For those of you who have heard my interviews, it won’t come as a surprise to learn that my first musical (or, for that matter, any) memory is of being sat in front of Top of the Pops mesmerised by one band. To my young eyes, I didn’t see anything at all strange in men wearing make-up, falsetto voices and the like – to me it was just a great sound. It made me want to be in a rock band and now 40 or so years later the music of that band still makes me pay attention. Who would have thought that in 2012 I would be excitedly opening the seal on a new record by….The Sweet!
“New York Connection” is an album of covers (for the most part – more on that later) with a theme of New York City running through it. The last few years have seen cover albums released by a whole host of bands and many of them have been rounded on by the critics. This CD should silence the critics who see covers albums purely as cash-ins or an easy option. This release certainly doesn’t represent an easy option.
For a band that have influenced so many others (Def Leppard, Kiss and Motley Crue are just three bands who are on record as saying this) it is great that this collection of songs takes the very familiar Sweet sound and blends it with 21st Century recording techniques and facilities and produces songs that brought an immediate smile to my face. This doesn’t sound like a band from the cabaret circuit reliving past glories – it sounds EXACTLY how I would expect The Sweet to have sounded if the original foursome had been able to survive all of their well reported trials and tribulations. Pete Lincoln’s vocals are very similar to those of the late Brian Connolly (although all four members of the band take a turn at singing lead vocals during the 11 tracks presented), whilst not quite ever simply becoming an impersonation.
So, what of the songs? The album opener is “New York Groove” (always considered to be an Ace Frehley song but orginally released by British band Hello in 1975) and it does just what it says on the tin…groove! With a few cool little guitar riffs and some of the sounds and tricks that made The Sweet’s 1970s singles so recognisable, those of a certain age should be grinning immediately and then…what’s this, a Jay-Z/Alicia Keys song? To use the current vernacular, The Sweet create a mash-up by placing elements of “Empire State of Mind” into the song. It shouldn’t work but it does…and brilliantly too! “Gold on the Ceiling” (originally by The Black Keys) and “It’s All Moving Faster” (Electric Frankenstein) reflect just how much an impact The Sweet have had on music over the last 40 years (and 16 albums!) and these tracks really demonstrates how Andy Scott and his compadres can produce these glam soaked covers sound all their own but not in a retro/cabaret style.
Each track contains elements from the heady days of the original line-up – harmonised backing vocals, guitar, glam drum beats – but at no point does it sound like the band have just thrown the kitsch, kitchen sink at it. Even with those songs where they transplant elements of past glories (“Shapes of Things” leads up to the chorus with a refrain that brings to mind “Fox On the Run”) they never resort to cheese overload. What many forget is that, despite what the initial Chinn/Chapman hits may suggest, The Sweet were always, first and foremost a hard rock band and this comes through loud and clear on their brilliant version of 80s disco/pop classic(?) “You Spin Me Round” – a chugging guitar and bass riff, thunderous drums, tasteful “Hammond” type keys and Sweet backing vocals completely revitalise the number into a classic rock song. As mentioned earlier, not all of the tracks are covers. “New York Connection” is a remake/remodelling of a Sweet original and it rocks with more grand riffing and trademark Sweet harmonised vocals.
The CD arrived with me this morning and I can’t stop listening to it. The choice of songs shows that The Sweet were always far more than bubblegum pop and when you hear these versions you will know straight away that this is a band enjoying themselves (“Blitzkrieg Bop” gallops along nicely and then up pops the riff from “Ballroom Blitz” – genius!) and this just makes you smile! It’s a shame that not all albums of covers are as good as this colletion of 11 songs. The infectious enjoyment within the album make this a must buy record for 2012.
Twenty plus years ago I saw Brian Connolly’s Sweet perform at the May Ball at my university. I enjoyed it and it gave me a chance to see one of my childhood heroes (although he was clearly unwell) but I never thought that I’d get the chance to see The Sweet in a real format again. Andy Scott has put together a band that is true to the spirit and sound whilst still moving the band forward…I now can’t wait for the upcoming tour of the UK with Slade.
WE WANT SWEET! WE WANT SWEET!
“New York Connection” is available now from The Sweet website and Itunes
For more information: www.thesweet.com
Review by David Wilson