Sweet – Off the Record (1977)

Sweet_OffRecord4 out of 5 Stars!

Sweet’s seventh release, Off the Record, continues in the same style as the trio of platters that immediately preceded it (Sweet Fanny Adams, Desolation Boulevard, and Give Us a Wink), featuring some slamming and glamming Hard Rock, occasionally bordering on Metal, with each track laden with the wickedly rich, layered, and trademarked background harmonies Sweet did to perfection, surpassed (perhaps) only by Queen.

Off the Record is one of the band’s heaviest albums, thanks mainly to Andy Scott’s chunky and blazing guitars, and is crammed with powerful tunes such as “She Gimme Lovin’,” “Lost Angels,” “Live for Today,” “Fever of Love,” “Hard Times,” “Midnight to Daylight,” and “Stairway To The Stars,” while the lengthier and more complex track “Windy City” (with its “Woman From Tokyo”-like riff) easily ranks in my “Top 5 List” of best songs Sweet ever recorded. Despite the “heavy factor,” the band retains its catchy pop sensibilities throughout, with the majority of choruses being of “sing-along caliber,” and for diversity’s sake, the band also includes a lighter moment on the beautiful “Laura Lee” and a heaping dosage of funk on the appropriately named “Funk It Up (David’s Song),” which incidentally is my least favorite Sweet song on this or any other album within the band’s catalogue.

Therefore, for lovers of Hard Rock who wrote off the band due to its early pop hits such as “Wig Wam Bam” or “Little Willy” and are unfamiliar with this phase in the band’s varied history, Off the Record may come as a pleasant surprise. In many respects, mid-’70s Sweet had little in common with the original version of the group—no “bubblegum rock” here, only punchy, well-performed, and melodic Hard Rock with a Glam Rock edge, plus some of the most creative and stunning multi-layered background vocals in rock ‘n’ roll history.

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Raspberries – Raspberries (1972)

Raspberries_13 out of 5 Stars!

I’ll admit, I was very late in investigating this short-lived band from Ohio, definitely because of its silly name and its overly clean and poppy TigerBeat magazine image. Nevertheless, at the time of this album’s release, and despite my growing obsession with groups such as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, and Black Sabbath, etc. I clearly remember being instantly drawn to the band’s mammoth single “Go All The Way,” with its insanely heavy guitar “hook” and its ultra-memorable chorus, constantly being played on Chicago’s AM radio stations, and I had always kept Raspberries in the back of my mind as a band to “one day investigate.”

Well, that day finally arrived in the 1990s when I came across this album in a “$.99 discount” bin and snatched it up. Was I blown away then? No, not really…many of the tracks seemed way too tame/lame for my tastes.

But nowadays, twenty-plus years later…I surprisingly find myself going back to this album more and more, finally coming to appreciate the overall (and sometimes genius) pop sensibilities of Eric Carmen and company. Yes, some of the material is still a bit too “Beatles-oriented” for me—way too light and too overly orchestrated, such as “Waiting” or “With You In My Life”—but some of the album’s tracks, especially that darned catchy hit single I clearly remembered from 1972’s “AM radio days,” as well as the songs “I Saw The Light,” “Don’t Want To Say Goodbye,” “Rock And Roll Mama,” “Come Around And See Me,” or “Get It Moving,” now occasionally bring to mind diverse groups such as Cheap Trick, Stories, Badfinger, Susan, and (the magnificent) Starz. Go figure!

Anyway, despite some stunningly catchy material here, I still find myself giving only an average rating to the overall album, thanks to several tracks that continually rub me the wrong way and the occasional top-heavy orchestration. Happily the band’s next album showed some improvement and growth.

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Badfinger – Straight Up (1971)

Badfinger_StraightUp3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Always (and rather unfairly) compared to The Beatles (generally not a band I ever worshipped—yes, I admit, I’m a Stones fan), largely thanks to the group’s relationship with Apple Records, Badfinger was a band over which I was never overly enamored, although I always respected the group’s occasionally brilliant songwriting skills despite the somewhat-patchy albums. Plus, I sympathized with the group’s professional (legal) tragic circumstances in which Badfinger found itself (management hell—ie. greed) and the horrible personal tragedies that followed, with two of the band members sadly taking their own lives.

Nevertheless, to this day, I occasionally enjoy a few of the band’s early releases, including Straight Up, where (to me) the band’s songwriting skills truly shine. The mega-hit “Baby Blue” is perhaps my favorite single the group ever produced (apart from the excellent “No Matter What” from the previous album), and the melodic “Day After Day” wasn’t too far behind. Both exceptional tracks! The remaining tracks are mostly decent slices of melodic (and often light) Power Pop, with some of them (“Money,” “Suitcase,” and “It’s Over”) seemingly potential hits in their own right.

