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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sweet – Are You Ready? Live album review

Sweet – Are You Ready? Live album review
Released on: Sarabande records. Release Date: Available now

This show was recorded originally in August 2008 at the Morongo Casino, California and originally released as ‘Sweet – Live In America,’ in 2009, but it’s just been re-issued with slightly different track listing with the original track ‘Sweet Dream’ replaced by the new bonus studio recording of ‘I Saw Her Standing There,’ yes the old Beatles tune.

A lot of people have already questioned the validity of any Sweet line up today, especially with the only two surviving members of the original lineup now playing in two different versions of the band, since they really don’t talk anymore, except through lawyers no doubt!
Sadly original lead vocalist Brian Connolly and original drummer Mick Tucker are both no longer with us.

This recording features the Steve Priest, original bassist in Sweet, version of the band that includes the extremely talented guitarist Stuart Smith, drummer Richie Onori, the very good Joe Retta on lead vocals who are all a part of the latest Heaven and Earth band lineup. The lineup is rounded off by the equally talented Stevie Stewart on keyboards / vocals.

This opens with an excellent version of ‘Action’ and I think between Joe Retta’s lead vocals and the backing vocals of Priest, Smith and Stewart, vocally this lineup wins for me over the UK version, featuring original guitarist Andy Scott.
I have heard the UK version’s ‘100% Live Bootleg’ recording that doesn’t sound bad …, except for the vocal mix IMHO.

‘Fox On The Run’ was actually my all time favourite Sweet track when it came out and once more this is very well done.
My complaint overall on the sound here is the sound, overall mix, where the keyboards sound effects are very loud, when played, vocals are all good to me, drums are OK, but perhaps bass and guitar could’ve been a little more distinct and certainly some of the guitar work could’ve been clearer or up more in the mix.

Next up ‘Hellraiser’ rocks out very well, following a wicked scream to introduce the song. Again guitar should be clearer to me. The vocal interplay, brings a smile to my face as I play this again and again. This was another favourite of mine back in the day. The harmony vocal still works very well …, even if the keyboard sound effects do raise another smile!

‘Love Is Like Oxygen’ still sounds as good as I recall when I first heard it, which is part of why I feel this version of the band works so well to me, unfortunately based on comments of UK fans in response to my review of the band’s live performance, when they played Michigan last summer, there’s many that disagree with me ... Shame. 
The You Tube clips that surfaced from that performance, don’t give the band much credit, but I recall the performance as not too bad at all, considering they were not the headline act … They did not have the best sound mix of the day and again, it was an outdoor free festival!
Oh yeah, I can remember ‘Blockbuster’ very well from all those school parties and disco’s yes …, we used to go to discos back in the 70’s and it wasn’t all disco music, sadly though there was more ‘lame’ music than rock …
This is the extended version, which features an ‘incidental’ music type piece in the middle, which takes the track on a different track. Still a fun track and well presented here, to put it into a rock perspective.

You know when I saw the band live last summer ‘Wig Wam Bam’ was one song I was praying the band would NOT play, as it tends to remind me of stuff like the Bay City Rollers – Yuck! – but the band tries to rock it up enough here to make it OK, giving it an almost punky rock sound.

Next track ‘The Six Teens,’ is more of a track that reminds me of the David Bowie era of the 70’s and it’s still a good strong track and Stuart Smith rips up the guitars a little here and it’s good to hear again.

The Sweet were a band probably best remembered for a lot of bubblegum pop rock, thanks to the writings of (Nicky) Chinn / (Mike) Chapman that they were directed to use and admittedly if they hadn’t, would they have ever been as successful as they were ...?
The thing was, when it came to the band writing their own material, it was very clearly more rock driven than most pop fans might’ve liked, but for us rock fans that gave Sweet’s albums a chance, we’d be impressed by stuff like next track ‘Windy City.’
It’s more serious rock fare without a doubt, even hitting borderline prog rock with this eight plus minute version.
Sadly they took some stick for the riff sound very like Deep Purple’s ‘Woman From Tokyo.’ I love the track!

‘Sweet F.A.’ was another rocker from the band that won the band a lot more respect from rock fans and this seven and half minute version certainly shows what that is all about, with Joe Retta singing with almost Robert Plant like tones in the chorus.
Well presented track guys!

‘Turn It Down’ although another Chinn / Chapman composition was put into rock terms on the ‘Desolation Boulevard’ album and that shows clearly enough here, I’d even say Joe puts a little southern drawl on the vocal here.

Another classic Sweet song from the earlier stages for me was ‘Teenage Rampage’ and they play it well here, if perhaps the Connolly tone is not so present here, it’s very enjoyable romp through the song.

Oh boy, right up there with ‘Wig Wam Bam’ is ‘Little Willy’ that I personally wish the band didn’t feel they had to play but …, they do. It’s OK, probably my least favourite track on here, just because of that reason, but it’s OK.

‘A.C.D.C.’ is next, which is kind of glam meets punk rock, on an interesting topic and no, if you don’t know, it’s absolutely nothing to do with the band of the same name! It’s still very much a favourite among rock fans too.

Then it’s ‘Set Me Free’ which is another personal favourite of mine and they rock it well, with some serious riffing from Stuart Smith!

I would add at this point through the set, that the last few tracks it seems that Joe tends to disperse with singing the songs ala Brian Connolly and sings them in his own style and that’s no bad thing, to gain his own identity on each track.
Seriously though folks, when Sweet are rockin’ their self penned songs, it’s at times akin to say Deep Purple in rock style, maybe that’s why I’ve always liked the band so much!

‘Ballroom Blitz’ is the last song of the live set here and it’s still as fun as it always was, although the intro …, ‘Are you ready Steve, etc …’ It is cheesy and that aspect just conjures up the bubblegum era image of the band, which I know was the main factor behind most of their success, but the band is really a ‘rock’ band, so it takes a little away for me.

The bonus studio recording of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ is a seriously fun hard edged rock ‘n’ roll romp through the song.
Shame there wasn't a bonus new Sweet track here though honestly, although I guess perhaps it might not be possible with the beef between Andy Scott and Steve Priest which is a shame, as I'm sure both bands could come up with new material.

Overall more good than not so good, but even the two songs that I'd - personally - rather they wouldn't play, weren't bad at all.

Rating: 4 out of 5 – For all the peaks here!

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