One Track Mind: Sweet, "New York Groove" (2012)

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Sweet answers the question once and for all: What would happen if some combined the glam of T. Rex, the metal of Slade and the modernity of Jay Z? What’s that? You said you never asked that particular question?

Well, Sweet answers it anyway, with an effervescent take on “New York Groove” to open their forthcoming album of mashed-up cover tunes, New York Connection, due April 27, 2012. Original guitarist Andy Scott is continuing the name, and the attitude, that made Sweet such a great party band in the mid-1970s — despite the kind of hard luck and bad times that would have soured most.

He’s joined on New York Connection (named after a 1971 Sweet tune) by lead singer and bassist Pete Lincoln, in place of Brian Connolly — who left the band in 1979 and, after a long battle with alcoholism, died in 1997 from liver failure at age 51. Original drummer Mick Tucker passed at 54 in 2002 after a bout with leukemia. That’s left Scott to carry on with guitarist and keyboardist Tony O’Hora and drummer Bruce Bisland, while original bass player Steve Priest has continued with his own version of Sweet. In the studio for the first time since 2006’s Sweetlife, however, Scott shows that he’s lost none of his will to fun, and that’s perhaps best heard on their romping update of Kiss’ “New York Groove.”

Sweet runs through a smart reading of the verse and chorus, so familiar from the spacey Ace Frehley solo version from the late 1970s, with only a slightly sharper edge to set it apart. The ex-Kiss guitarist sang the song as if through a cloud of dope smoke in the back of a limo, whereas Sweet floors it from the first. In their best moments, going back to the bubblegum kitsch of their glam-rock favorite “Ballroom Blitz,” Sweet has always had this reckless abandon — and that’s unchanged here: Suddenly, the track makes a hard left — and runs smack dab into the soaring vocal counterpoint originally sung by Alicia Keys in Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” thus constructing a brilliant mix that traverses decades of music, yet still conveys the same sense of limitless possibility as the bright lights of the Big Apple whiz by.

That’s but fizzy prologue for what’s to come, too: “Ballroom Blitz” is referenced in their cover of the Ramones’ song “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Scott’s familiar guitar signature from Sweet’s “Burn on the Flame” can be found lodged in their take on Electric Frankenstein’s “It’s All Moving Faster.”

Elsewhere, Sweet covers Pete Townshend’s “Join Together,” echoing their take on his “My Generation” from the breakout 1974 hit album Desolation Boulevard — original home to “Ballroom Blitz.” They do a howling, heavy-metal version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Because The Night,” reclaiming the proto-hair band verve of their earliest recordings. And they take on the Black Keys (“Gold on the Ceiling”), the Yardbirds (“Shapes Of Things”). George Benson (“On Broadway”) and Dead or Alive (“You Spin Me Right Round [Like a Record]”) with a similarly thrilling anything-goes attitude.

But it all starts with this old Kiss tune, one that shows — despite everything that’s been thrown at them — Sweet is still very much in the groove.

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Sweet. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

ONE TRACK MIND: SWEET, “LOVE IS LIKE OXYGEN” (1978): “Love Is Like Oxygen” was Sweet’s last top ten hit and before the year was up, Connolly’s drinking problems forced him to leave the band. The remaining three principals soldiered on without causing much chart action until calling it a day in 1982, just before the pop-metal fad of that decade that they anticipated took off. Sweet’s music still inspires nostalgia today, symbolic perhaps of a time when music that sounded a lot like the Monkees with better amplified guitars was fun listening. Hey, I can dig that. When they got all serious and mature as they mostly did for “Love Is Like Oxygen,” Sweet also brings back memories of a time when a pop song could be both ambitious and melodic…and still be popular.

FORGOTTEN SERIES: SWEET – SWEET FANNY ADAMS (1974): Initially released in 1974, Sweet Fanny Adams is often thought of as the first genuine Sweet album. It was here the British band was finally able to write and play the material of their choice. Assembled of punishing riffs and bone-rattling rhythms, Sweet Fanny Adams definitely did mark a departure for the Sweet. But amid the driving jamming, the band still retained a nip of a pop consciousness. And that was a wise move, because most of the Sweet’s original fans readily accepted their supposedly new image. The hooks were just as punchy as ever, while the harmonies were downright explosive. A nice touch of glitter rock also lined Sweet Fanny Adams, but no way could the band be excused of following trends, considering they were one of the pioneers of the genre. There’s not a stitch of filler to be found on this record.

THE FRIDAY MORNING LISTEN: SWEET – THE BEST OF SWEET (1993): If I have anything to say about technology in this space, it’s usually negative. This is because I’m not much of a gadget person. So what the hell got into me last night with the Spotify thing? Well, I’m definitely attracted to the idea of a service that allows you to play any particular song at any particular time. Several months ago, I woke up and had the urge to hear Sweet’s Love Is Like Oxygen. I don’t know where the urge came from but I couldn’t (easily) do anything about it. Now I can.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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