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Music Review: The Sweet – Live In America

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To almost everyone born in the UK, The Sweet were an integral part of growing up in the early seventies. With a near residency on the weekly television chart show Top Of The Pops, the brickies in spandex were the glam band it was OK to admit liking.

They had a huge run of hits in the UK charts, primarily from the pen of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, with songs like "Blockbuster" and "Ballroom Blitz" brightening up a country beset by recession. For many youngsters, myself included, they also opened the door to guitar rock through the heavy, band written B-sides, especially "Sweet FA", one of the songs performed here.

Even when glam died out, The Sweet soldiered on, squeezing out a few more self-penned hits like "Fox On The Run" and "Love Is Like Oxygen", but with original vocalist, the late Brian Connolly, gone, the public forgot them, despite putting out some excellent albums towards the end of the decade. (The albums only seem to be big in Germany.)

Various permutations of the band carried on throughout the lean years, with singers coming and going, often with more than one version of the band playing the cabaret / oldies circuit. Now, however, original bassist Steve Priest has decided to have another go, with a new US based lineup of The Sweet.

No-one was more surprised than me when Heaven & Earth guitarist Stuart Smith signed up for the gig. A former pupil of Ritchie Blackmore, he seemed an unlikely fit, but along with the rest of the new band – fellow Heaven & Earther Richie Onori on drums, keyboard player Stevie Stewart and vocalist Joe Retta – he puts on a fine show. Joe Retta is probably the best vocalist any lineup of The Sweet has had, and with the other musicians straight out of the top drawer, you often forget the bubblegum origins of a lot of the songs. Listen to the rearranged "Love Is Like Oxygen" for proof that these men can play.

It's probably no coincidence that three of the first four songs played were written by the band rather than Chinnichap, but with over a dozen hit singles on display here, there's no reason for them not to blow their own trumpets. From the opening blast of "Action" through gems like "The Six Teens" and "Teenage Rampage" to the closing "Ballroom Blitz", it's a non-stop party full of singalong choruses and big riffs.

It's doubtful that they will ever rise above club level again (this set was recorded at the Morongo Casino in California on their 2008 Are You Ready Steve? tour), but this goes a long way towards restoring some of the sparkle that had been lost over the years. An absolute delight of a CD, this is a gloriously entertaining ride.

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About Stuart A Hamilton

  • JC Mosquito

    This is part of an interesting development in rock ‘n’ roll – as these players age into their 50s and early 60s, it turns out that many of them can still play quite well. But is there any point in playing these old songs, other than it’s a living? My first reaction would likely be c’mon, give it up – it’s a young person’s game – but what if you still do it well? Regardless if you’re playing clubs like the Sweet or stadiums like Spingsteen, if you can do it without making yourself look foolish, why not? Townsend has already proven the “Hope I die before I get old” maxim was just a brag of the first order – in the end, for most people the real concern turns out to be the one voiced by that other great sonwriting team Lennon/McCartney: “Will you still need me/When I’m sixty-four?”

  • Jon Athey

    My answer is… Yes! Keep playing! There is still a market for the aging rockers. Look at the Stones- selling out huge venues still. Granted, Sweet never gained that kind of popularity. But as someone who listened to Sweet as a teen in the late ’70s and early ’80s and up to today. I’m pushing 50 now and although I’m past my peak concert going and album buying days I would see these guys in a hot minute if they played like this album. It really is a “Blockbuster”.

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