Friday, January 11, 2013

Sweet: Desolation Boulevard Revisited - Andy Scott Delivers The Goods

"Without Sweet there would not be a KISS" - Gene Simmons 
"Motley Crue wanted to be Sweet." - Nikki Sixx 
"Sweet are the band that I wish I had been in." - Joe Elliott (Def Leppard)
I leapt without looking, and I wondered just what I had done. It's dangerous to look back - sometimes going back in time just can't, and perhaps shouldn't be done. However, when you're looking over your shoulder and the cliff is in your rear view, it's better to get on with it.

The minute I saw that Sweet had re-recorded their 1973 classic album, Desolation Boulevard, I instantly shot off an e-mail to their American publicist and begged a listen. The original album didn't really make it to America until 1975, when Ballroom Blitz became a runaway best selling single, but when it did it created a huge impression on my young brain. Huge hooks, in your face production, Brian Connolly's broken glass edged banshee wailing, a drummer who studied on the Moon, gobs of glorious high pitched background vocals, but more than anything it was the savage yet melodic guitars of Andy Scott that grabbed me by the throat and refused to let go. His playing was perfect - he never played above his audience, and he always played perfectly for the songs.

So almost immediately after I had sent my e-mail, I wondered to myself, 'What on earth are you doing?'

I wasn't even sure which Sweet this was referring to - there seems to be Andy Scott's Sweet, and there is also original bassist Steve Priest's Sweet. Evidently Priest's gang spends their time in the US and Canada, and Andy Scott's bunch has Europe, the UK, and Australia, amongst others. I also knew that Sweet had enough lineup changes over the years to humble Ritchie Blackmore (Wikipedia lists almost 40 different lineups). Honestly, I hadn't listened to any of the band's material in ages - I only truly knew them for one near perfect album, Desolation Boulevard. Incidently, this is Andy Scott's Sweet, and they are just that.

Generally speaking, I don't much listen to music I don't adore, let alone write about it, so what was I going to do if this one failed to pass muster - not only would I look silly for so enthusiastically requesting something horrible, I would also spoil all those incredible youthful memories. If you had told me at that point that the new record would make me smile as much as the original, I would have given you a glance that suggested you were in possession of five eyes.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when the record blew me away.

I've not been a fan of the efforts I've heard in the past when an act attempted to re-record a classic album - I've yet to hear one that matched, let alone superseded the original. While I'll not go so far as to say Sweet has topped their own classic, I will say that recreating a classic album in a live setting is a brilliant alternative, and that the band has not only exceeded my expectations, they've made a great live record.

Sweet F. A. comes out of the gate firing on all cylinders, and I'm reminded why the original instantly got my attention and held it rapt. It sounds like a street fight between Queen and The Who - Andy Scott is as aggro as ever, and when he switches between the intro's power chords and his chicken scratch rhythms I'm hooked all over again. Pete Lincoln - no wonder they call him, "The Human Jukebox." He handles Connolly's original vocal lines with respect and gusto. This guy brings it - and the whole lot contribute mightily on the higher than the sky choral interlude. Bruce Bisland who has beshed the skins for such Brit-rock stalwarts as Paul Di'Anno, Gary Barden, Brian Robertson, and Doogie White, batters his kit admirably - It sounds as if any minute he'll project himself off his kit, he's a fiery bastard, I tell ya. Tony O'Hora is back on guitars, keys, and vocals, and he's perfect in his role - and it sounds like an amazingly difficult gig with all the layers involved - they don't cut any corners. By the end of the tune, I'm pretty convinced that this will be a great ride.

I keep toggling back and forth, to and fro between the original album, and this live show, and I've got two things to say - I never got to see the original band, so if you said this is the same band, I wouldn't doubt it; also, I've heard tracks from the original band's live shows, and this doesn't suffer in the comparison - the technological advances in live sound management certainly aid, but the band's performance is razor sharp. Heartbreak Today finds Lincoln sounding like a young Roger Daltrey - he nails the notes, and fans of Connolly have naught to complain about this - this is fantastic rock, and when Scott and O'Hora kick in the harmony guitars, it's blissful.

