Desolation Boulevard A Review by Hertz Van Rental
This review like my others is divided into 3:
What I thought about the album at the time
What I feel about it now and
Finally my best attempt at an objective view.
The version reviewed here is the UK one, with the following track list;
Solid Gold Brass
Turn it Down
Man with the Golden arm
Fox on the Run
I have done a very brief comparison at the end of this review with the US version.
What I felt at the time.
In a similar way to SFA (see my review on that one). I bought this album not at the time of release, but after the success of a single - in this case Fox on the Run. Interestingly, there had been a single in between 'The Sixteens' and 'Fox'. Of course this was the minor 'hit' 'Turn it Down' which was also the last Chinn/Chapman song released by the band as a single. All I can say is that I never heard it! Apparently it did chart in the UK (just) at number 39, but was a dramatic fall in success for Sweet. As a single it was probably less commercial than its predecessors, but unless it was all a co-incidence and I didn't hear about it because of a wild series of co-incidences, it must have also got a lot less airtime than previous releases and less than it deserved. If this was the case and not just my mistaken impression, then unfortunately this was a foretaste of things to come!
One of the themes of this review is the issue the band faced in the direction change they undertook in 1974. Could they attract a new audience for more serious music, given the handicap of not really being taken seriously? Could they move into new musical areas with at least some of their existing fans?
Many of these exiting fans would have been like me at the time, early teenagers or younger (I was 12).
Anyway, this is meant to be a review, so let's get on with it! My reaction to Desolation Boulevard was
one of mild disappointment. It didn't seem to stand comparison with SFA. I remember that particularly hated 'Man With the Golden Arm' - I wondered who in the world would want to listen to 10 minutes of Mick practising. To be honest, I felt cheated by the track which takes up a good part of side 2. The Fox version wasn't as good as the single and I thought Lady Starlight was a durge. (Andy's voice sounded adequate but not distinctive enough for lead). There were compensations: The marvellous 'Sixteens', a cover of 'My Generation' and Solid Gold Brass (I was really taken with the combination of Brain and Steve's vocals). 'Turn it Down' wasn't bad, though not in the same league as the 'Sixteens' or 'Fox' as a single. As an album track on the other hand, it had raw power as well as the great vocals from Brian and
Steve. One classic Sweet technique on the recent hit singles at the time had been for Brian and Steve to share the vocals, with Steve usually doing a camp one or two liner. On Solid Gold Brass and Turn it Down the Brian/Steve combination over superb guitar work from Andy was a highlight. I'm hearing
them now, 'YOU! YOU GO TAKE A WALK ...' , 'THAT MAN WALKED IN THE DOOR....'
Overall though, after the glories of SFA this album was a disappointment. I was 12 by this time and I can hear you say yes, but Sweet were going for a more mature audience'. True, but I can't help thinking that SFA showed how they might be able to take at least some of the singles audience with them (these people were like the music, maturing fast). Maybe it was a mistake to jump fast and maybe not. All I know is that Desolation Boulevard made it more likely that they would need to find a completely new and older audience - one which at the time viewed them as teenyboppers. Maybe a more gradual evolution
would have been better? The point is that by becoming a primarily album band, they were effectively starting again, but not from zero, but from a negative position of not being taken seriously by 'serous' fans.
1975 was when I first heard Desolation Boulevard and also when I noticed that my favourite band was slipping out of favour (at least in the UK). I am obviously only talking about one very small town in Hertfordshire (just north of London). The original fans where either forgetting about them, or like me
moving on in what they listened to. In my case, Sweet were fundamental in my evolution, for most people it was through what you might describe as big brother syndrome'. This is where a older siblings introduced kids of my age into 'serious music'. Not every sibling did this, of course, but one in a
group was enough. Along with new bands and styles, these siblings also brought was was a kind of political correctness! The peer pressure was that you had to like bands on a kind of unofficial 'approved list'. Worse, Sweet were not on this! I suppose it was during 1975 I started to feel like the only Sweet fan in the world.
What do I think of it now?
With maturing years, I look on the album more kindly. I still find it hard to imagine why the band even in their wildest dreams thought 'Man with the Golden Arm' was a good idea - a definite and complete failure to me! Worse I feel the reason the track is there the reason was either through simple self indulgence or equally possibly an inferiority complex going back to the early Chinn/Chapman says of session musicians - a kind of 'look we can play really!'.
I still don't much like Lady Starlight - if Brian had sung it then it would have been better. Andy's voice isn't anywhere near Brian's or even Steve's as lead. Don't get me wrong, Andy was essential to the classic line up as a musician, hitting the high notes in the harmonies and in being probably the main creative influence in the band, but for me he was not a great front man or lead vocalist. It's the difference between being great at one thing and OK at another....
The rest of the album has some great moments - check out the tracks I mentioned liking above and Medusa and Breakdown have grown on me, it's a good album. But as Helmut mentions on another review on this page, the album often sounds rushed. I feel they could have done more with it. As an introduction to Sweet for someone who didn't know them, this would be low down my list.
The point I mentioned at the start (could it have been better?) is key to how I view the album - as a missed opportunity. DB is by Sweet standards a weak album. It was released when the band was still in the public eye and a determined PR campaign in the music press combined with a good album and strong singles would have perhaps done it. Instead DB was weaker than it could have been and the moment past. Perhaps I am being too negative, the band was by no means finished and in my opinion was still to produce it best work. But for me, it was definitely an opportunity missed. Of course, the old days of number one hits might have gone with this approach, but I feel the band could have made the transition with less pain than was the case.
For an outsider, I would recommend it as a good, not great album and tell them to forget 'Man With the Golden Arm'. Not the greatest work Sweet did - but some great moments and well worthwhile.
I am not clear on the exact track list to hand for the US version since I don't own a copy (could anyone help by the way - leave a message on the Internet ballroom message board). But I do know it was basically a combination of singles and the best tracks from SFA and DB. My view is that the US record company was right - this was a great introduction to Sweet and a better album for that market.