Album name: Sweethead
Artist name: Sweethead
Released: November 2 2009
Label: Strange Addiction/Play It Again, Sam
ZME Rating: 5/10
I sure hope the record company suit who decided it’d be a good idea to release Sweethead’s debut album in early November is picking bullet fragments out of his own navicular bone right now. Sweethead, if you didn’t know, are the side project of Queens of the Stone Age’s multi-purpose axeman, Troy Van Leeuwen. The very same Troy Van Leeuwen whose QOTSA cohort, Josh Homme, chose to release his side project (a little-known group called Them Crooked Vultures – look ’em up, and remember, you heard it here first, yes sir) in early November. There’s no way Sweethead are getting any of the QOTSA-side-project attention. It’s a little bit like if John The Baptist had come back from the dead the same week as Jesus, or All Saints reforming the same week as Sleater-Kinney, or a street magician doing his best trick while another guy moons a constable. Everyone’s looking the other way, guys.
It’s not that Sweethead’s album is bad by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just disappointing. I reviewed their EP, The Great Disruptors back in June, and liked it immensely. But, in the final paragraph, I said this:
So, two great songs, two decent ones sandwiched in between, and a fun Kinks’ cover (which is up for free download on their website) to take it all home: you can’t really ask for much more from a debut EP. They’ll have to expand on their sound at least a little bit on a full album, but for now, they’re showing plenty of promise.
And the one thing Sweethead have utterly failed to do on this album is expand on their sound.
It’s still the same vaguely Queens-ish riffs, except in a less exciting package. Remember when Nick Oliveri left Queens, and everyone thought Lullabies to Paralyse would suck without his gonzo-metal speedfreakery? And then Lullabies was a great album, because of Homme’s imaginative and wonderful songwriting? This is what Queens would sound like without Homme or Oliveri.
Which is okay. They sound okay. Average. They sound like a really good opening band. They’ve got the bar-band gutter-glam sound down pat. But then, considering they’ve got a dozen songs in that exact template on offer, you’d expect them to be rather good at it by now, especially considering the pedigree on display: QOTSA’s guitarist, plus two alumni of the Mark Lanegan Band as the rhythm section. They’re not just capable of doing this to a good standard – they’re capable of doing something much better.
It’s an almost stifling lack of imagination. Beneath Serrina Sims sultry vocals (which are definite star of the show here, and really, the only way of telling some songs apart), it’s the same fuzzy bassline playing a four-bar riff you’ll be sure you’ve heard before, with faceless spiky guitars puncturing the murk with all the gusto of a blunt sword lazily prodding a sandbag. Van Leeuwen has said in interviews that they were aiming for a back-to-basics sound, that they deliberately set out to make a raw rock n’ roll album. But, guy, having aimed for rough and ready, you end up sounding rote and “reppy” (repetitive).
The real kicker is that the highlight of the album is the title track from their EP, “The Great Disruptors” – and that wasn’t even the highlight of the EP. In a brain-clawingly stupid move, they’ve only gone and left “Traumatised and Dumb” off the album, despite it being the best song they’ve written to date.
All that said, if you’re looking for a fix of Queens-styled sleaze rock, this is a decent enough source. It’d certainly make for a fine live set. And I do think they’ll do better next time out. But if listening to Them Crooked Vultures is like drinking from a fountain with a beautiful Renaissance sculpture as the centrepiece, Sweethead are a smaller, less noticeable fountain with a slab of rough, shapeless rock in the middle.
THE TRACKS ARE THESE TRACKS:
1 – The Sting
2 – Turned Our Backs
3 – P.I.G.
4 – Amazing Vanishing Conquest
5 -Running Out
6 -Sinkhole International
7 – Remote Control Boys
8 – Meet In The Road
9 – Other Side
10 – The Great Disruptors
11 – A.W.O.L.
12 – The Last Evening