Graded on a Curve: Sweet,
New York Connection

What with the Sweet being one of the greatest rock bands in history and all, it was demoralizing to find myself sitting amongst Andy’s Scott’s Sweet (more on that soon) on an economy flight over Germany. They’d fallen far in the world since the golden years of “Ballroom Blitz,” “Fox on the Run,” and “Love is Like Oxygen.” They looked fat, hung over–defeated. And they’d been reduced to—or so said the bleary-eyed drummer (I think it was the drummer) sitting next to me—playing the European oldies glam rock festival circuit. They were on their way to sunny Finland as we spoke. They hadn’t released an original album in years.

Lo and behold, after a 10-year silence Andy Scott’s Sweet self-released 2012’s New York Connection, an album of mostly NYC-themed covers (Sweet includes one original). Why the Andy Scott? Following the departures of band cofounders Brian Connolly (lead vocals) and Steve Priest (bass and lead vocals), Scott formed his own Sweet, only to be followed in turn (although not at the same time) by Connolly and Priest, each of whom formed their own Sweets. Confused? I am. In fact the only people who could keep up, or cared, were their small cadre of aging fans. But while the Priest and Connolly Sweets left no recorded legacy, Andy Scott’s Sweet released three LPs between 1992 and 2002, none of which appeared on anyone’s radar.

New York Connection isn’t a product of the Sweet of yore. Gone are the goofy touches (the great introduction to “Ballroom Blitz” and that immortal “‘Cause she thinks she’s the passionate one!”) that made their music so much fun. Gone as well are the lavish production and intricate arrangements of legendary glam rock producers Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, who led them to fame and made 1974’s Desolation Boulevard a glam-bam-thank you-ma’am touchstone of the Glitter Rock era.

What you get instead are head-banging heavy metal interpretations of some hardly daring song choices along the lines of the Velvet Underground’s ”Sweet Jane” and Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove.” But they throw in some real odd numbers; you hardly expect to run into Electric Frankenstein’s “All Moving Faster” or Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” in such classic rock company.

“New York Groove” exemplifies Sweet’s (let’s drop the “Andy Scott’s” for simplicity’s sake) steamroller sound. Bruce Bisland’s drums would make John Bonham proud, Scott’s power chords pack Mike Tyson punch, and lead vocalist Pete Lincoln has chops. But what makes the song is the way the boys embed Jay-Z/Alicia Keys’ 2009 hit “Empire State of Mind” in the song’s middle section. A minor mashup classic, indeed.

Sweet manhandles the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” with the same ferocity, pumping it up with steroids and throwing in a pair of overlaid Scott guitar solos while they’re at it. Similarly, they inject George Benson’s “On Broadway” with osmium, and by so doing produce the very first version of the song that doesn’t make me want to thrust screwdrivers in my ears.

Sweet transforms The Who’s “Join Together” (one of several songs that have nothing to do with the Big Apple) into a bombastic stomp-along arena rocker of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” variety. All they lack is the arena. They also give “Sweet Jane” the monster truck treatment, but Lou got around to it first on 1974’s live Rock n’ Roll Animal. It doesn’t help that Scott’s lead vocals are hopelessly stilted. Besides, does the world really need a 556th version of the damn song?

Some silky smooth vocals and Scott’s uncanny conjuring of the spirit of Mick Ronson add a subtle frisson of originality to The Yardbirds’ “Shapes of Things.” Uncanny as well is keyboard player Tony O’Hora’s karaoke-perfect Patti Smith on the muscle-bound “Because the Night.” While imitation may be, as Oscar Wilde once quipped, the sincerest form of flattery, what you’re left with in “Because the Night” is a fake readily detectable without a jeweler’s lens.

More inspired is Sweet’s take on punk revivalists Electric Frankenstein’s 1995 song “It’s all Moving Faster.” Sweet matches the V2 velocity of the original, which fits nicely into the LP’s New York fixation (“New York City’s such a bore/It’s all moving faster/Can’t buy feelings from some store/It’s one big disaster”).

But the LP’s standout track is the cover of The Black Keys’ “Gold on the Ceiling.” At long last the Sweet do what they should have been doing all along—namely Sweetening the covers up. It’s all there—that classic Glam drum stomp, the join-along hand claps, the harmony vocals, and Scott’s citywide electrical power surge guitar chords. Takes you right back to 1974, it does, when the Sweet ruled Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco in LA and decadence ruled the day.

I’m sad to report that Sweet’s take on Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” is more dead than alive; they bury the original’s over-the-top disco ball vibe in heavy metal sludge, and the slick vocal harmonies and Scott’s par excellence axe work don’t come close to resuscitating the number. Which is sad, because classic Sweet would have turned the camp amp up to 11 on this baby. The LP’s sole original, “New York City Connection,” is another disappointment. It has an NYC connection by way of the later Dictators, but it’s your standard metal fare–lots of perspiration, no inspiration, don’t let it fall on your foot.

“Glam rock,” said the great Joan Jett, “was such a unique sound, melodic, but with emphasis on the drums and loud guitars and those big chanting choruses.” Sweet fit the mold to a T. But they brought a zany sense of humor to the proceedings that most of their glamtastic contemporaries lacked. And that’s the problem with New York Connection–the guys on that flight to Finland had lost their sense of humor.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
C+

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