Album Review: SWEET – Level Headed Tour Rehearsals 1977

SWEET - Level Headed Tour Rehearsals 1977

Angel Air  [Release date 2.06.14]

Angel Air always find a niche and an angle. They’ve done it again here by unearthing an album that captures Sweet rehearsing for one of their most important tours. As the well-researched and extensive liner notes make clear, Sweet by 1977 had changed labels and parted company with the fabled Mike Chapman/Nicky Chinn hit machine.

Level Headed was to be there first album with a new, more sophisticated sound playing tracks penned by the band themselves.

So much for the back story. What about the album?

It’s a mixed bag in truth. This is a rehearsal set after all. It does show a bit. Perhaps the biggest victim of the practice environment is the overall vocal performance. Those characteristic and effervescent falsetto-spiked harmonies are a bit shaky at best and down right off-key at worst.

‘Love Is Like Oxygen’, a great track, mostly hangs together really well but for the ragged backing vocals which make it sound a bit messy. ‘Fox On The Run’ induces a little wince factor at the top end; and sadly, ‘Stairway To The Stars’ is simply painful at the crucial points.

Brian Connolly does a good job of leading the line on the vocals, but there are just a few too many rough and shouty moments. The set opener. ‘Action’ for instance.

Musically, there is a tendency for the keys swamp the guitar, particularly on the more ballsy tracks. This is a real shame because Andy Scott’s guitar playing throughout is a constant  joy, making a concerted effort to single-handedly shed the band of those persistent bubblegum rock tags.

‘Yesterday’s Rain’ is a perfect example: a great grinding riff which is overwhelmed as soon as the pomp cracks in. The solo here is thrilling though and for once the keys provide a platform – briefly – rather than stealing the limelight.

This all sounds a bit negative. This is in fact an interesting album. Some of  ‘Level Headed’’s better tracks – ostensibly a well-received AOR album – are given a sharp prog and blues twist. ‘Rainbow’s End’ is really good; and later, genuflect before the Gary Moberly’s keyboard extravaganza on ‘Done Me Wrong Alright’. Scott on guitar is again excellent here. Best track on show. ‘Set Me Free’ also features a very pumped, driving performance.

However the reliance on the new material and insistence on shunning the old highlights the patchy nature of their own stuff. ‘California Nights’ is forgettable; ‘Lady Starlight’ laboured; and the acoustic mini-set half way through seems to sap all the life from the performance.

When all said and done these tracks are culled from rehearsal sessions and it would be harsh to be overly critical. They perfectly capture a band wrestling with transition and show both the highs and lows of that process.  It’s a worthy release for collectors.  ***

Review by Dave Atkinson

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