault set sheds fresh light on a forgotten part of their history. If you’re into Sweet, these are all worth a spin.

HITS (2013): Scott’s version of the Sweet tackles the ‘re-recorded greatest hits’ genre here and the results are likeably polished. His self-production mixes vintage instrumentation with modern levels of recording clarity and achieves a bright, driving sound. Chestnuts like “Teenage Rampage,” “Blockbuster” and “Action” retain their energy and riff-o-rama. If there’s a quibble to be made with the enterprise, it’s that the vocals, while suitably engaged, sound a bit too self-conscious at times, with the recording quality allowing you to notice how studied the performance is when compared to the devil-may-care originals. All things considered, that’s a minor complaint: this won’t make you forget the originals but it does give you an idea of what it would sound like if you saw this lineup doing a hits-driven concert. The most interesting things here are a version of “Turn It Down” that has stronger production than its punkish, muddy-sounding predecessor and a surprisingly engaging medley of early bubblegum hits “Co-Co,” “Funny Funny” and “Poppa Joe” that has a rock edge the deliberately twee originals couldn’t have.

Members: Andy Scott (guitar/vocals), Peter Lincoln (lead vocals/bass), Tony O’Hora (guitar/keyboards/vocals), Bruce Bisland (drums/vocals)

LEVEL HEADED TOUR REHEARSALS (1977, released 2014): a pretty decent recording of Sweet’s 1978 concert lineup (the original members plus keyboardist Moberly and second guitarist Ramsden) running through the setlist for the Level Headed tour. Over half of that album is represented here plus an interesting mixture of album tracks, b-sides and latter-day singles (the early pop stuff is avoided). It’s a rehearsal tape so expect periodic missed cues, ragged harmonies and the occasional mix imbalance… but overall the band sounds inspired and focused. It’s interesting to hear how the lavishly arranged Level Headed tracks are tackled, with Moberley’s prominent role as keyboardist giving the band a new pomp rock feel: listen for a dynamic version of “Fountain” and how “Air On A Tape Loop” is converted from airy moodpiece into tense jam showcase. Also of note are “Done Me Wrong Alright,” fortified with steely synth lines that make it feel like futuristic Deep Purple, a lovely acoustic “You’re Not Wrong For Loving Me” with a Spanish guitar intro and a fire-breathing metal stab at “Set Me Free.”

Members: Andy Scott (guitar/vocals), Brian Connolly (lead vocals), Steve Priest (bass/vocals), Mick Tucker (drums/vocals), Gary Moberley (keyboards), Nico Ramsden (guitar)

NEW YORK GROOVE PLUS (2015): this is the Angel Air reissue of a 2012 self-released covers outing – and in terms of performance and energy, it might be the best latter-day Sweet album. The band undertakes the covers mandate with ambition, weaving the chorus of Jay-Z’s “Empire State Of Mind” into “New York Groove” and retooling Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round” by rebuilding it around the main riff from their own “Sweet F.A.” (also, listen out for a nod to “Ballroom Blitz” in an instrumental break of “Blitzkrieg Bop”). The band also connects present to past via excellent stomp-clap-and-riff reduxes of the Black Keys’ “Gold On The Ceiling” and Electric Frankenstein’s “It’s All Moving Faster” and bring past into present with a sharp-edged update of vintage b-side “New York Connection” (there’s a loose New York theme through some selections here). Scott’s self-production is fantastic, reviving ’70s era stylings in a punchy, modern soundscape, and new lead vocalist Franklin’s soaring, old-school rock pipes top it all off in style. Pure fun from start to finish.

Members: Andy Scott (guitar/vocals), Peter Lincoln (lead vocals/bass), Tony O’Hora (guitar/keyboards/vocals), Bruce Bisland (drums/vocals)


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