I've no idea why Sweet never made a bigger splash in the States. Maybe they just didn't have an image that sat well with rednecks, and cowboys. This bunch was pure glam, and glitz - The Six Teens will thrill anyone who cared in the least for Queen, and Andy Scott's incredibly tasteful and melodic guar work on this live recording reminds that it was the US who missed out. This is fucking beautiful - it rocks, it's pretty, and it lets me know I was right when I was shaking my head wondering why they weren't headlining American tours in arenas.

Part of the beauty of the version of Desolation Boulevard that got released in America was that it contained many tracks from the UK release, Sweet Fanny Adams, an album produced by Phil Wainman and the band. The band showed a brawnier, more intelligent view of hard rock as seen through the eyes of guitarist Andy Scott, and the glam pop of Chinn and Chapman is a bit less of a factor - take the tune Restless - this tune didn't make it onto the American release of DB, but it is nothing to do with glam, or pop. There's some gritty blues rock that evokes Bad Company (years before that band existed, hmm....), some crazy cool cocktail jazz piano, and a beautifully ripping extended guitar solo from Scott.

No You Don't is straight up proto-glam metal - I just know Randy Rhoads had to love this - it sounds like the very template of Blizzard Of Ozz. No self respecting lover of hard rock could do anything but love this - when the acoustic guitar underpins Scott's rugged chugging it's rock guitar bliss. Did Townshend hear this when he settled in to write Quadrophenia? Sure he did. The synths, acoustic guitars, and the bluster all point the way - sure, Sweet idolized The Who, but I'm guessing the road may well have ran both ways.

Scott takes over lead vocals for Into The Night, and it's another brilliant piece of melodic metal. This is what a riff is supposed to sound like. Huge rock never sounded better, and when the guitars go off on a harmony tangent, again I'm completely blissed out. These guy have done a magnificent job here. You don't know the guitar work of Andy Scott? Goddamn that's a shame. Blackmore loved the guy.

AC/DC is perhaps Sweet's most covered tune with Joan Jett and Vince Neil being amongst the acts that have realized this early tome to bi-curiousity for girls. It's a great chunk of fun filled rock, and Scott tosses in a blazing slide solo that rocks, rocks, and rocks some more. Even if you didn't know Sweet in the '70s, you can bet most of the hard rock idols of the '80s had it covered.

Sweet also threw out some of the coolest synth fueled singles of the '70s, and I think for me, Fox On The Run was maybe my introduction to loud guitars being mashed up with silky synth runs. This bunch nails it all - the huge background vocals, the pounding beat, and again, Pete Lincoln is one of the best live vocalists out there - he also plays a mean bass. This is brilliant.

Set Me Free is another fantastic riff from Scott combining his patented power chord/scratchy rhythm style that I miss to this day - this style of playing got lost somewhere along the line, and his solo interludes are fantastic - usually harmonies are involved, some fleet fingered picking, and melody just flies out of the guy. Andy Scott may be the very best of the lesser known British hard rock axemeisters. O'Hora is spot on every step of the way - he's definitely the band's hidden weapon, and Bisden is still pummeling his kit like he's pissed at it.

Of course, they end the night with, "It's, it's, it's, it's, the Ballroom Blitz" - this is the tune that hasn't left America's airwaves since it's inception, and there's good reason. This is rock - it's loud, tuneful, humorous, and oh yeah - it rocks. No band ever made better having bottles hurled at it than this, that's for damned sure. Scott wraps it up classily with another cool, cool, cool solo, and they are out of here.

Sweet have done what I worried couldn't be done - they have found a way to replicate an old album without alienating me. This album is digital download only, and can be found through the usual digital avenues, and the band's website,

Great job, Andy Scott - you've not just furthered the memory of a great band, you've shown that a band's music can survive with honor, beauty, and panache. Congrats to all the band on a job fantastically done.


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scruffyrd said...
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Tony Conley said...
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