Friday, January 16, 2009

Sweet's Ballroom Blitz
(Castle Hendring Video)
Melody Maker, 1990?

by Simon Reynolds

"SWEET'S BALLROOM BLITZ" attempts to rescue The Sweet from their longstanding reputation as mere 'pretty boy' puppets of Chinn and Chapman (the hit factory who wrote and produced their biggest chart singles). A noble aim, as The Sweet's role in the Glam Rock explosion is sorely under-rated, but one which this rather scrappy compilation only goes some of the way to achieving. There's too much of Sweet's lightest-weight material: the calypso crud of "Co Co", some deeply unfortunate, acoustic balladry, plus the moony "Love Is Like Oxygen", which has twilight-era Sweet
coming on like understudies for Smokie. And the interview segments with 'the band today' tell us little, except that the guitarist has put on much weight and singer Brian Connolly seems to have been left with permanent delirum tremens from the years of alcohol abuse that eventually caused the groups' break-up.

Happily, "Ballroom Blitz" does include almost all Sweet's biggest and best hits (bar the unforgiveable absence of "Ballroom Blitz" itself). The Sweet were supreme exponents of a kind of vacant outrage: their sporting of make-up and Nazi chic was "unsubstantiated" by the dubious art-house trappings of Bowie and Roxy. Everything in a classic Sweet smash was there for effect alone, was purely and emptily sensationalist: the torrid, Four Seasons/Beach Boys multi-tracked harmonies, the streamlined pop-metal riffs, the ludicrous scenarios devised solely as a pretext for hysteria. "Blockbuster", with its sirens and "Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle" kettledrums, is a tour de force of fabricated mayhem, even though this particular performance sadly doesn't feature Steve Priest camping it up as Hitler in drag. "Fox
On The Run" and "Lies In Your Eyes" are typically torrid, plastic-punk put-downs of discarded girlfriends. "Hellraiser", by contrast, has The Sweet running scared of a
voracious libertine whose "ultra-sonic eyes flash like hysterical danger signs/say, beware where you tread/or you'll go out of your head". "The Six Teens" is flamenco-flavoured, bubblegum psychedelia that asks cryptically: "where were you in '68?". But The Sweet's greatest moments are "Action" (self-written after the break with Chinnichap) and "Teenage Rampage". The latter is Chinnichap's finest slice of mock-
apocalypse, boasting one the most ominous intro/outro's of all time, and lyrics like "at thirteen they were learning, but at fourteen they'll be burning". "Action" is The Sweet's "EMI", a massive V-sign to all the corporate parasites wanting their
piece, and a blast of sonic insurgency that anticipates punk by two whole years.

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