Wednesday, November 3, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 203: Sweet

I struggled with whether to call this album a best of or a regular album, but eventually I came down on the side of album - read on for more details. Or, if you don't want more details, read on - but just be prepared for disappointment.

Disc 203 is...Desolation Boulevard
Artist: Sweet

Year of Release: 1974

What’s Up With The Cover?: It is the band members of Sweet - superimposed on an urban landscape through the technological expertise of the mid-seventies. It looks just a tiny bit fake, but the hair these guys have - that's real my friends. That was the hair that as a kid in the seventies I wish I had. Instead, nature provided me with the semi-afro. Well played, Nature, well played.

How I Came To Know It: I have known this album almost as long as I remember music at all. My brother owned it on LP very early on - probably by 1976 at the latest. I listened to it all the time. I only bought it on disc in the last five years ago.

How It Stacks Up: This is the only Sweet album I have - I like it, but it doesn't stack up against itself. Or does it...

Rating: 3 stars

Sweet is a mid-seventies rock band from England. For some reason they always settle in my mind as foils for the Bay City Rollers, who I think were contemporaneous.

The difference was, (and is), that Sweet rocks out, whereas the Bay City Rollers turned the 'sucks' knob to 11 and broke it off nearly thirty years ago.

I remember my Mom coming home from a garage sale one day in the late seventies thinking she had quite a find for my brother Virgil and I - a Bay City Rollers LP. I think she might've got it mixed up with Sweet. Of course, we rightfully loathed the Bay City Rollers with a zeal that only those dedicated to true rock and roll can do. Virgil initiated a game of frisbee in the living room with the record. It came at me pretty hard, so I dodged out of the way and the record promptly shattered on the wall. Back then they weren't as bendy as they became later.

We laughed and laughed. Mom was justifiably furious but I like to believe that deep down she thought it was a pretty good joke. In fact, after chastising me for not catching the record, Virgil even said to Mom, "What did you think we'd do with a Bay City Roller's album?", and I recall her conceding the point. It wasn't a great argument, but he said it with conviction, and it had come cheaply, so we got off easy that day. Of course, I was seven or eight, so my memory is a little hazy on this one. Anyway, I digress...

Back to Sweet, who early on could have gone the bubble-gum pop schmaltz direction of the aforementioned Rollers, but for the most part resisted (at least on their B-sides). Years later music lovers everywhere are still being rewarded.

This record has a slough of great tracks, starting with a song ubiquitous to rock radio to this day; "Ballroom Blitz". Who among you - upon hearing the opening drum beat - can resist singing along to "Ready Steve? Uh huh. Andy? Yeah. Mick? OK. Alright fellas - let's go!" I think that line counts as seven sentences.

When I was a kid my favourite was "Fox On The Run", which was also a big radio hit, although it hasn't survived the same way. The synthesizer that starts this song is the Platonic ideal of cheesy synths that all other later bands (i.e. Prism) would reach for forever after.

Sweet don't just rock out - they are also funny, introducing me to the phrase "AC/DC" as in "AC/DC - she got some other woman as well as me." I probably sang along to that song every week as a kid, having no idea what it was about. The perils of having a much older brother, I suppose.

The only setback on this album is that it is the American version. I didn't know this until recently, when Nick brought the original UK version to a music listening night. Half the tracks are the same, but the other half are different. Essentially, in the UK they released this album and another one "Sweet Fanny Adams" the same year. I think in the US they did a later release of just one record, incorporating some of the better tracks off of both, and this is it.

I recently had a chance to buy the UK version, and although it has some 'sweet' bonus tracks, I decided to stick with this one - not the original, but the original for me.

I still had to consider long and hard whether that meant I had chosen a 'best of' over a studio album (perish the thought). In the end I decided that this was the studio version in the USA, so I was going to count it as an album. I was going to give it four stars for nostalgia's sake, but the whole US/UK version thing blunts my enthusiasm enough to knock it back to a solid 3.

So to summarize: Desolation Boulevard - a solid rock and roll album, that holds up well over the years - whatever version you grew up with.

Best tracks: Ballroom Blitz, The 6-Teens, ACDC, Sweet FA, Fox On the Run, Into the Night

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