Additionally, on Straight Up, Badfinger’s third album, the band seemed to truly gel, with finally a welcome cohesiveness regarding its overall sound, style, and instrumentation. If only the band had been allowed to experiment and navigate its own career without the damned continual interference from its “sharky” management and the record company executive demons…ah, well, a sad tale…

Anyway, this is probably my favorite Badfinger album, one I’ve found myself playing on a semi-regular basis in recent years.


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Susan – Falling in Love Again (1979)

Susan_FallingLoveAgain4 out of 5 Stars!

There is something to be said for music being one of the most successful triggers for “mental time-travel.” Often, just the mere snippet of a certain song can momentarily flood your head with memories and whisk you back to another period in your life, either good or bad, so that just closing your eyes while the song is playing can almost place you back in another previous era, however briefly. Well, let me tell you, this sole album by an obscure band called Susan (from—presumably, by their overall sound—the Midwest or the East-Coast section of the USA…sorry, I can discover little of this band’s basic history) will forever be a huge trigger for me.

What often seems like a zillion years ago, way back in 1979, I was working for a brick & mortar record store (remember those?) and I remember unpacking a particular shipment of albums, their covers all embossed with the huge “PROMOTION” stamp. Among them was Shiek Yerbouti by Frank Zappa, I distinctly recall. Anyway, as expected, these were the records we played continuously in the store (apart from Zappa’s new release, due to his “sinfully naughty lyrics”—my prudish manager’s exact words, I swear!) for several weeks to induce customers to make that all-important purchase. From that one particular shipment, I discovered two real gems (apart from Zappa’s aforementioned double-album “naughty” set), and oddly enough, neither of these albums (or bands) saw any true success. I bought both albums (with my employee discount, of course) and recommended them to numerous friends, who also purchased them. Too bad my “meager though sincere” efforts didn’t make a damned difference in boosting these albums to best-seller status (which they both deserved). Regardless, in my mind, these obscure platters forever hold a special place in my heart, and even now, just hearing any songs from either disc instantly yanks me back to those fun days in 1979.

The culprits for this “mental time-travel” phenomena are One Night Stands by the forgotten band Teaze and (obviously, since I’m writing this review) Falling in Love Again by the even more-forgotten band named Susan.

Therefore, my rambling story is basically a roundabout disclaimer that my usually unbiased review/rating system might actually be quite biased in this case, thanks to personal nostalgia. With that in mind, I rated the album down a half-star hoping to negate some of that bias.

So, with that trip down memory lane disclosed, what do we have here? Some terrific, straightforward, and wildly catchy Power Pop/Hard Rock, with a healthy injection of AOR. Just about every single track is so damned memorable. Indeed, just glimpsing the title of each song instantly (for me) has the chorus ringing through my memory, which I think says a whole lot for the band’s commendable songwriting capabilities. From the wonderful foot-stomping opening track “Takin’ It Over,” to the harder-edged “Power” and “Too Bad,” to the hummable tribute to legendary actress Marlene Dietrich on “Marlene” (which opens with a snippet from the actress’s own recording of “Falling in Love Again,” hence the album’s title), there’s never a dull, non-catchy moment. “I Was Wrong,” “A Little Time,” “Don’t Let Me Go,” or the sax-tinged “Really Gonna Show” (despite the word “bullshit” slinky into the lyrics) should have all been radio hits. As the final chorus to “Tonight You’re Mine” slowly fades into oblivion to close out the album, I always itch to repeat this ten-track album just one more time, and typically I do just that.

Overall, Susan reminds me of a cross between melodic Power-Pop bands such as Badfinger and Off Broadway mixed with the harder-rocking “attitude” from Cheap Trick and Starz. Each track is ultra-singable, with delightfully melodic guitar fills and solos, driving rhythms, and spot-on harmonies.

Oh yes, for me, 1979 was a very good year. And thanks to Susan for helping me to always remember it, no matter how fleetingly…

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Gin Blossoms – New Miserable Experience (1992)

GinBlossoms_NewMiserable2.5 out of 5 Stars!

A nice album, plain and simple. Nothing here outrageously brilliant, nothing here offensively horrid, just a collection of pleasant, average songs.

After hearing the first half of the CD, however, the repetitive nature of the music on offer comes to the fore…songs are in the same key for the most part, most of them have similar rhythms, similar chord patterns, similar melody lines, similar musical arrangements, similar vocal delivery and harmonies…you get the picture. It feels like the band took their favorite song and rewrote it several times, recording each of the versions…they tried it at various tempos, tossed in another instrument from time to time hoping to add variety, revised the lyrics, and plopped on a melody that, although a few notes may have changed, retains most of the original structure. The “sameness” gets annoying after a while, and nothing truly special pops out.

If only they had experimented a bit more with their songwriting techniques and musicianship skills, this might have been an “above average” effort. ‘Fraid not.