Following 1977’s ‘Off The Record’, change was in the air for The Sweet and ‘Level Headed’ was indeed a radical departure from their wham-bam glam rock past.
Written by: Eric
ARTIST: The Sweet
ALBUM: Level Headed
SERIAL: POLD 5001
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: England
LINEUP: Brian Connolly – lead & backing vocals * Andy Scott – guitar, synthesizer, lead & backing vocals * Mick Tucker – drums, percussion, backing vocals * Steve Priest – bass, synthesizer, lead & backing vocals
Additional Musicians: Geoff Westley – keyboards, string arrangements * Ronnie Asprey – brass * Richard Harvey – winds * Stevie Lange – vocals
TRACK LISTING: 01 California Nights * 02 Silverbird * 03 Dream On * 04 Fountain * 05 Love Is Like Oxygen * 06 Anthem No. 1 * 07 Strong Love * 08 Lettres D’Amour * 09 Anthem No.II * 10 Air On ‘A’ Tape Loop
WEBLINKS: Site Link
Following 1977’s ‘Off The Record’, change was in the air for The Sweet and ‘Level Headed’ was indeed a radical departure from their wham-bam glam rock past. According to interviews the group was ‘tired’ of the driving hard rock pop they were famous for and wanted to mix it up a bit, bringing in keyboardist and arranger Geoff Westley and flirting with baroque prog rock and softening their sound.
Released in January 1978, The Sweet on paper seemed poised to reclaim commercial status they hadn’t seen since dropping the songwriting hit machine Chinn/Chapman ‘Ballroom Blitz’ days. This was glaringly evident in America where the band, management and labels were prone to dropping the proverbial ball, including inexplicably passing on a large tour the year previous with Aerosmith.
Plus there was a mish-mash of overlapped albums and singles, including imports that confused buyers. Not to mention frustrating the band who believed they should have been way ahead of the game at this point or at least as big as their legendary rivals Queen.
For many fans, ‘Level Headed’ was a sign The Sweet were slowly sliding down Crap Mountain but it’s certainly not as bad as that, in fact three quarters of the set is quite good. There were two versions of the album with different track listings and art but I prefer the Stateside release with its superior cover and cool gatefold sleeve which always impressed the heck out of me as a pimply teen.
While ‘California Nights’ might have been a little too Eagles for some, it resonated with programmers in the States, giving the band a surprise minor hit. Follow-up ‘Silverbird’ is a fairly typical Sweet rocker, nothing to write home about but from here ‘Level Headed’ becomes a Queen meets Yes extravaganza unlike anything heard before. Andy Scott’s ‘Dream On’ is high on syrup with heavy orchestration that resembles KISS‘ ‘Beth’ although is not nearly as enduring.
‘Fountain’, again with Scott on lead is an acoustic driven prog rocker with a dazzling harpsichord finale, but nothing compared to the albums cornerstone and biggest hit ‘Love Is like Oxygen’. The first time I heard this masterpiece played as an import on the radio, it was climbing the British charts and for good reason. I was floored, killer hooks paired with a devastatingly gorgeous prog intermezzo it was everything I’ve ever wanted in a song.
An edited radio version was released on 45 in the U.S. although the only reason to own it back then was for the non-LP single ‘Cover Girl’ which has since appeared as a bonus track on the Repertoire reissue several years ago. On to side two and serious ELO/Queen-ish pomposity with ‘Anthem No. 1 (Lady Of The Lake)’ as well as half-ass disco with ‘Strong Love’ which is so incredibly awful I wonder why they bothered?
Back on track with the catchy ‘Lettres D’Amour’ which features guest vocals from Mutt Langes’ wife at the time Stevie Lange who would appear a year later in Glory Daze faves Night. ‘Anthem No. II’ reprises the earlier track as an instrumental utilizing a full-blown string quartet while ‘Air On ‘A’ Tape Loop’ sounds like a neo-prog version of Pink Floyd and is serious fun.
Of course with The Sweet there was always a dark cloud on the horizon and this time there was no avoiding the storm. Brian Connolly’s substance abuse was wreaking havoc on what should have been a successful U.S. tour.
A major set of dates with Bob Seger found Connolly unprepared and falling about on stage and further unruly shows with Rainbow, Foghat, Alice Cooper and Cheap Trick forced the group to make the most significant decision of their career, firing Brian and moving forward as a three-piece. The Sweet was never the same again.
Entire Album (Select Tracks)