Desolation Boulevard (Capitol ’75) Rating: A
Much like The Monkees, Sweet were never going to get their due in their day because they started out as a bubblegum act, then a mock over the top glam act, with the songwriting team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman providing the material. However, in 1974 they broke away from Chinn/Chapman, with Andy Scott, a great guitarist, writing harder-edged material as the band successfully became a legit hard rock force a la Queen (their main rival and closest comparison sound-wise). Sweet were a huge influence on early Def Leppard and likely influenced Van Halen
as well, and they were the only band who could sound like Queen, David Bowie, T. Rex, ELO, Cheap Trick, and Deep Purple while still retaining their own identity. Granted, the band's campy, theatrical sound won't be for everybody, as the layered vocals (Brian Connolly sang lead) in particular tend to be a tad over the top, and others (notably the All Music Guide whose review of this album I largely disagree with) complain about the "kitschy '70s production" and a somewhat dated, overly bright keyboard sound. Still, this album is flat-out fun, starting with notable U.K. hits (the band was much bigger in the U.K. than the U.S.) in the campy yet rocking "Ballroom Blitz," the poppy teen anthem "The Six-Teens," which features a nice mix of big electric riffs and more subtle acoustic guitar shadings, not to mention fragile lead vocals and a soaring guitar solo, and especially "Fox On The Run," which is simply a superlative mix of pop and hard rock. The same can be said about this album on the whole, and by this album I mean the "bastardized" U.S. version of the album, which differs significantly from and greatly improves upon the U.K. version; this version is a combination of the U.K. versions of Sweet Fanny Adams and Desolation Boulevard (both still recommended to big fans of the band) plus a few singles. The U.S. version is almost like a "hits" collection to an extent because several of these songs were singles and "Fox On The Run" was re-recorded into a much stronger version. As for the rest of the album, tracks such as "No You Don't," "Sweet F.A.," and "Set Me Free" are simply fantastic hard rock songs, with Scott's playing at times recalling prime Ritchie Blackmore and drummer Mick Tucker giving Ian Paice a run for his money as well. The band's tough attitude on "No You Don't" could easily give the punks a run for their money, while "A.C.D.C." shows the band's sense of humor as the unlucky narrator is apparently being two-timed by his bi-sexual girlfriend. Still, though the band had a sense of humor they were far from jokes, despite their inauspicious beginnings; just listen to those heavenly guitar harmonies on "Into The Night" and the also-impressive guitar work on "Solid Gold Brass," or the odd time signatures and weird music of "I Wanna Be Committed," which is a perfect match for the song's crazy lyrics. Long story short, this album and band had their flaws, but I immensely enjoy the majority of this album, and I'd also recommend Give Us A Wink (1976) and to a lesser extent Off The Record (1977); the bottom then fell out on Level Headed (1978), which can be skipped because that album's lone highlight, "Love Is Like Oxygen," can be picked up on the all-killer no-filler compilation The Best Of Sweet (1992).